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Now is a good time to develop or extend a rhubarb bed as the plants (crowns) are dormant during winter. Dividing and replanting every three years gives an opportunity to remove perennial weeds and enables the soil to be enriched.
Rhubarb needs constant nourishment and thrives on the addition of plenty of animal manure to the soil.
Lift the crowns and chop them with a sharp spade. Each section should have a couple of buds and a root. Work lots of compost and manure into the bed and if a new rhubarb bed is planned, choose a cool spot with good drainage. A raised bed is ideal. Fill the bottom with manure, then soil mixed with compost, and top with a layer of clean soil into which the new plants are placed.
Broad beans can still be sown in lighter soils. Exhibition Long Pod is a reliable old variety, while Evergreen is a faster-maturing broad bean. Coles Prolific and Imperial Green both grow to about 1.3m.
If frosts are not too severe, cabbage and cauliflower plants can be put in, but the spot chosen must be well drained. Established spring cabbages can have soil gently hoed up around their stalks to improve drainage and let any sun warm the upper levels of the soil.
Fine days are a good time to dig up, split and replant perennials such as Michaelmas daisies and phlox. Add compost or general fertiliser to the soil before replanting. A green film on the surface of the soil is an indication that lime is needed, so apply this at the rate of 50g-70g per sq m.
Gladioli still in the ground should be lifted and stored in a warm, dry spot in paper bags until quite dry. Do not remove the corms’ papery cover until drying is complete.
Sweet peas can be grown in trenches, a method virtually guaranteed to give topnotch blooms. Prepare the spot by putting plenty of manure or compost in the bottom of the trench.
Sweet peas need lime, about 30g-50g to each metre of trench, before topping with soil. If the top of the trench is a little (10cm-20cm) below the surrounding soil, plants are less likely to dry out in summer.
Hydrangeas can be cut back now. Shorten stems to a double bud and mulch with manure.
For blue flowers, hydrangeas need acidic soil, and for pink flowers, alkaline soil. To get better blues, make the soil more acid by adding aluminium sulphate.
Pruning of apple and pear trees can begin when the leaves turn yellow and continue until the beginning of August, when the buds start to swell.
In general, pruning is to take out any weak or spindly growth. Remove branches that cross and cut each remaining stem back to about two-thirds of its length.
There are two main kinds of branches, the upward-facing leaders or main branches, and the young shoots or laterals. Any branches below the leaders should be removed, particularly any growing from the base of the tree.
Fruit is mainly produced on fruiting spurs, short growths with clusters of flower buds, so keep this in mind when pruning. Do not leave prunings on the ground as they attract insects and fungal diseases, and keep the ground clear around the base of fruit trees or grow suitable herbs, such as chives, tansy or comfrey, to deter pests and diseases.