Blooming Times – Chop! Chop!
by Flo Whitaker
The new gardening season is underway and Mother Nature’s on the march – it’s time to start the big clear up!
The February garden is awake; yawning and stretching after a wintery slumber. The gardening year is about to go into gallop mode, so if you didn’t prune your roses last autumn, do it now! It makes no difference if they’re modern or old-fashioned varieties, growing in open ground or in containers; whether they’re climbers, standards, ramblers or scramblers – the basic rules for spring pruning are the same.
Completely remove stems that are old or damaged; this helps to let in light and warmth which will encourage flowering buds. It also ensures good air circulation around the plant – important, as plant diseases usually prefer a dank, still environment. Newly planted specimens can be slightly reduced in height/girth; well-established plants can be reduced by a third or more. If the rose is trained against a support, tie in the new growths and check to ensure the support is in good condition. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than to come down for breakfast on a gorgeous June morning, only to be confronted by a rose in full bloom, sprawled on the ground, surrounded by broken trellis.
Super-tough hellebore foliage hangs on throughout winter but the old leaves will be dishevelled now and may obscure emerging flower buds – hellebore blooms are shy characters that cast their faces downwards. Remove any damaged leaves, whilst keeping a careful eye out for Hellebore Leaf Spot. This condition is spread by fungal spores, making it hard to control entirely, but a robust clump of hellebores will survive an attack. The spores move through water droplets and soil particles and can be particularly troublesome after a wet winter. As the name suggests, dark brown-ish/black patches appear on the leaves and stems. Cut off affected material right down to the ground. Don’t compost it; either take it to your local refuse site or dispose of it in a council ‘green bin’. (A domestic compost heap is unlikely to reach sufficient temperature to eradicate the spores, but a commercially run composting process will generate enough heat to destroy harmful bacteria and moulds.)
Pansies can suffer from a similar condition; the foliage becomes marked with black blotches and may feel greasy to the touch. Again, this is hard to eradicate but picking off affected leaves or removing infected plants entirely will help. Plants in containers are particularly susceptible – we don’t tend to change the soil in our patio pots often, which allows fungal spores to build up. If the problem persists, avoid growing potted pansies and hellebores for a couple of years. Alternatively, empty the pots entirely and replant with new plants and fresh compost. You can spread the old compost on your borders – the fungal pathogens will naturally degrade and wash away with little harm.