Several times over the past few weeks, I have spotted a male Bull Finch among the leafless trees in my garden. It is a beautiful bird with grey, salmon pink and black markings but it can be a pest to gardeners. Normally bullfinches eat grass and weed seeds, but when supplies run low and temperatures plummet they add plum, pear and cherry buds to their menu. Even when food is scarce, they are still selective, ignoring Morello cherries and leaving apple and black currant buds until March and April. It is one good reason for growing your fruit in a cage or covering individual plants with netting through winter and early spring. A 2cm mesh is adequate but should be lifted to allow access for pollinating insects at blossom time.
It is always difficult to decide how much to control ‘Ivy’; you have to balance its value to wildlife against potential damage to walls and old trees. If it is climbing up an old tree that is a feature of the garden, the bushy arboreal form of mature ‘Ivy’ acts like a sail, that may break fragile branches or at worst, blow the tree over. It is much better to allow ‘Ivy’ to grow into healthy trees that can support the extra weight, then prune it in late winter and summer to keep it under control. Ivy only damages walls if the mortar is in poor condition but will mark a painted fence. If you want to remove it from either of those, a paint scraper is the ideal tool.
A pleasant job for a cold day is re-cutting lawn edges that had spread onto the surrounding paths. It has a similar effect to trimming the edges in the growing season; the garden instantly looks neater. You need either a sharp half-moon, an old spade with a flat, sharp blade or a new spade held at an angle of about 80 degrees using shallow cuts so they are not curved. Slice away the excess turf using a continuous cutting motion, leaving enough of a gap between the lawn and path so there is room to fit the edging shears but not too wide or your lawn will rapidly disappear! If you have to cut a straight edge along a border a scaffolding plank or similar is the perfect template, providing you stand on it to stop it from moving or use a garden line, standing on the line to make sure that it doesn’t move. Turf that is removed can be stacked and covered with a sheet of polythene, it will rot down into lovely loam that can be used as potting compost.
I’ve also been checking through my flower pots and borders clearing out the weeds, particularly ‘Hairy Bitter cress’, which flowers during mild periods, then fruits and sets seed with alarming rapidity. Keeping this and other weeds under control saves work later in the year.
Once Christmas is over, recycle your tree by shredding it and mixing the material into the compost heap to hasten decay. Every good wish for a happy and successful 2017 – especially in the garden! Matt.