This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
At this season of the year, perhaps more than at any other, garden operations depend on the state of the weather; and when there is frost and snow, work under cover should be found. There is much can be done now which would be of advantage if completed before the busy season arrives. Some of the more important work is preparing and harvesting soil; if under cover, so much the better, but if exposed, thatching it after laying the whole on a ridge would keep the rain from washing its virtues out. Where nothing better can be had for potting plants, the surface of some of the best garden-soil can be taken in when frozen, which will be tolerably pure and free from insects: and when dry, and mixed with a little sand, it will be useful for many purposes. Washing pots, and "sizing" them for the various plants to be potted ere long, may be seen to - the keeping of each size of pots by themselves prevents breakage and saves extra trouble: break up old broken pots for drainage, keeping out the dust, and placing the sizes by themselves; the smaller are useful for surfacing extra drainage in large pots. Perfect drainage is one of the agents of success with all kinds of plants.
Wash, repair, and paint glass lights, clean plant or fruit structures, whitewash walls and everything to destroy the nests of insects, etc. A cleanly appearance is one of the pleasures in connection with every branch of gardening. Mats, if used, should have the loose ends tied securely; stakes may be made, or fresh pointed; roots and tubers of all kinds in store may be looked over, decaying fruits picked out, seed cleaned (if any have been saved), tying them up in dry bags and kept free from damp, frost, and heat; the leaves of plants sponged to cleanse them, carefully removing scale or mealy bug. Any plants which are soft in the foliage require to be handled carefully. The "hints" given last month by W. P. A. should be kept in view by all who are anxious to have healthy and vigorous plants in their structures.
All pruning, except Peaches and Nectarines, should be finished as early as circumstances will allow, keeping in mind the "hints" previously given. The renewing of trees and bushes, by yearly supplies of young wood being left to take the place of what old branches may be taken out, keeps up health, vigour, appearance, and finer supplies of large fruit. The neglect of this is often the cause of premature decay; and while we advocate lifting and judicious pruning of rank roots to stop watery growth and cause fruitfulness, we also recommend the use of good rotten manure over the surfaces of roots, where growth is deficient and exhausted soil is apparent. Rasps and Black Currants especially require liberal supplies, but the collars of bushes and dwarf-trees of all kinds should be left free, as suckers would soon be troublesome. All Apples, Pears, and Plums require to be examined to keep them clear of suckers from the stocks. It may be well to remark to beginners that there is nothing gained by crowding trees with young wood - a practice which often causes short supplies and inferior fruit. Old Pears on walls should have their spurs thinned where they have been allowed to grow straight out and get crowded.
Those close to the wall are likely to be most productive, especially in cold northern localities. If there is any uncertainty about flower and fruit buds (by the inexperienced) on Pear-trees, it may be safe to leave them till next month, when the swelling flower-buds are more easily distinguished from the pointed ones, which are to produce wood only. Nail and tie all trees when weather will permit; see that the branches are not likely to be injured by pressing on the nails, and remove all ties which are likely to become too tight. Natural spurs, where they are close to the wall, should be retained, as they generally fruit freely. This applies very much to Plums and Apricots, as the annual supplies of young shoots are often not well ripened. The fastening of young trees may only be done in a temporary way till the soil settles down, keeping their roots well protected with litter, etc. Keeping the bark of trees free from insects, moss, etc, should have attention if healthy trees are desired.
Wherever improvements, renovations, or alterations of any kind are to be carried out, no time should be lost in completing the work. Draining is very essential in every garden, and in connection with every dwelling, pipe or stone drains, when substantially made, last a long time: rain-water from roofs, when not wanted for domestic purposes, should be led into a well-built tank under ground, or where it would not be in the way, and yet where it could be serviceable for watering plants of every description that required it. Walk-making can be done when weather will allow. If the subsoil is heavy, drains may be required to take off the surface-water; where the bottom is sand or gravel, open material (such as stones and broken bricks) placed for foundation of walks, will allow water to pass off freely. A walk when finished should be smooth, firm, and free from any holes in which water may lodge after heavy rain or snow. Such holes may be observed in wet weather, and should have gravel placed in them and made firm. Edgings for walks may be formed in open weather: where turf is desirable, and can be used, edgings of it less than 2 feet have a mean appearance, and they are easily destroyed when very narrow.
In laying turf, the ground should be made level and thoroughly firm; the turfs should then be fitted neatly, and well beaten or rolled flat, and the edges next the walks or borders may then be evenly cut to the proper width; but till frost is over, the edges are likely to crumble, and may be only trimmed in a temporary way till April.
Laying of Box can be done any time between September and May with every chance of success - that is, if all things are suitable to its wellbeing. First of all, for Box, the line that is to be formed should be well broken up with spade or pick, and freed of all stones likely to be in the way. The soil is then well trodden down and made level by adding or taking it off as may be necessary, and beating smooth with the spade: the garden-line is then placed and pegged if necessary, a neat cut is taken out along the mark made by the line, drawing the soil to the path. Gravel, if any, should be taken from the edges to keep it clear of soil, etc. The Box should be ready prepared, which is separating it into small pieces, and trimming the tops and roots; it is then planted evenly, with the tops 1 inch or a little more above the edge, keeping the plants in their place with the back of one hand, and placing the soil with the other. The edgings should be made firm by carefully treading the soil against the roots: clear away any unnecessary earth, then replace the gravel, roll and finish it smoothly. Stachys lanata, Lemon Thyme, etc, may be used with good effect as edgings.