GP Life: Prepare now for fruits and flowers

Look ahead now, says Dr Jonathan Holliday as a little work now will reap worthwhile rewards.

It may be cold out there, but it's time to think ahead to the summer if we are to get good crops of fruits and flowers. February is as late as we should go with pruning fruit bushes, so put it off no longer.

Red and white currants are both easily grown and are fruitful. Their only real drawback is the appeal to the birds. Right now we should be cutting back leaders by one half to outward-pointing buds. Laterals (those that branch out from the sides of leaders) should be cut back to about one inch. Remove all diseased, damaged or dead wood.

The fruit of black currant is carried on the wood of the previous year, so remove stems that are three years and older. The bark of the younger shoot is lighter, which helps identify them.

Mid February to mid March is the time to be pruning roses. Hybrid Teas, the occupants of ordinary rose beds, flower on the new (current) season's growth and most varieties respond well to heavy pruning. Cut out diseased and dead wood, plus any awkward stems. Vigorous new stems should be cut back to four to six eyes and the laterals to two eyes. It is difficult to generalise about climbing roses, but one thing is true for them all.

They all form more flowering laterals from horizontally positioned shoots, so tying shoots into the horizontal increases flowering.

Get your peas off to a flying start: drill holes in a length of plastic guttering, fill with John Innes seed compost and sow your peas. It does not need to be anywhere too warm but it does need to be light - a windowsill or greenhouse will be fine. When the seedlings have a few leaves, prepare a trench in the ground into which to slide the seedlings and their surrounding soil with minimal disturbance. They may need a plastic covering to maintain progress.

Early potatoes, like Dunluce, can be planted in mid February if you have warmed up the ground first. For two weeks, cover with fleece, or a polytunnel or elongated cloche of wire hoops and clear plastic sheeting. The reward is tasty new potatoes around May/June.

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