Christmas is over, a new year has begun, the idiot son has gone back to London to ruin the financial system, Cruella (my wife) has sunk into the abyss of despair and grief at the departure of the idiot, even though we had a great party before he left. She has spent days in his bed sleeping with his clothes on, sometimes accompanied by a chicken. However, I am about to start the first stage of the big winter cutback; what’s not to like.
January 12th 2023. Things I have been doing lately:
The big winter cutback Part 1. Your garden this summer will be defined by your actions over the next few weeks. Now is the time to cutback your plants fiercely, in order that they will be reinvigorated for the summer. Failure to cutback now will leave your plants weak, leggy and prone to disease. The cutback is also an opportunity to redefine the sight lines and paths in your garden and to freshen and renew your whole plot, whether it is a terrace or a plantation.
The winter cutback is not for wimps, you can’t be too precious with your plants so cutback hard, don’t worry they will survive and reward you with vigorous new growth. Most general plants, bushes and trees will benefit from being cutback hard, but do not cutback succulents and cactus. It is best to cutback your garden in a set order, my preference is as follows:
- Roses both to plant new ones and prune existing
- Ornamental grasses
- Small bushes
- Large bushes such as Oleander and Ficus
- General mixed hedges
- Trees (but not citrus at this stage)
Planting bare root Roses. Now is the time to plant new bare root roses, don’t plant container bought roses yet as the ground will be too cold, this is best left till the end of February. I stupidly killed some of my roses this summer as I turned off their irrigation after days of heavy rain and then forgot to turn it back on; by the time I noticed it was too late. This meant I had to buy in some old English bare root replacements from David Austin.
The secret to planting bare root roses is to keep them in a cool dark room until you are ready to plant them, then before planting soak them for at least 24 hours. The first photo below show my new bare roots roses resting in my shed, whilst the second shows them soaking before planting. Click on each photo for a larger view.
When you are ready to plant out, prepare the hole before removing the roses from their soaking. Also, and if possible, sprinkle the roots with Myrrcohirzal Fungi which will stimulate the roots to promote rapid growth. When you plant any roses you must make sure to bury the bud union (where the stems join the root) below the surface as this will be where the new shoots come from. Where possible back fill with well rotted compost and firm the soil all around the new plant as this will stop root rock in the wind.
The first photo below shows my new roses being lovingly coated in fungus. The next shows the depth the new rose bud union should be planted to (if possible 3 inches). Finally, a photographic triumph of me firming around the new plants. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Pruning roses. Now is the time to prune your roses. If you have lots of Roses – and I do – then sometimes to save yourself a lot of time you can prune in two stages. Firstly, get out your hedge trimmer and cut all your roses back by about two thirds;this can be scary, but I assure you it works. Wait a few days and then go back and do a traditional prune by opening up the centre of the plant to create a “wine glass” open shape. This will save you lots of time, and lessen your blood loss as you try to get into the centre of the plant. Do not use this method for climbing roses, they need only have their side shoots trimmed back.
The photos below show my rose beds before and after the massacre, followed by my climbing roses pruned more prudently. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Pruning back Chillis. Normally I grow chillis afresh every year from saved seed, but this year I have decided to cutback my existing plants and see how they grow this summer. I have plenty of seeds in reserve if I feel that the cutback plants are not performing, so it should be fun. If you want to try this, then just cutback quite low on the plant to an outward facing leaf node. Top dress with some nice fresh compost, water profusely and then leave in the shade for about three days before returning to full sun. The first photo below shows my chilli plants ready for pruning, the next shows the trimmed back plants and finally their lovely compost top dressing. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Cutting back Cannas. Cannas are one of my favourite plants, they are tall, majestic, colourful and with lovely foliage. But, perhaps more importantly they keep on multiplying so every 3 or 4 years you dig up the rhizomes (ugly bulbs) and get a whole new bunch of plants. If you have Cannas, then now is the time to cut them down, their foliage should have gone fully brown and shrivelled and all the goodness from the foliage will be stored in the rhizome.
Using your secateurs cut each stem back to about 4 inches from the ground. The length is important as it just enough to convince the plant that this stem is no longer viable and it will not try to regrow. Also the 4 inch stem will ensure that water from the ground cannot seep into the cut stem and rot the rhizome. The cut stems will not regrow, instead the rhizome will send up a completely new stem from an eye on the rhizome. By the end of the summer you will be able to pluck out the old stems from within the new growth.
The first photo below shows one of my stands of Canna ready for their winter cutback. The second photo shows them cutback to the regulation 4 inches. Finally, a canna rhizome with its old stem cut back, but I have marked the eye in the rhizome where the next stem will emerge; isn’t God wonderful. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Cut ornamental grasses back hard. Most ornamental grasses will benefit from a really hard cutback at this time of the year. Last year I divided a large Fountain grass as it had started to die back in the middle. I discarded the middle and split it into 8 parts, replanted four and gave the rest away to friends. I am pleased to say that all the new plants have taken and had a good first summer.
Now is the time for their first big cutback. Using a hedge trimmer or shears cut the whole plant back so that it forms a small mound. Then water it and leave it alone, it will come back this summer bigger and stronger. The photos below show some of my grasses before their cutback, and what they look like now after their trim. Click on each photo for a larger view.
The idiots sons leaving party. There is so much more of the big winter cutback to tell you about, but Cruella insists that I tell you about the idiot sons leaving party. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a party, there was just the three of us, together with the chickens and Tango the lonely blind Labrador.
The day started quietly with the idiot rehearsing the chickens for a big dance routine that Cruella had devised. But the little white chicken was too shy to get involved so was designated a stage hand. The first photo below shows the start of rehearsals, whilst the second shows the little white chicken shyly refusing to get involved. Click on each photo for a larger view.
Everyone was made to dress up, and I was forced to have a bath. The worst of all was Tango the lonely blind Labrador who was forcefully brushed by Cruella and the idiot boy whilst the chickens looked on mockingly. To be fair to Tango he can’t see and he thought he was being mugged, especially as the little black chicken had stolen his plastic bone earlier. The first photo below shows Tango being forcefully brushed, whilst the second shows the mugger with his bone. Click on each photo for a larger view.
The day progressed relatively slowly with Cruella insisting that we all sit through what she called her “fashion show”. This consisted of her sashaying up and down our drive (or chicken walk) as she called it, carrying a different chicken for each change of clothes. To be honest I was shocked to find that she had persuaded Nike to produce a range of what she calls “chicken couture”. The photo below shows her parading part of her sports range.
The evening ended in a raucous manner with a themed country and western event by the swimming pool. We all had to wear cowboy outfits, which greatly perplexed Tango as although he can’t see, he could hear my leather Chaps rubbing. The finale was the idiot boy insisting on wrestling with Tango which resulted in the poor dog thinking he was being mugged again. The first photo shows the idiot son dressed as a cowboy, much to Tango’s bewilderment, whilst the second shows part of the end of day wrestling. Click on each photo for a larger view.