A healthy diet of prune...

Buddleia early in full bloom

Buddleia early in the season

First published in Gardening by

GINA PARKINSON gives the buddleia its spring chop – a trim that will give this tough shrub a boost.

DAYLIGHT is increasing and soon it will be possible to get some gardening done before work.

It takes planning to make sure everything gets done, but it’s worth it to be able to start the day outside. Then there is time at the other end of the day too, so long as no one wants tea.

The weather was glorious last Sunday and it beckoned me outside to start the spring chop. Buddleia davidii pruning was top of the list. I find it useful to have one job in mind at this time of year, something that can be done before hands and feet get too cold.

Buddleia are sprouting new shoots along the length of their stems by mid-February, even those in a cold shady spot. These tough shrubs cope with the most inhospitable of places, so in the sunny places they inhabit in our garden they are well into growth.

This makes them easy to cut back by simply pruning each stem back to just above a strong shoot as far down the length as possible.

Buddleia davidii is the traditional butterfly bush with soft grey-green leaves and long stems topped with tiny nectar-rich flowers massed into large cone-shaped structures at the end of each stem.

The flowers are in shades of white, pink and purple depending on the variety and will attract many nectar-seeking insects when they open in early to late summer.

It will grow in almost any situation and soil but will provide the best growth and flower display in a sunny, well-drained spot. Growth is quick, a mature specimen pruned hard back in February will be able to grow to a couple of metres or more in one season, providing a good display of colour for many weeks in mid to late summer.

Hard pruning in early spring keeps this vigorous shrub in check and encourages plenty of new growth and flowers. Another member of the buddleia family doesn’t need an early spring cut.

This is Buddleia globosa or orange ball tree, with round orange flowers in May and June. Less showy than davidii, it tends to be straggly but grown with stronger shrubs to give support the flowers give an attractive display in early summer.

This particular species should have some of the oldest wood cut out after flowering.

After the buddleia, my attention was turned to another deciduous shrub, Euonymus europaeus or spindleberry.

This is a beautiful large shrub that can grow into a small tree four metres or so tall with a brilliant display of autumn colour from foliage and unusual pink and orange seed pods.

Last spring we thinned out a number of shrubs, including the spindleberry that had got tall and tangled. At the time they looked massacred but a year on most have thickened out and found their space again.

All, that is, but the spindleberry, which gave a poor show of foliage and few of its bright autumn berries last September and October. Bare-stemmed and misshapen, it has looked as if we were too harsh and should have left well alone.

Now that spring is coming, things are starting to shoot and the spindleberry is joining in with new buds breaking along the stems, including the thick main trunk.

A very light prune has begun the reshaping and all should be well this year once the weather warms, days lengthen and the new leaves unfold.

Weekend catch-up

THE first of the dahlia tubers can be planted up this weekend. They may look unpromising but once put into pots of compost and watered new shoots will soon pop through in their search for light.

This year I’m going to add some single varieties to the mix; they will attract the pollinating insects that ignore the cactus and anemone types I usually choose.

There will still be a place for these, the flowers are too tempting to give up entirely but it is a good idea to try to increase the number of flowers that can support insect life.

Newly potted up dahlia tubers need to be kept in a light, frost-free place to grow until the weather warms up in April or May. By then they should be a good size and can be slowly hardened off outside and put into their flowering position in late May or early June when the danger of frost has gone.

Gardening TV and radio

Sunday

8am, BBC Radio Humberside. The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson is joined by experts Bunny Guinness, Anne Swithinbank and Matthew Wilson to answer questions from gardeners in Saltash, Cornwall.

Friday

3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chris Beardshaw, Matthew Biggs, Pippa Greenwood and chairman Peter Gibbs advise gardeners from Haynes.

Saturday, March 3

7am, BBC Radio York, Julia Booth. Presenter Julia and gardening expert Nigel Harrison hold their weekly plant surgery.

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