THERE'S a stretch in the evenings with this week heralding an extra hour of sunlight per day since December’s Winter Solstice, which means some gardeners are starting to think about preparations for spring.
For those who are green fingered or indeed for anyone who simply wants to find a new hobby, there are a number of jobs you can be getting on with both indoors and outdoors to ensure your pot plants, shrubs and herbs continue to thrive.
Winter usually has a sting in its tail and the recent icy blasts have led to more of us cranking up the home heating. But is this extra heat a good thing for indoor plants and is now really a good time to be venturing outside for gardening again?
Discover Northern Ireland has teamed up with two experts who tend to gardens which attract thousands of visitors each year to bring you some top tips for winter gardening, indoors and out.
Colin Agnew, Community Parks Supervisor at Belfast Botanic Gardens has compiled the following advice to help your plants flourish inside:
Only water when the soil surface is dry at this time of the year. Avoid the temptation to overfeed. A plant may wilt and lose its turgidity if overwatered. They seldom recover when sodden. It is a good idea to add a weak solution of Phostrogen or seaweed feed. Both are nicely balanced with essential nutrients.
Houseplants can be fussy and temperamental, just like ourselves sometimes. They don’t appreciate a cold draft and although they don’t all require direct sunlight, they will perform better if light levels are good. Natural light is always best, so use the porch or windowsill when you can.
The growth in most species of popular house plants is limited during the winter months. It tends to be a dormant period. Don’t consider repotting until spring when daylight is longer, root growth is better, and a regular feeding programme can be resumed.
A free draining compost is essential in order to guarantee happy plants. Replenish dry plants with water then leave them until they dry out again before repeating the process.
Claire McNally, Head Gardener at the National Trust’s Rowallane Garden at Saintfield, Co. Down, offers the following advice for preparing your garden for spring:
Winter is a great time to do some DIY projects such as fixing a dodgy fence panel. If you started a compost heap last year but it’s just not big enough, or in the wrong place, now is the perfect time to move or expand it. Loved growing plants from seed last year? How about a glasshouse or cold-frame to give you some protected growing space?
It’s an ideal time to prune climbing and shrub roses. Wisteria will be getting its long extension growth snipped back to two buds. Trees like apples and pears, gooseberries and red currants, can all be pruned now. The Royal Horticultural Society also has a huge amount of advice on its website to guide you through the steps.
Now is a great time to expand or make new planting beds. You can prepare them by digging over and adding organic matter or by using no-dig mulching methods (much easier on the back and great for the soil microbiology). This is the least glamorous part of gardening but it’s a great investment. Generally, the more care you put into your soil, the healthier your plants will be.
Find time to enjoy nature in whatever garden you have. Keep an eye on the robins that will inevitably accompany you if you disturb the soil. Listen to the birds and watch the drama at feeders and baths. Get your hands in the dirt when you can, and see the life teeming under the surface.
For more information about Belfast Botanic Gardens, Rowallane Garden and other great places to visit when government guidance permits travel again, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com. Northern Ireland’s giant welcome will be here for you when the time is right.
For the latest government guidelines on COVID restrictions, visit https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19