Branch out from Winter into Spring
To say the least winter this year was a non-starter, a few windy days, some heavy rains and a little active growth, not a bad way to start the year. So where do we go from here?
Though wind damage has to date been minimal we are not yet ‘out of the woods', however with the heavy rains from last year and in the case no late season pruning was carried out, this exercise should be high on the list.
With so much growth and foliage the need to thin out growth to allow in light and air as well as reduce long growth on branches will create a healthier plant with new growth that can be used for foundation and replacement pruning in the future.
Whilst in the process of pruning also check for diseased branches and rot or fungal growth which can be prevalent during periods of wet weather, and prune back to clean wood.
Large trees should also be inspected before they come into leaf as problems are easier to detect and remedy at this time of year.
With large trees it is best to have a qualified tree surgeon carry out any work; they have the knowledge and equipment to do work correctly to rectify the initial problems whilst creating a branch structure that will support the tree for the future.
Rain and warm weather are a catalyst for weed growth, so to keep ahead of the game by weeding the garden thoroughly removing all weed growth including the root systems.
If left in the ground some roots will regrow and establish themselves to be more prevalent as the growing season continues.
Remember weeds can also harbour pests and diseases so clean up each area when completed.
As the season progresses always aim for weeding flower beds on a weekly basis with a Dutch hoe, the act of breaking the ‘soils crust' will eliminate germinating weeds, and also controls the more stubborn weeds that grow from ‘bits of roots'.
Keeping weeds under control in areas of hard landscaping eg driveways and paths will also reduce the spread of weed seeds especially on ephemerals or short lived plants that germinate flower and produce seed in a short period of time.
Heavy rains leach nutrients from the soil so with last year's overabundance of rain and this years also above normal the need to fertilise is paramount to keep growth healthy and active.
I like to use a fertiliser with a ratio of 16-4-8 + trace elements; in layman's terms the label will show the NPK as 16 percent nitrogen (N), four percent phosphorous (P) and eight percent potash (K) with trace elements of iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn) & copper (Cu).
Coated fertiliser is superior in that it breaks down slower to give a longer lasting effect. Osmocote is such a fertiliser with a longevity life of three months and up-to six months with some formulas.
Variations on the above ratios will be found at the suppliers, whatever you purchase always remember to read the application rate shown on the label; it's not a case of twice the amount will increase growth exponentially it could well be too much is literally too much with the result the demise of the plant!
I am not a great believer in mulching per se, but I am in favour of using compost as light mulch at this time of year before turning it in to the soil.
Well composted manure and organic material can work wonders on a poor soil structure bringing it to life for the growing season.
A good way to check soil viability for growth is simply note the activity level of weed growth; if weeds are proving difficult to grow there is your answer.
Lawn weeds are doing well thanks to the weather with many lawns being so weed ridden they are ‘crying out' to be returned to the status of lawn grass.
In heavily infested lawns the question of remediation is important and can be costly.
When weed coverage is well established and heavy with little sign of lawn grasses being readily available to re-establish themselves, it might be more cost effective to spray the whole area with an herbicide and start again.
With well-established weed growth it is not always easy to regain control quickly which means ongoing applications of herbicide use, and a drawn out exercise with often poor success at a high cost and no satisfactory result.
In well-established lawns ‘thatch' the accumulation of ‘dead' grass can be seen and indeed felt when walked on.
To check for this problem simply part the grass with the fingers to see the amount of dead brown grass which is found below the green ‘top' of lawn.
In small areas a good stiff raking will assist in removing much of the problem, but in heavily thatched lawns the answer is Verticutting to tease the dead out and invigorate the root growth to create a thick sward of healthy grass.
The cutting height for grass type is also important in creating a healthy lawn, scalping will reduce growth grass growth whilst allowing weed growth to become established, thus repeating the cycle.
A healthy thick sward will look better and reduce weed infestation which in periods of drought result in less mowing whilst still having a lawn with a uniform appearance of cut.
Preparation during the month of March opens the door for new plantings in April, which will be discussed in next month's column.