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Top 3 essential jobs for your garden this week according to gardening expert


RHUBARB TAKES THE CROWN

While classed as a fruit, rhubarb is in fact a member of the same botanical family as sorrel and buckwheat. And this dormant season is the best time to plant new rhubarb crowns.

They don’t mind getting cold, but hate being waterlogged and prefer an open, sunny, well-drained site. Rhubarb plants can grow up to two metres wide so make sure to allow plenty of room.

Once established, they don’t like to be moved, although it’s a good idea to lift and divide clumps every five years or so.

Prepare the site by working in plenty of well-rotted manure. Dig a hole slightly larger than the roots and position the crown so the part where the leaves emerge is just above the surface.

Backfill with soil and firm in. ‘Victoria’ is a productive, old-fashioned variety with green stems and will be ready to harvest by May. This is also a good time to force existing rhubarb plants that have been in the ground for at least two years. Do this by covering the crown with an upturned terracotta plant pot or forcer.

‘Timperley Early’ is great for forcing and will produce a good red colour. Within a few weeks you will have fresh stalks, but beware, rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should not be eaten. 

While classed as a fruit, rhubarb is in fact a member of the same botanical family as sorrel and buckwheat. Stock image used

While classed as a fruit, rhubarb is in fact a member of the same botanical family as sorrel and buckwheat. Stock image used 

CHIT POTATOES

I buy my seed potatoes every February at the ‘Seedy Saturday’ event near me, aiming for a mix of first and second earlies and maincrops. I plant out at Easter but, before that, I ‘chit’ them.

I leave them in an egg box or seed tray with the ‘eyes’ uppermost in a cool, frost-free area to let them to sprout. When the sprouts are about 2cm long, the potatoes are ready to plant out. 

I leave them in an egg box or seed tray with the 'eyes' uppermost in a cool, frost-free area to let them to sprout. Stock image used

I leave them in an egg box or seed tray with the ‘eyes’ uppermost in a cool, frost-free area to let them to sprout. Stock image used

Plant of the week: IRIS ‘KATHARINE HODGKIN’

An attractive dwarf iris which flowers in late winter with large pale blue petals veined with deeper blue markings and a splash of egg yolk yellow at the base of the falls.

Holding an RHS Award of Garden Merit, this cultivar was introduced in 1958 by Eliot Hodgkin, a grower of rare bulbs, and named after his wife Katharine. It grows to about 12cm tall and prefers a sunny, well-drained spot and an alkaline or neutral soil.

An attractive dwarf iris which flowers in late winter with large pale blue petals veined with deeper blue markings and a splash of egg yolk yellow at the base of the falls

An attractive dwarf iris which flowers in late winter with large pale blue petals veined with deeper blue markings and a splash of egg yolk yellow at the base of the falls

This diminutive beauty works well in containers, where it can be fully appreciated. Plant bulbs in early autumn to flower the following spring. 

WINTER WELLBEING

Admiring snowdrops and inhaling the scent of a winter garden boosts your wellbeing.

Research by Dr Emma White, commissioned by the National Garden Scheme, found the more time visitors spend in gardens at this time of year, the better they feel. The results are noticeable, as in winter, our wellbeing levels are lower.

Visitors reported feeling happy, calm and uplifted. Save £3 on the NGS Garden Visitor’s Handbook 2024 with the code DM24 (ngs.org.uk/shop).

Save £3 on the NGS Garden Visitor's Handbook 2024 with the code DM24 (ngs.org.uk/shop)

Save £3 on the NGS Garden Visitor’s Handbook 2024 with the code DM24 (ngs.org.uk/shop)

READER’S QUESTION

What should I do about gooseberry bushes that have become overgrown?

Tom Pike, Exeter.

Gooseberry bushes can quickly become tangled and congested. To get the best fruit, aim for a healthy goblet shape.

Wear thick gloves or gauntlets to protect you from the thorns. Choose eight to ten stems you want to produce fruit and reduce these by about a quarter, cutting at an angle just above an outward facing bud.

Cut back low stems which can be damaged to rodents or mildew, and remove dead, diseased and crossing stems. To get fewer but larger fruit, prune side shoots back to two buds. 



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