Winter colour with Cornus and primrose

Primrose in flower at Daisy Clough nursery
Primrose in flower at Daisy Clough nursery
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If your garden is not waterlogged or frozen solid February is the best time to mulch.

Clearing the winter debris from around your plants and removing any weed growth beforehand is worth doing. A layer of mulch a couple of inches thick pays dividend for the rest of the year, reducing water loss in hot weather and helping to suppress weeds.

Depending on what you mulch with it is advantageous to soil structure, encouraging worms, invertebrates and many other organisms to create a healthy balance, not to mention adding plant nutrients to the soil.

Mulching now before too many bulbs and herbaceous plants poke their noses up is easier than working around them later in the year. The best mulches to use are always well rotted and the same colour as your soil. Fresh dry chipped bark for example blows around in the wind and takes a long time to rot down taking nitrogen out of the soil as it does so.

Well rotted garden compost or leaf mould are best. To improve heavy clay soils mushroom compost works well. It also contains a bit of lime which helps to break down heavy clay soils.

Sure signs of spring are evident at Daisy Clough now. Little gems such as Winter Aconites and Iris reticulata are starting to flower and primroses are looking very cheerful. These look great in pots but also complement other larger plants at their best now.

One such group is Cornus. This is a large group of shrubs usually grown for their colourful winter stems and also known as Dogwood. Shades of red, orange, yellow and green are available. My two favourites are orange stemmed Cornus Midwinter Fire and dark purple stemmed Cornus kesselringii. Cornus prefer dampish soil and full sun. Cut back the stems hard in March to get new more colourful growth the following winter.

Not all Cornus are grown for winter stem colour. A lovely winter shrub or small tree is Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry. This has clusters of tiny pale yellow, scented flowers on bare wood in February, very pretty and a magnet to insects on warmer days. It eventually grows to around three metres and has good purpley autumn leaf colour and edible cherry like fruits. At the other end of the scale Cornus canadensis is low growing ground cover form with white bracts in spring. It looks well growing under other shrubs and trees.

Cornus kousa makes a stunning small specimen tree flowering in June with cream petal like bracts which fade to shades of pink. A good choice for a smaller garden.

Now is still a good time to plant bare root fruit bushes and raspberry canes.

Bare root trees and 
hedging have time to settle in now before the growing 
season starts.