1. The moss fairies have probably had a field day in your lawn over the winter. It’s now time to bid them farewell. On a dry day, give the lawn a light trim. Then, using a rake (or hire a scarifier if you’ve got a very big lawn!), gently rake to tease the moss and dead material from the lawn. Do it a couple of times in several directions. It may now look a bit bald and patchy but try to remember you are being cruel to be kind. Once you have cleared the debris away, scatter a few handfuls of grass seed (walk north to south and then east to west, in order to broadcast the seed from several directions, 10-20 seeds per square inch is good) to fill in the bald spots. Gently brush the lawn to ensure any seeds resting on blades of grass fall onto the soil. Then either use a roller or a light shuffle with your feet to gently press the seeds into the earth. Sprinkle with a little fertiliser and then water. Water regularly for the next two weeks.
2. Late summer shrubs that flower on this season’s growth (buddleia, caryopteris) can be cut back hard now. If possible, trim down to 30-60cm from ground level. Harsh but worth it. The new, arching growth will reach 5-6ft in a couple of months and will produce much larger flowers than if it had not been pruned.
3. Lift and split clumps of snowdrops and aconites in order to hasten their spread around your garden. Snowdrops settle much more successfully ‘in the green’ than as dry bulbs. Give them a generous handful of bonemeal mixed into the earth where you ‘re-home’ them.
4. It’s your last chance to plant bare-root trees, shrubs or roses. Once the buds ‘break’ heralding new growth, usually around mid-March, there is too much demand on the plant’s water reserves for it to cope happily when its root system is not yet established.
5. Introduce some colour to sleepy borders with pot-grown Primulas, Pulmonaria and Anemones.
6. Harvest the last of your winter vegetable crops and compost any (undiseased) debris.
7. Plant onions and shallots. Planting the seeds is an awful fiddle which is why most people opt for planting onion sets (like half-grown baby onions but in a dormant state). In your prepared soil, dig small holes and lower the sets in. Ensure you cover their tops or inquisitive blackbirds will tug them out. Space them about 10cm apart and in rows approximately 30cm apart – enough room to easily get a hoe between them when mature. Shallots are grown in exactly the same way but each shallot you plant grows into a clump of several offsets instead of just one – so they need a little more space than onions – space them 20cm x 30 cm.
8. Plant dormant rhubarb crowns now in a sunny spot so their stems turn rosy-red. They like really rich soil so dig a pit and fill it with well-rotted garden compost. Plant so the top of the rootball is level with the surface of the surrounding soil. If growing several plants space them 60-90cm apart. Mulch generously.
9. If you didn’t order plug plants from a specialist during winter you can buy some now from the garden centre. If you do have some that have arrived by post, ensure you remove them from the packaging immediately or they’ll start to blanche from lack of light. Place them on a windowsill and give them a drop of water until you have time to pot them up. Plant each plug in a 9cm pot filled with seed or potting compost. Water carefully (not too dry or too waterlogged) and keep inside in a good light but not strong sunshine. When the roots begin to fill the pot and the plants look like those ‘ready to plant’ in the garden centre, plant them outdoors. In the case of tender species, like bedding plants and some patio plants harden them off carefully during April – taking them outside on fine days and bringing them in again at night.
10. Take basal cuttings from border perennials (delphiniums, lupins, salvias, foxgloves, euphorbias, verbenas, heucheras and dianthus etc). Suitable shoots are only available in early spring so it’s now or never! Scrape away soil to expose part of the stem underground, then use secateurs to snip it off as deep below ground as you can. With a very sharp knife, make a clean, straight cut across the base of your stem and remove the lower leaves (if any) so you only have the new, unfurled leaves at the top of the stem. Push in four or five cuttings around the edge of a 10cm pot filled with seed compost. Water lightly. Slip a clear plastic bag over the pot, tie with string and keep on a shady windowsill indoors. When the cuttings are clearly happily rooted and growing under their own steam, pot each one individually and grow it on in the greenhouse (or your lovely warm windowsill) until it is big enough to plant outside.