Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still spend useful time in the garden. David Coton suggests the jobs that can occupy the shortening days.
At this time of the year everything in the garden should be flourishing, including weeds. Nathan James Dodd considers the options on how to prevent and remove these unwanted intruders.
Weeds compete with your ornamental plants and vegetables for moisture, light and nutrients. They are uninvited guests that need to be removed as they certainly won't leave of their own accord.
There are two types, annual (including chickweed, groundsel and speedwell) and perennial (for example dandelions and creeping buttercup, and underground creepers such as bindweed).
Annual weeds appear from soil that has recently been turned over in order to set their seed each year. Perennials remain over winter and are more difficult to eliminate, those with non-woody stems dying back in the winter to re-emerge in the spring.
Some weeds can be classified as useful. Fat Hen attracts hover flies and bees, clover fixes nitrogen, nettles are used by butterflies to lay eggs and can be eaten as a spinach substitute.
So many organic gardeners will control these, together with red campion and teasel among others, rather than completely eliminating them.
However if weeds need to be removed, there are three main methods - manual weeding, barriers and weedkillers.
Hand weeding is the cheapest option, and is sometimes the only way in congested flower and vegetable beds. The main aim should be to stop the annual weeds from seeding and removing the whole root system from perennials.
By forking and hoeing, preferably in dry weather and working backwards, weeds are removed or cut down. Hoeing will also deal with weeds emerging from below the surface before they reach the light. Repeated cutting and strimming will eventually weaken even the toughest weeds.
All plants, including weeds, need light so covering areas with a physical barrier such as weed control fabric can also be successful. Better still, crops such as strawberries and potatoes can be planted through slits cut into the plastic.
In flower beds, the appearance of black plastic is not pretty, so bark, manure or compost mulch spread in the spring to a depth of at lease 3ins in the spring, can be very effective and will also conserve moisture.
Without sunlight for a year, most weeds will be dealt with, although persistent perennials may well survive. The only solution for the latter is to dig them up.
You don't have to be organic to shy away from chemical weedkillers and many have been taken off the market, but they are no doubt useful in some circumstances and can be 'contact', 'systemic' or 'residual'.
Quick results can be obtained from contact weedkillers that kill plants above the ground but not the roots. Systemic weedkillers are slowly absorbed by the entire plant, many are based on glysophate and this becomes inactive when coming into contact with the soil. The opposite is true of residual products that remain in the soil.
Whatever you decide, vigilance is key to success, always keeping an eye open for these opportunist invaders and dealing with them quickly and effectively with the method most appropriate to your garden and way of working.
In order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our wildlife, there's a selection of habitats and boxes you can purchase that are specifically designed to attract various small animals and insects to your garden. Here we look at some of the products available which also make unusual and very engaging gifts.
With warmer weather and an early Easter, the garden centre is busy at the moment with customers stocking up on summer bedding plants - snapdragons, cornflowers, cosmos, verbena, phlox, petunia, As well as filling planters, hanging baskets and borders with colour that will last all summer, there are always plenty of jobs to do in the garden during April and David Coton has these suggestions.
Every gardener must have noticed a decline in the bee population over recent years. Intensive farming that demands the use of toxic chemicals, climate change and parasite infestation have all been put forward as potential causes, it's a worrying trend but one that we can all help to reverse.
As an excellent alternative to conventional products, Trimetals' storage solutions blend top quality manufacture with contemporary style. Their range has now been extended to include two new maintenance free sheds and Robert Hall has all the details.