BY JOYCE RUSSELL
THE days are already starting to stretch out a bit and birds have started to sing as if it is a few weeks later on in the year. We may have had more rain than we really wanted and soil is wetter than we might like, but there’s definitely a sense that the garden is calling and one or two jobs on a fine day may be just what an active gardener wants.
Try not to walk on very wet soil or lawns if you can help it. You can always lay down a board to stand on or do a job that can be done in wet conditions. Washing down the polythene on your polytunnel or glass in a greenhouse is a good thing to tackle at this time of year. Everything looks better with a layer of grime removed and plants will get more light.
Bulbs planted in pots and containers are already pushing up green shoots. Bear this in mind if you have bulbs planted in areas of grass and take a look if some of the green is down to young daffodil shoots. Don’t walk on these areas unless you can pick your way between clumps of growing bulbs. If you squash or break young shoots then you won’t get a good display of flowers. Throw a few twiggy branches over the top if dogs are a problem – once clumps grow bigger the branches can be removed.
Make a note of where the earliest flowering varieties are planted. These may already have flower buds. Stems will keep growing and flowers will open before too long. Plenty of leaves will provide some support for slender stems, but you may need to protect long stemmed varieties from strong winds.
Outdoor plants took a bit of a battering between the sub-zero temperatures last year followed by lots of rain. Many will recover and put on a spurt when things warm up a bit.
Plants under cover in a polytunnel or greenhouse are protected from the worst of the weather. Keep an eye out for moulds and remove any affected leaves to keep the problem under control. Open doors on any fine day to let a bit of air blow through. A bit of ventilation, even in winter, will help to keep moulds under control.
You can keep harvesting from plants in the polytunnel. There should be lots of salad leaves of different varieties if you sowed a good range in late summer and early autumn. If you forgot to do this, you can sow some more in February for some spring pickings. Pick a few leaves from each plant and don’t strip any one too hard.
Make a seed list
Get out your box of seed packets and start to sort through. Check the dates that seed can be used by and make a list of what you need to replace. Then take a look at how many seeds are left in a packet and don’t assume you have lots.
It’s a good idea to throw out empty packets but make a note of any varieties that did particularly well for you first. It’s always worth repeating successful varieties even if different weather conditions each year might give some different results.
Garden shops should be stocking up with seeds pretty soon. If you can’t wait for that, then take a look online and order what you want from some good Irish suppliers.
I always grow Swiss Chard in the polytunnel, although it does grow well outdoors. Plants are cleaner and less battered under cover and the season can be stretched a little with some added protection. White stemmed varieties grow strongly with thicker stems, but the rainbow varieties provide a lovely mix of red, pink, yellow and white through the winter and into spring.
If you love this vegetable, then you can sow seed from late February until April for late spring and summer use.
We haven’t had any real gales this winter but there may be some still to come. Take a good look around the garden and think what may suffer if we get some strong gusts. Weight things down and replace ties if needed – jute string rots after a few months outdoors.
This is also a good time to repair any damaged garden furniture. Sand, and oil or varnish, any wooden benches, tables and chairs. Life can get too busy to fit this job in later, so clear space in a shed or wait for a fine day to do some outdoor furniture care.
And if the mower needs a service, either do this yourself before the mowing season starts up in earnest, or book it in for some care and attention with a suitable service agent. Places that sell mowers can usually recommend someone.