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This is a good time to look at starting a herb patch or rejuvenating an existing one. Thyme is easily propagated from seed or by dividing mature plants. Plants are best broken up and replanted every two to three years. Mint, which grows well in sun or shade, should be planted in a sunken tin or bucket to prevent it spreading.
Sage can be increased from seed, propagated from cuttings of young growth in December or by dividing the roots in early autumn. Cut old plants back to encourage fresh growth.
Parsley is easily grown from seed sown in spring or in February. Fresh seed is important for a good strike. Encourage plants with a sprinkling of blood and bone if growth is slow.
Plant cabbage and cauliflower now for early summer harvest. Choose a warm, well-sheltered place and plant on raised ridges if the drainage is poor.
Earth up celery and leeks. Celery plants will have nearly finished growing, but leeks will continue until the first hard frost. Both plants will make further growth in spring before going to seed. If celery does show signs of forming seedheads (bolting), dig up the plants, wash and dry stems, cut into 2cm pieces and freeze.
Carrots, parsnips, beetroot and turnips can be lifted now and the ground dug over to gain the benefits of weathering. Store the vegetables in a heap in a well-drained part of the garden under loose soil, or in damp sand in a cellar or shed. Parsnips freeze very well — peel and cut into chunks before freezing on a tray, then bag up when frozen. In districts where severe frosts are uncommon, root vegetables may be left in the soil until early spring, when signs of regrowth will signal the time to lift and use the tail end of the crop.
Rose bushes, if they are showing signs of old age, should be dug up and their roots trimmed before replanting in fresh soil on a new site or in the same position with plenty of compost, garden lime and bone dust added.
Protect the small fibrous feeding roots while out of the ground by sitting the bush in water and do not waste time getting the rose back into the ground. The shift is best made when the soil is fairly dry, to prevent muddy soil caking to the roots when replanting.
Some top growth on rose bushes can be removed now but wait until August before more severe pruning.
Rambling roses, however, can pruned now. Remove all old, flowering wood and tie back long, new growth (canes) made last summer. Shortening them can be advantageous, as wood at the ends which fails to ripen will not produce flowers.
Flower beds and borders should be cleared of dead leaves and foliage, while changes to perennial beds may still be made, as long as the soil is not too wet.
Crocuses, snowdrops, tulips, hyacinths and almost all other spring-flowering bulbs should all be in by now but a last-ditch effort can be made with anemones and ranunculus, unless the soil is heavy and sunshine limited. Ranunculus gives excellent results when well-rotted cow manure is dug into a bed in a well-drained area.
Any bulbs left in the ground from last season will be actively growing and soon showing through the soil. Place no fresh manure near the roots of any bulbs, and be sparing with lime.
Apple, pear, plum and cherry trees can be planted now, but have the soil in good order first. Dig it deeply and remove all perennial weeds, such as docks, dandelions and couch grass.
Dressings of rich manure are unnecessary but fruit cannot be expected from trees planted in ill-nourished, barren soil. Stable manure can be stacked on heavy soils as a mulch around the young trees in early summer, when it will help retain moisture and be in better condition to apply to delicate root systems.
Dig a circular space for each tree, about 1.5m across, and 60cm to 70cm deep. Put topsoil to one side then mix some lime and bone dust into the subsoil, along with a little garden compost or old, rotted turf. Firm, then cover with half the topsoil, leaving a hole deep enough to plant the tree. Have the hole slightly higher in the centre to help drain heavy rain away from the stem. Staking is often necessary so put one in now, to avoid damaging the roots once the tree is in.
Root-pruning can be a solution if vigorous tree growth has not been matched by spring-blossom quantity. Trees younger than eight to 10 years can be dug up completely and have vigorous roots cut in half and taproots removed. Replace tree, firm soil and provide support against strong winds. Older trees can be root-pruned by taking out a trench halfway round the tree, 1m to 1.5m from the trunk. Cut the thick roots that have been uncovered, then try to burrow below the tree to sever any taproot that may have formed. Avoid damaging fine, matted feeding roots, which help form and feed fruit buds.