Weather permitting, this should be a busy month preparing the ground for the season ahead. After a near record wet year surely we can look forward to something better this year? I am hoping that past history does not repeat itself and we have a year like 1976, when we had a record drought! Remember the golden rule for Tatsfield soil: don’t work it if it is still wet, wait until it is ready and avoid turning the topsoil under too deep or you will have to start again with a sticky layer.
There is a lot to be said for a ‘top down’ approach, gradually working from the surface deeper each year to develop a more workable ‘topsoil’. Using sharp sand and plenty of composted organic matter will make a very big difference within a season or so.
I read articles in the press about monster slugs and slug invasions; I was also asked recently how on earth can we control these monsters. Yes it was a record year for slugs; they love the wet conditions and your soil is now holding many thousands of eggs just waiting for the right conditions to hatch and start devouring your young plants. The best way of killing slugs is to use products based on metaldehyde but this is a chemical that can also kill hedgehogs and other mammals, so it must only be used where you have control over what other vulnerable species might have access to the treated area. There are plenty of other less persistent, but less toxic, alternatives that will need using more often. Keeping the soil surface clear of old leaves and other debris that slugs use as hiding places will also help. I hope that after an early battle with these pests, the warmer drier weather in late spring will push them into hiding, but don’t be complacent, any wet cool weather will bring them back again!
This month’s plant guaranteed to bring winter cheer, and one of my all time favourites, is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Posthill’; superb fragrance and a handsome medium sized semi evergreen plant throughout the year. If you are passing ‘Seaton’ have a look at it in full bloom right now trained flat against the east facing wall of my garage. Even in cool weather the fragrance is good but when the sun comes out it chases you all the way to the gate! A bit of summer pruning shortening back the annual growths will encourage the development of flower buds in late summer.
Finally, please be aware that if the milder weather comes along our ponds should be full of mating newts, frogs and toads, so be careful not to disturb them – this is not the time of the year for clearing out the pond!