Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings

Newsletter 57 - February 2016

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. 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.
  • Harvest mistletoe berries and stick the seeds onto branches of apples, limes or poplars where you’d like it to grow.
  • 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.
  • Prepare new asparagus beds.
  • 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.
  • Take photos of what your garden looks like this month so you can remember what's growing where to help you plan design changes.
Plant of the monthCornus sanguinea 'Winter Beauty'

Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Beauty' has a fabulous winter display of orange stems with red tips. The fiery effect is particularly striking when they are planted in groups with a dark background. A deciduous shrub, which grows to 3m tall and 2.5m wide, this dogwood has bright green leaves which turn yellow/orange in autumn. Find out more...

Problem of the monthMottled arum aphid

Mottled arum aphids are a common pest in glasshouses and on houseplants. The aphids are yellow or green, the older adults having darker bands across their bodies and a distinctive U shaped mark. The aphids cause distortions from sucking the plant's sap and are also a vector for over 30 different plant viruses. Chemical controls are the most effective way of dealing with them. Find out more...

In the news

Petition for more trees in Welsh towns

The Woodland Trust has submitted a petition to the Welsh Assembly calling for an increase in trees for Welsh towns and cities. Citing Wrexham's estimated £1.3m saving from trees absorbing rain water and pollution (thereby reducing sewerage and healthcare costs), the Trust wants at least 20% tree canopy cover in all Welsh towns and cities. Signed by 2,258 people, the petition was submitted to the Assembly Building in Cardiff on the 26th January.

Care home gardens to become more dementia-friendly

The charity 'Learning Through Landscapes' has been given a £1.3m lottery grant to transform the outside spaces at 30 care homes across the UK. Aiming to create gardens which are "more suitable, stimulating, accessible and more like familiar natural environments people have experienced in the past", the charity will work with care home residents and staff to encourage those with dementia to use the outdoor spaces more often. The changes, based on findings from a pilot site in Herne Bay, Kent, should improve the residents' health and wellbeing..

National Trust given collection of rare cider apples

Cider apple collector Henry May has donated his 25 year old 'National Cider Apple' collection to the National Trust. The varieties, which include rarities such as Slack-ma-Girdle and Netherton Late Blower, are being propagated from May's orchard in Herefordshire and will be planted in 8 National Trust properties. It's hoped that the trees will provide sufficient fruit to start making cider in around 7 years' time.


Best of the birches

Betula, or birch, trees are masters of the winter garden. Their graceful lines display attractive bark to great effect, which can be further enhanced by planting near to contrasting winter colours such as dogwood stems, snowdrops or heathers. Here we look at some of the best birches for a striking winter bark display.

Betula utilis var jacquemontii

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Growing to 15m tall by 10m wide this tree is very popular for its striking white bark (shown right) and is often grown as a multi-stemmed tree for a greater bark display. Find out more about this birch.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Grayswood Ghost'

This is one of the best birches for white stems. Growing to 15m tall and 10m spread, it has large leaves which obscure the bark in the summer, then turn yellow in the autumn before they fall.

Betula utilis 'Park Wood'

The peeling bark of this birch reveals an attractive patchwork of shades of brown, from a light blush to a deep chocolate brown. It grows to 15m tall and 10m wide.

Betula utilis 'China Rose'

Growing to 10m tall and 8m wide, this would be a suitable choice for a smaller garden. Its smooth bark is a rich, coppery red.

Betula albosinensis 'Pink Champagne'

A great choice for a more subtle bark effect, this birch has smooth, peeling bark which reveals shades of pale pink with a softening white bloom over it. The tree grows to 15m tall by 10m wide in a slender shape.

Betula albosinensis 'Red Panda'

Betula albosiensis 'Red Panda'

The peeling, orange/red bark of this birch (shown right) glows beautifully with the sun behind it. The new bark underneath is of a much lighter colour. It grows to 15m tall and 10m wide. Find out more about this birch.

Betula pendula 'Tristis'

This silver birch will grow to 20m tall and 10m spread, so it's not a tree for a small garden - best planted in an open landscape where its form can be fully appreciated. Its bark is smooth and silvery-white, the branches having a graceful, weeping form, with cascades of slender leaves which turn yellow in autumn.

How to care for your birch

Birches are fairly low maintenance plants. While some initial training is often required to achieve the form you want, pruning an established tree can be detrimental because birches are often attacked by fungal diseases such as rots. The bark can be washed with warm water in the winter to provide a better display, but don't be tempted to peel of old bark as you can harm the plant. Cultivars are usually propagated by grafting, however species can be raised from seed.


What's on this month

Don't let the frost or rain put you off, brave the weather to visit some of these great garden events this month:

  • 8th February - The Effect Of Pesticides On Bees Lecture, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London.
  • 13th to 21st February - Snowdrop Week, Easton Walled Gardens, Grantham, Lincolnshire.
  • 14th February - Snowdrop Festival, West Dean Gardens, West Dean, Nr Chichester, West Sussex.
  • 16th & 17th February - RHS London Plant and Potato Fair, RHS Horticultural Halls, London.
  • 18th February - Winter Walk through the Garden, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Edinburgh.
  • 18th February - Winter Walk through the Garden, Benmore Botanic Garden, Dunoon, Argyll.
  • 21st February - Snowdrop Fair, Great Comp Garden, Sevenoaks, Kent.
  • 22nd February - The Scented Garden Course, Waterperry Gardens, Nr Wheatley, Oxfordshire.
  • 25th to 27th February - RHS London Botanical Art Show, RHS Lindley Halls, London.
  • 28th February - Snowdrop Tour, The Beth Chatto Gardens, Colchester, Essex.