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Gardening jobs for the weekend: Plant spring window boxes and prune holly


Delicate spring flowers are especially delightful in containers, especially window boxes. Finishing pruning is a priority before the bird-nesting season; a wildlife-friendly “dead hedge” makes good use of prunings. Protect soil and smother weeds with mulches. Indoors, buy seed compost ahead of the sowing season.

Spring window boxes

Dainty understated delicate flowers such as primroses, primulas, viola and winter-flowering heathers make inexpensive spring window boxes (far right) reminiscent of spring posies. Hardy cyclamen, grape hyacinths and dwarf narcissi are delicate bulbs that combine well with small flowers. All can be recovered and planted in the garden when it is time to plant up window
boxes with summer flowers. These plants don’t mind shade, are small enough to avoid windy weather, and shrug off frost.

Pruning holly

Holly (left) grows slowly, but can creep up on you and suddenly cast excess shade and block views. Holly may sulk if it is pruned at other times of year, but trimmed now it recovers quickly, even if large branches or trunks are removed. In fact, it can be cut back to near ground level and soon recover to make a more shapely hedge or tree. Holly flowers on old wood, so pruning female trees will lead to a few berry-less years.

Holly leaves at RHS Garden Harlow Carr. Photo: RHS

Dead hedges

These are temporary barriers that suit wilder parts of the garden, perhaps while a living hedge grows. Twiggy branches left over from pruning are laid as a compact long stack, held in place by stakes driven into the ground at about 50cm intervals. Branches are pressed down between these stakes until the barrier is high enough. The hedge rots in three or four years. This natural process supports wildlife, feeding birds and hedgehogs, for example.

Seed compost

Seeds need moisture and air to germinate. Small seeds, in particular, must not be sown so deep that they cannot reach the light. Also, germinating seeds are prone to rots and moulds, so a disease-free sowing medium is essential. Fertiliser may harm seeds. Specialised seed-sowing composts are fine enough for even sowing depths, contain little fertiliser, but are “open” to allow water to drain and air to enter.


Winter rains are over, spring droughts are common and weeds are ready to grow. Spreading mulch, 5-8cm thick, of organic matter reduces evaporation from the soil surface and suppresses weeds. Rotted manure or compost is rich and suits fruit trees and roses; bark and wood chips are infertile and long-lasting, ideal for other shrubs and trees. Finer bark or composted stable manure suit herbaceous plants. Where the soil is excessively alkaline, acidic mulches derived from bracken are suitable.

Twitter: @GuyBarter

Guy Barter is the Chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society

The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity working to share the best in gardening and make the UK a greener place. Find out more at rhs.org.uk.


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