Sowing slow-maturing bedding
Clear borders of weeds and debris, to keep them neat and prevent a build-up of garden pests and diseases. Some weeds will continue to grow and seed in mild winters, while others, such as creeping buttercup, are more easily seen when the ground is cleared. Avoid compacting the soil, particularly in wet winters, by using short pieces of board to walk on. Fork over the soil when the job is finished.
Dig any heavy clay soil that was left unturned in the autumn. Frosts will help break the soil down, creating a finer tilth. Dig in annual weeds, provided they are not seeding, but remove and destroy the roots of all perennial weeds.
Tidy borders by removing overwintering weeds. You can remove dead stems and leaves from plants at the same time. This improves their appearance and reduces the risk of them sheltering pests and perpetuating diseases.
Frost and wind protection
Check the half-hardy perennials are protected against frost. Plantings from last autumn may also require some protection if the weather turns very cold. Use covers such as cloches, netting, plastic sheeting, newspaper or even old woollens. Natural materials, such as dead bracken, straw, mulches and conifer branches, can also be used. Ashes and cinders from fires must be weathered before use, as they may contain harmful chemicals. Remove all damp coverings as soon as the danger of frost passes since weatherlogged materials may cause mildew. Provide permanent or temporary shelter against wind damage. Shrubs, trees and hedges will help break the force of the wind.
Check that slightly tender perennials, such as Lobelia cardinalis and osteospermums, have adequate winter protection in cold frames and greenhouses. Close and cover cold frames in frosty weather but open them in milder weather to prevent mildew.
Some border perennials will bloom in their first season if the seed is sown in warmth under glass over the next two months. Consult seed catalogues to see which varieties are likely to be successful (though all make better plants in their second year). Among the plants to try are alchemillas, capanulas, poppies and violas.
Generally, seeds of hardy perennials should be sown in the appropriate compost and the pots and trays placed outdoors. Cover them with netting to protect them from birds and cats. Many seeds, such as hellebores and peonies, require frost to trigger germination. When the first shoots appear, move the pots into a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. Leave sowing until February if this shelter is not available.