February Notes from Halecat

tomIn his latest column, Tom Attwood, of Abi and Tom’s Garden Plants, Halecat Nursery, looks at semi-dormancy, Primula and taking hardwood cuttings.

I’m writing these few words with a hint of trepidation as the risk of being complacent at this critical time of the gardening year can often recoil on me in very dramatic fashion.

The mild nature of winter’s progress to date, has, as you’d expect left many plants in a state of semi-dormancy, particularly those that hang on until the very end of October into early November This isn’t a significant problem with those plants rooted in the soil, it can however prove tricky for those destined to spend their first 1-2 years growing in the confines of plant pots.

We struggle sometimes with this semi-dormancy as the shock of a March frost or dump of snow can accelerate moulds and tissue damage. Prone areas to potential damage are the roots and the growing tips of the plant. The Primula family is a large one of which we grow a sizeable number annually on the nursery; this is one group of plants that don’t appreciate a ‘mixed-up’ winter.

If you grow Primula at home In terracotta pots for a spring display, try to avoid placing the plants in the direct morning sun as the rapid thawing during cold weather can leave you with mushy leaves and shoots. I appreciate this isn’t always a choice we have, if this is the case, a sheet thrown over the plants overnight and removing it by late morning can help negate this happening.

I’ve found on the nursery and particularly in our garden areas that the respite normally associated with winter in the pernicious weed department has failed to give my knees a break. It’s true to say that the rate of growth has lessened significantly, but if you can, try to keep on top of any seedlings that try to make a break for it when things warm up. Annual weeds such as hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) are a terrific addition to the compost heap, just avoid the perennial rogues such as docks, nettles and bindweed (unless your compost heap reaches temperatures in excess of 50 degrees centigrade for prolonged periods of time. If it does go for it, otherwise use the green bin).

As the end of February fast approaches there’s still a window of opportunity to take some hardwood cuttings, in fact now is a good time, just prior to sap-flow in the main plants. Fail proof candidates to try would be the Salix and Cornus with brightly coloured stems such as Cornus albs ‘Sibirica’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’ Take pencil size pieces of wood, insert them into either pots of gritty compost or for best results, an area of soil covered in black plastic with the pieces of wood pushed 2/3rds into the soil. From April onwards you will be met by a flurry of green leaves and bursting buds, with plants capable of being potted on or planted out by late summer. Here’s to a balanced, forgiving late winter and early spring destined to treat both gardeners and gardens with kind-heartedness.


Abi and Tom’s Garden Plants, at Halecat, Cumbria, has a varied Course Programme run throughout the spring and summer season. Pruning techniques, seed sowing, designing natural plant supports and propagation are just a few of the courses on offer.

For a full list of courses go to: http://www.halecatplants.co.uk