Frosts, wild winds and pouring rain can be wicked for gardens, even towards the end of winter. But no matter how cold the temperature is in your part of the country, there’s still plenty to do in the garden so that it’s looking shipshape for warmer times.
As every good gardener will tell you, a successful garden is all about forward planning. Sowing seed now may seem way too early, but getting seedlings started inside in late winter means they’ll be strong and healthy by the time the weather starts to warm up and they can be planted outside in the garden. Likewise with pest control. Getting on top of slugs and snails at this time of year will ensure numbers don’t build up and they won’t run rampant over your freshly planted seedlings in spring. Even if your garden is just a few pots on the balcony or deck it’s a good idea to give your plants new soil and a prune now so they’ll be looking green and gorgeous when you’re ready to sit outside and enjoy them.
Feed daffodilsand spring bulbs
To get the best blooms this year and next you need to feed and water spring bulbs before and after flowering. Use a standard bulb fertiliser and make sure you water it in well.
Rainwater is best for watering, otherwise sprinkle regularly with the hose, until 2-3 weeks after flowering. Don’t let bulbs ever dry out completely, particularly if planted in pots which should be moved to a shady position during summer.
Remember not to cut the foliage off your spring bulbs until after flowering. Leave to die down naturally (or tie it in knots) to allow bulbs to get plenty of food for next season’s flowers.
Prune and feed roses
If you haven’t already done so, get those secateurs out and prune your roses. If you live in a very frosty area it might pay to wait until spring. Feed them with a good rose fertiliser or mulch plants with well rotted compost and animal manure (don’t pile up around base of plants as this can cause collar rot).
Planting garlic or onions around roses will improve their scent, according to some experts. And placing chopped-up banana skins around the dripline of rose bushes improves flowering due to the phosphates, calcium and magnesium the skins release.
If you’re keen to plant more roses, new varieties should be in garden centres in August.
Trap slugs and snails
Snails are out in force at this time of year, making short work of plants with soft leaves such as hostas, daylily, taro and passionfruit as well as small seedlings of just about anything. To keep bait dry and avoid contact with the soil, place it into a yoghurt container or similar, with its lid on and holes cut into the side for pests to get into. Skewer the container with a bamboo stake through its centre and into the ground to stop it blowing away. Replace bait (ideally a product that is not harmful to children, pets and wildlife) as needed.
Sow seed for summer annuals
The end of winter is a good time to start sowing seed for flowering annuals such as the sweet peas in this lovely Melbourne garden. These easy-to- grow, hardy annuals are ideal for kids’ gardens and of course the bees who need all the flowers we can plant. Other easy-to-grow flowering annuals for pots and bare areas in the garden include alyssum, calendula, lobelia, pansy, petunia, marigolds and zinnia.
Clean up slippery paths
Mosses and moulds love moist, shady paths and terraces. Keep them safe by removing any build-up with a stiff broom and a hose. To make the job easier, there are plenty of non-toxic mould removers now available that can be sprayed onto paving and decks, or you can make your own if you search online for instructions.
Attack small weeds
A favourite place for weeds to flourish is between pavers and cracks in concrete, so dig them out before they get their roots down into the soil. Getting rid of weeds when they are small will save you a lot of aggravation and energy later in the season. They’re much easier to remove when little and the ground is still moist. Leaving weeds to mature and set seed means you will be multiplying your weed problem for the rest of the year. Weeds love shell paths and bark areas so give them a quick tidy also.
Organic mulches such as bark, pea straw and shredded timber eventually break down and need to be replaced. Top them up now to help retain moisture in the soil as weather warms up. Mulches are one of the best tools for gardeners, as they also help reduce weeds, and those that do manage to germinate in the mulch are easier to remove than if they grow into the soil. And mulches are excellent soil insulators, helping to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer.
Tidy up late flowering perennials
Remove old flowers and leaves from autumn-blooming perennials such as bird of paradise,canna, salvia and dahlia to encourage new growth. Leave this job until the weather warms up if you live in a colder area as frost can damage young shoots.
Grow shrubs for late winter colour
Now is a good time to check whether your garden might benefit from a burst of colour. A good option for winter colour is Leucospermum (right) with its striking hot orange or red pinwheel flowers. This South African shrub will brighten up even the gloomiest space and blooms last for many weeks in water. To grow them in your garden, remember that Leucospermum like extremely well-drained soil and plenty of air around their leaves. For that reason they do well in coastal gardens.