Get your garden ready for spring

Our horticultural experts at the RHS Wisley Plant Centre have shared their insider tips on how to keep your garden up to speed at this time of year
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Nelly Moser clematis
© RHS Herbarium
Now is the time to prune large-flowered varieties of summer clematis, such as 'Nelly Moser'
We will notice the early signs of spring during the next month, with bulbs appearing and wildlife waking up as light levels and temperatures rise.

Need to do in your garden this month

* Containers can be given a helping hand now. Top dress them by replacing the upper inch with new compost.

* If you feed the birds, it's really important to keep the bird table stocked because there is very little left to eat at this time of year. Remove any snow from under feeders so birds can continue to feed on the ground.

* As long as the ground isn’t wet or frozen, it’s a good idea to cut the grass, no matter how early in the year. It’ll keep your lawn looking tidy and avoids the grass getting long and awkward to cut. Collect up the cuttings and add them to the compost heap or put them in your green waste bin if your council provides one.
Avoid injury to the lawn when the soil is frozen by keeping foot traffic to a minimum.

Pruning tasks to start now

* Thinking ahead to glorious summer clematis, now is the time to prune the large-flowered varieties. For those which flower early in the summer like ‘Nelly Moser’ remove dead growth and tidy up at eye level. The late summer flowerering varieties, like ‘Niobe’, can be cut hard down to knee height. Finish off with a good feed (10cm or 4 inches) of compost or well rotted manure.

* Finish pruning of open (not trained) apple and pear trees. If you don’t, your harvest may not be as good because older branches won’t bear as much fruit as newer, fresh, healthy branches. Prune to let light and air into the tree.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Ruffles'
© RHS Herbarium
Cut the old leaves back on hellebores, such as the 'Ruffles' variety, to show these astonishing flowers off
* Every garden has space for a hellebore. The flower stalks are now rising on the Helleborus x hybridus varieties (also known as Helleborus orientalis). Cut the old, tired leaves back to the crown before flowering starts to show these astonishing flowers off.

* If you’re lucky enough to have space for wisteria, cut back last summer's long lengths of growth to two or three buds to tidy it up before the growing season starts and ensure the flowers will not be hidden by leaf growth.

* Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges.

* If you’ve planted deciduous grasses in your garden (brilliant for attracting wildlife) now’s the time to trim them back at the base with secateurs while avoiding any new growth you see coming through.

* If you have got a small vegetable garden, sow broad beans and peas directly into the ground from mid-to-late February. They will be ready in early summer. Add a little fish, blood and bone fertiliser to the soil before you sow.

* Sow early salad crops like lettuce and radish under glass or in a frame or cloche during mild spells. If you just have the window sill you can start garlic cloves off in pots about 2cm deep.

* Buy seed potatoes, especially early varieties for example Arran Pilot, Lady Christl, Rocket and Vanessa, and spread them out end-up in a box to sprout (or chit) in a light but cool window sill or shed.

* Avoid leaving houseplants on window sills behind the curtains on frosty nights, especially if your windows are not double-glazed. Water houseplants sparingly until they come into active growth with the advancing spring.

* If the leaves on pot Cyclamen start to turn yellow this may be a sign of overwatering. Keep Cyclamen in a cool, well-lit place and water them from below (into the saucer). Allow the plant to drink for half an hour before pouring away the water left in the saucer.

Nice to do in your garden this month

* Divide and replant clumps of aconites and snowdrops into twos and threes while still in full leaf. Lift a clump at a time, pull into smaller sections, and replant. There is no need to water, they will stand up in a few days. Give some to friends!

* You can also start many seeds indoors this month. Herbs grown from seed are a great way to have an indoor or windowsill garden.

* If your garden looks a little bare, many varieties are suitable for planting this month - but only if it’s not frosty. If you’d like something on the smaller side try snowdrops, hardy cyclamens, hellebores and primulas - all equally good in a container. If you prefer something larger how about Corylus avellana (hazel) or any of the superb Hamamelis varieties (witch hazel).

* This is the best time to cut back the pelargoniums that you are overwintering inside. Take cuttings to make an abundance of new plants for a bright display in summer.

* Sit back and enjoy the bulbs pushing up and into colour. If you forgot to plant up in readiness for this moment, put an autumn date in your 2010 diary to go to the plant centre and buy spring-flowering bulbs.

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