The last week in February is when I start pruning Wisteria (pictured in flower). The purpose of pruning Wisteria is to encourage it to flower and to an extent, to limit its growth. It is usual to cut it back twice a year – once after flowering, in July – August, and once in February. The idea is to cut back long leafy growths to encourage it to put its energy into flowering spurs along the framework. Cut back new growths to 4 – 6 leaves in summer and 2 – 3 buds in winter.
The beginning of March is time to think about pruning shrubs that come into flower after mid-summer’s day. These include Buddlejas – often called ‘the butterfly bush’ because it is very attractive to butterflies. It is often thought that Buddlejas can take any amount of hacking away at this time of year, but I have found that when you cut them back very drastically, they can take a very long time to recover and come into leaf very late in the year, so I now try to leave one set of green leaves on each branch before cutting it down, unless it is very overgrown. Buddlejas can put on an extraordinary amount of growth during the year, so it is necessary to prune them if you want to appreciate the flowers, which appear at the ends of long branches.
Other late flowering shrubs that can be pruned at this time of year include Climbing honeysuckles (Lonicera periclymenum), Hydrangeas, shrub roses and hybrid tea roses, Lavatera and Caryopteris.
Once these have been pruned, we can turn our attention to winter flowering shrubs such as Mahonia and Fatsia japonica, which may not need pruning every year. Then there’s winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, and Viburnum bodnantense, which are still in flower at the end of February, but can be pruned back once they have finished flowering.
Dogwoods with attractive coloured stems such as Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sanguinea and Cornus sericea can be cut back hard so that they produce attractive new growth for next winter, gooseberries and blueberries can be pruned, and early spring flowering shrubs such as Viburnum tinus and Forsythia can be pruned once they have finished flowering, later in spring.
Other jobs which can be done in the garden are sowing broad beans, peas and sweetpeas and digging vegetable plots. Garlic can be planted in autumn, or it can be planted in early spring, as can onion sets, and potatoes can be chitted. Snowdrop clumps can be divided once they have finished flowering, but I would leave them until the leaves have started to die down too.
If you have left your perennials standing over winter, for overwintering wildlife, don’t be too quick to clear them away, and leave the cut stems and leaves to sit for a while in the corner of the garden, until the weather brightens up, to allow insects to escape back into the garden, before disposing of them in the compost heap or council’s garden refuse bin. In March, deciduous grasses can be cut down, perennials such as Hemerocalis (Day lily) can be divided. We can also begin mulching and feeding once the weather has warmed the soil. Always mulch moist soil, following rain, never when it’s dry or frosty. Fruit trees and bushes, and roses benefit especially from mulching.