Decisions are made at every turn in a gardening year. The most important of these have cut-off times, a point beyond which the opportunity is lost for another season or year.
Examples abound in propagation, pruning and planting, but perhaps the most critical as we approach the main growing season is whether summer ornamental and edible crops are to be raised from seed or bought in as young plants.
In mid-January I stood in the cold greenhouse, hot drink in hand, gazing at the grape vines.
As with all deciduous woody perennials, this is the best time to view their bare bones, and there was a sense of urgency because the removal of some thick, mature stems (rods) was in mind, and it must be completed when they are deeply dormant to prevent sap weeping from wounds.
The deed was done without mishap and every side shoot in sight was reduced to one bud, thus setting up these precious plants for another bumper late summer crop – we hope.
Fast forward one month to the present and as I inspect the bare framework against the sky, there are hints of green as swollen buds prepare to burst open. The cellular sap is beginning to flow through these plants, certainly not the time for major pruning.
Fruit bushes, such as currants and gooseberries, are different in that they will accept late winter pruning to set them up for the summer without detriment to their well-being.
Indeed, some gardeners favour pruning in two stages; the first being whilst leaves remain in place immediately after cropping, the definitive coming in winter when the plant’s outline is clear at a glance.
Often repeated general rules relating to woody ornamental perennials and bulbs can be helpful in avoiding disasters, such as a favourite plant not flowering or producing fruit.
Autumn-planted spring bulbs, especially narcissi, occasionally offer lots of healthy leaves, but no blooms, causing great disappointment after all the anticipation. This should not happen.
Cut through a healthy bulb longitudinally and you can clearly see the layers and embryo bloom ready to entertain, as they will when a hyacinth is set atop a jar of water with charcoal to keep it sweet.
There can be several factors responsible for the failure to flower, but incorrect planting depth is a strong possibility. That’s why we are continually advised in autumn to plant any bulbs with the tip at a depth of at least twice their length below soil level.