It may still be the cold in the northern hemisphere when gardeners start to think ahead towards spring. Sadly, the weather can often be grim at this time of year. Stay warm, scrutinise seed catalogues and plan what to sow in the months ahead, finish off winter digging bare patches of soil, or spread well-rotted compost or garden compost over beds.
Trees and shrubs
• It may look pretty, but clear snow that falls on the tops of hedges and shrubs to prevent its weight causing damage. Gently shake from the branches or swish off with a broom.
• Prune off any pure green shoots growing from variegated shrubs, cutting them right back to the main branch with a pair of secateurs. If left, these reverted shoots will grow vigorously and could lead to your plant becoming one colour.
• Protect the buds of early flowering azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons from frost damage by covering with sheets of horticultural fleece.
• Hellebores have fantastic winter flowers, but these are often hidden by the foliage. For a great show, don’t be afraid to trim back some leaves to reveal the gorgeous blooms.
• Propagate oriental poppies from root cuttings. Lift plants from the soil, snip off some roots and divide into 5cm long pieces. Insert vertically into pots filled with compost and cover with grit. Water and put in a cold frame. New plants will appear in spring.
• Check perennials planted in the autumn and firm into the ground if they’ve been lifted by frosts.
Check summer flowering bulbs that are being stored in a frost free place over winter. Throw away any that are starting to turn black or show signs of mould. Cut off any parts of dahlia tubers that are diseased.
• Use a hand fork to lightly fluff up soil around emerging bulbs to allow water to penetrate and prevent it gathering around the necks of bulbs, leading to rotting.
• Container grown spring flowering bulbs will suffer if compost dries out during periods of dry, windy weather. Water regularly to keep them healthy.
Around the garden
• It may be the middle of winter, but annual weeds are popping up all over the place. Spend five minutes a week pulling them out of the soil to prevent problems getting out of hand.
• Rewrite fading plant labels before the names fade completely during winter rain and snow.
• Alpines need all the light they can get over winter, so regularly remove fallen leaves from around the crowns of these diminutive plants.
• Evergreen grasses can become choked with dead or dying foliage, so remove debris from soft leaved varieties of carex, stipa and pennisetum by combing your hands through the plants from top to bottom.
• Winter wind can damage stems of climbing plants so tie up any whippy shoots to supports.
What to sow/plant this month
• Bare root trees and shrubs.
• Bare root bush and shrub roses
• Seeds of pelargoniums, lobelia and begonias (in a heated propagator).
• Sweet peas in long tubes, undercover.
VISITS TO THE VATICAN GARDENS. The Vatican Gardens can be visited only through guided tours organized by the Guided Tours Office of the Vatican Museums. Tours depart from the Vatican Museums. Entrance to the Gardens is denied to persons not properly dressed.
telephone +39.06.69884676 (individuals) or +39.06.69883145 (groups). Bookings can be arranged by faxing +39.06.69885100