Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 33 - February 2014
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Firm in plants which have been lifted by frost or strong winds.
  • Brush the bulk of snow fall off conifers, evergreen shrubs and hedges so they don't splay, but leave a small layer of snow in place as it can help to insulate the plant against harsh temperatures.
  • Many shrubs can be pruned now, including roses, dogwoods, elders, buddleias, hydrangeas, cotinus, willows, mahonias and paulownias.
  • Prune flowered shoots on winter jasmines.
  • Summer flowering clematis plants can also be cut back.
  • Deadhead and generally tidy up winter bedding, pots and hanging baskets.
  • Water and top dress containers which are out all year.
  • It's still too early to get your pots of spring bedding plants out, but you can start to harden them off towards the end of the month if it's mild.
  • Pot up dahlias and lilies to start them off in your greenhouse.
  • Sow tuberous begonias, impatiens (busy Lizzies), osteospermums, pelargoniums, cannas and sweet peas under cover.
  • If the weather's bad outside, look through catalogues and order your plug plants.
Fruit and veg
  • Warm up areas of soil where you want to plant early crops by covering them with polythene sheeting, cloches or fleece.
  • Sow very early crops such as carrots, broad beans, hardy peas and parsnips under horticultural fleece.
  • Chit early seed potatoes ready to plant them out at the end of next month.
  • Plant soft fruit bushes, bare-rooted fruit trees and summer-fruiting raspberry canes.
  • Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries and plant new canes this month or early March.
  • If you have a greenhouse you can sow French beans, baby carrots, beetroot, radishes and spinach in the borders or in deep troughs. Lettuces (and other salad leaves), leeks, onions, early brassicas (eg spring cabbages), peas, broad beans, and early new potatoes can be sown in pots. You can start to sow tomatoes, aubergines and cucumbers in heated propagators for early crops.
General tasks
  • Try to keep off the lawn as much as possible. If necessary, put down a temporary path over frequently used areas.
  • Finish up any winter digging, so long as the soil isn't waterlogged or frozen.
  • Keep your greenhouse well ventilated on milder days and keep watering to a minimum.
  • Now's a good time to design and create new beds and borders, ready for spring planting. It's also an opportunity to do hard landscaping jobs or add a water feature to your garden.
Pittosporum tenuifolium Silver MagicPlant of the month

It's at this time of year that evergreen plants really come into their own and Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Magic' is no exception. Its green foliage with silver-white edges makes a bright addition to a dreary winter garden. It grows to 4 metres and is great against a wall or at the back of a border. It can also be used for hedging in a sheltered location. Find out more...

Problem of the monthRose cankers

Rose cankers can present themselves in various ways on rose stems, including sunken or cracked areas, red spots, or black growths. When pruning your roses watch out for these symptoms and cut out any affected stems below the canker. Badly afflicted plants may need to be removed altogether. Find out more...

In the news

Apple news

A study by the University of Reading has shown that insects contribute nearly £37m to the value of the Cox and Gala apple market in the UK. The research showed that increasing pollinating insects' access to apple trees increases both the yield and the quality of the fruit.

The Bramley Apple Campaign is running the 'Great Bramley Bake In' Facebook competition this month to find the best Bramley dishes.

Increase in garden closures due to bad weather

RHS, Kew and Forestry Commission sites closed four times more often due to bad weather in 2013, when compared to closures in 2012 and 2011. University of Middlesex Professor of Risk Management, David Ball, has raised concerns that this trend may be due to garden managers being overly concerned about health and safety issues and the risk of being sued or prosecuted as a result of any incidents.

Prehistoric plants come to Dorset

The Jurassic coast in Dorset is to become home to an £85m theme park devoted to the dinosaurs and plants of 140 million years ago. The park, which is planned to open in 2019, will be located in a 40m deep quarry pit on the Isle of Portland. The structure will be similar to Cornwall's Eden Project, with a steel and glass dome spanning 100 metres.


Coppicing and pollarding

It's the time of year to prune many woody plants, including willows, dogwoods and paulownias. Rather than just giving them a trim, why not have a go at coppicing and pollarding?

The difference between coppicing and pollarding

Coppicing involves cutting the whole plant down to ground level every one to three years. When pollarding you have a single stem (like a small tree trunk) at the height you want it (usually no more than waist height) which has a 'head' at the top from which new stems grow. Every one to three years the new stems are cut back to the head.

Coppiced dogwoods and pollarded willowsWhy coppice or pollard?

There are many reasons to coppice or pollard plants:

Ornamental stems - The drastic pruning involved will produce lots of new stem growth which, for plants such as Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow), can produce wonderful stem colours for winter interest.

Ornamental foliage - Keeping the stems young can also produce more attractive leaves from some plants. For example, keeping your Eucalyptus leaves rounded rather than long, producing larger leaves on Catalpa plants and getting the brightest foliage from Cotinus coggygria (smokebush).

Restricting size - This is a great way of fitting in a plant which would otherwise be too large for your garden. Coppicing or pollarding every year can manage the size of plants such as Paulownia, Carpinus betula (hornbeam), Quercus robur (oak) and Corylus (hazel) so they'll find space in the smallest of plots. This is also useful to reduce the size of a plant to be able to cover it for winter protection.

Functional stems - If you want to use Salix (willow) or Corylus (hazel) stems for hurdles, basketwork or other weaving projects, coppicing and pollarding will produce a large number of young stems for you to use.

How to do it

Coppicing involves cutting all the stems down to ground level or just above it (it varies slightly depending on the plant). It's done every 1 to 3 years in winter or early spring.

Pollarding is a little more complicated. You need to train the plant to have a single, clear stem. Once the plant is established and the top of the stem is at the height you want to pollard it to, cut off the top of the main stem just above the lowest bunch of lateral growth. Cut back the other branches. Continue to shorten new stems to within 1 to 2 cm of the main stem over the next few years to create a 'head' at the top of the main stem.

Find out more about coppicing and pollarding...

The photo shows coppiced Cornus alba 'Sibirica' in the foreground (red coloured stems) with pollarded Salix alba 'Yelverton' in the background (orange coloured stems).


What's on this month

Put your hood up and wellies on to brave the weather this February:

  • 2nd February - Seedy Sunday, Brighton Corn Exchange, Brighton, East Sussex.
  • 8th & 16th February - Snowdrop And Hellebore Days, Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham.
  • 8th to 16th February - Snowdrop Days, Chelsea Physic Garden, Chelsea, London.
  • 13th February - Snowdrop And Garden Walk, The Place for Plants, East Bergholt Place, Suffolk.
  • 15th February - Pruning Workshop, Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate, Banchory, Aberdeen and Grampian.
  • 15th February - Rose Pruning, Godinton House and Gardens, Ashford, Kent.
  • 19th February - Twilight At The Garden: Darkness And Deception, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Cambridge.
  • 21st February - Torchlight Tour, Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens, Belsay, Nr Morpeth, Northumberland.
  • 21st & 22nd February - RHS London Plant And Design Snow, Lawrence and Lindley Halls, Westminster, London.