WEEKEND WORK

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The Independent Online
It has been snowing here again, and sensibly few of the roses are yet showing signs of breaking into growth. Established hybrid tea roses can still be pruned, if you haven't already. The quick, modern way is to shear them over with a hedge cutter. The old way is to proceed in careful stages. Cut back any wood that is dead or diseased, making the cut just above a plump, healthy bud. Take out any shoots growing in towards the centre of the bush. Shorten the strongest remaining branches by about half, but be more savage with the spindly growths, taking them back to about two buds from the base. Standard roses need gentler treatment. Remove all dead and diseased wood, then cut back all the remaining growth by about a third.

Tuberous begonias that have hibernated through the winter need prodding into action now. Tip them from their pots, clean off old stems and then settle them into a tray of moist compost to sprout again, concave side uppermost. A heated propagator will speed up the sprouting. When new leaves have appeared, plant the tubers in separate pots and grow them on at a temperature of around 50F.

Continue to sow seeds of annuals such as sweet peas, tobacco flowers and petunias to set out later in the season. I have just sown seed of a perennial aquilegia called Double Pleat (Thompson & Morgan pounds 1.89) with frilly double flowers of purple and white. Ideally seed should be sown fresh in late summer, but this does not suit seed companies. Germination is better if you put the seed, sown in a pot of compost and covered with clingfilm, into the fridge for a couple of weeks, before bringing it out in the warm. If the seed sprouts while it is still in the fridge, bring the pot out and let the seedlings grow on in a warmer place.

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