New Year spruce-up

Sunday, 07 January 2018

Artemisia Powis Castle (left) and Plectranthus argentatus can be trimmed now

I always enjoy the beginning of a new year. The whole year lies before us, pristine. Who knows what lies in store for us in the coming year: what new people and plants will we meet, what new things will we learn; what will happen and what events will fill our new diaries? Just the sight and smell of a brand new diary book make me feel excited - just one reason why I cannot embrace an electronic version!

Pelargonium Big Red should be deadheaded regularly

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2018 is to be more experimental in my garden: to try out different techniques and take note of the results. A particular area of interest to me at the moment is pruning back at this time of year and what the effect of this will be. Maybe it is just my garden, but I find it becomes a bit shabby and tired at the start of January. This year, I have garden friends visiting me in mid-February and again in early March, and I would like the garden to look its best at these times. I have often done a bit of cutting back in early January to tidy things up but it has always been rather haphazard. This year I plan to be more systematic and observe the outcome of my work: specifically, how long plants take to start reflowering after their cut-back.

Salvia Angel Wings, which I hope to rejuvenate with some light pruning

A particular focus is my collection of Salvia plants, as one visiting group is comprised of salviaphiles. I want my summer-flowering specimens to be as floriferous as possible in February, so I am trimming them back now and hoping for the best. I have never really thought about how much plant growth goes on throughout summer, but just one look at the rampageous Wisteria vine on our fence is enough to show me that growth continues all through summer: I cut back the long canes of the vine every couple of weeks. My pruning of the Salvia plants will not be severe as it is in late winter, but more a trim (in case it all goes horribly wrong). If the weather ever cools down, I will give them some liquid fertiliser as well - I don't feel it is advisable to apply this during our current heatwave conditions.

Erigeron karvinskianus softens a brick wall but needs trimming

Other plants targeted for trimming are summer-blooming plants from the Acanthaceae family (including Justicia and Brillantaisia), which are looking a bit scruffy right now, along with the many patches of frothy seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) that adorn my stone steps and walls. These seem to flower all year but they look a bit tatty at the moment so will be cut back, as will my straggly Gaura plants. Semitropical foliage plants, such as Iresine, Plectranthus argentatus, Alternanthera and coleus, which play such an important role in the summer garden, will also be shaped, as they seem to expand exponentially through the summer. Other foliage plants that benefit from ongoing nipping back in summer are the Artemisia species and cultivars. Left to their own devices, I find they become gangly, with long bare stems. I simply tip-prune them regularly and they form nice rounded shapes.

Dahlia benefit from regular deadheading in summer

Other tidying jobs include the ongoing deadheading of Dahlia and Canna: this will ensure they keep on blooming until May. These plants also benefit from fertilising on a cool day. The new-generation zonal Pelargonium cultivars such as 'Big Red' and 'Big Rose' will also benefit from regular deadheading, and continue to flower (all year round in some cases!). Pentas and Buddleja davidii shrubs will rebloom throughout summer and into autumn if you vigilantly deadhead their spent flowers. For plants where the flowering period is now over, deadheading will instantly tidy the garden: Agapanthus, for example, and Hydrangea bushes where the flowers are burnt or tatty. I leave well alone those Hydrangea cultivars where the blooms age beautifully, however. This includes a number of the white Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars and most of the double-flowered types.

Murraya paniculata hedge and topiary benefit from clipping now

Hedges and topiary shapes will benefit from pruning now, as will any other shrub that you like to keep to a vaguely geometric shape. The long wands of any exuberant climbing plant that are going berserk can also be reined in regularly at this time of year!

Keeping the water up is vital to help our gardens survive these horribly hot conditions. Watering is most effective if done in the early morning or late afternoon. A thick mulch applied to the surface of the soil will help retain moisture. Prompt removal of weeds not only makes the garden look neat but reduces the competition for moisture and nutrients.

Some of my garden journals from over the years

Though I can see lots of changes I would like to make to the garden, now is not really the time to plant out new specimens or move plants around. Write down all your ideas and inspirations in a garden journal: when autumn comes round, you will be only too grateful to have a record of what your thoughts were. I will also be recording the results of my trimming-back experiments in my garden journal, for use in future years. Don't have a garden journal? Why not start one this year: it doesn't have to be fancy - any old exercise book will do. It makes fascinating reading to peruse the evolution of one's garden over the years!