I roused myself today to check the pots in the greenhouse and the conservatory. I hadn't done any watering since before Christmas, and while I thought that most things would still be OK, I was beginning to think that it would be a shame to find too many desiccated remains when I finally returned to the garden. The greenhouse is practically impassable because I hurriedly shoved a lot of pots and trays in there some time in mid December when particularly wet and cold weather was imminent, thinking I'd sort them out later, and later hasn't come yet.
Winter watering is tricky. The manager at the plant centre used to drain down the irrigation system for winter, and only fire it up occasionally on days when he was there. The stated reason was to prevent the pipes splitting in the frost, and I'm sure that was one motivation for draining it, but I'm equally certain the other was to prevent over-keen members of staff from over-watering the pots in the tunnels. Watering can feel like a satisfying way of spending a couple of hours at work, especially if the alternative is standing outside when it's only a few degrees above freezing and trying to scrape weeds off frozen pots. But most plants in containers use water very slowly at this time of year. Drench them now when they don't need it and their roots may rot away before they ever manage to dry out.
Of course the flip side is the root ball allowed to sit too dry over winter so that the plant quietly dies before spring ever arrives. I have managed to kill plants, mostly my own, by both methods though I am probably more of an under-waterer than an over-waterer. Anyway, today I decided it was time to go and make an inspection. Most things didn't look too bad. I gave a stingy amount to some of the pelargoniums up on the greenhouse staging, and a couple of evergreen shrubs in the conservatory that looked dry, but most pots didn't need watering.
The light was flashing on the electric rat zapper in the greenhouse, and when I looked inside there was a dead mouse. Goodness knows how long that had been there. It had chewed the emerging leaves of some hyacinths under the staging, or one of its friends or relations had, but there was no further damage to the tray of Clivia seedlings that was the mouse's target last time, and was why I moved the zapper from the top of the sealed cases of small bulbs to the other end of the bench. It looked as though nothing had managed to get into the propagating cases, but I wasn't breaking the gaffer tape seals to find out. I threw away the mouse and reset the trap, but it began to buzz faintly and I had to swap it with the one that's been drying in the laundry room over Christmas. The price of electric rat zappers has gone up in recent months, perhaps a casualty of Brexit, and it is annoying to have to adopt a one on, one off system with them. I should prefer to deploy all three at all times. As it is there is one on permanent duty by the chicken food bin in the garage, meaning I don't have a spare to put down in the conservatory. (Anybody who does not understand my hatred of mechanical traps still has twenty days to catch David Sedaris's essay on the subject on Radio 3).
I discovered to my annoyance that the potted Christmas tree that never was had lost its pot. I moved it into the greenhouse before Christmas so that it should not blow over and break any of its branches, standing it in a seed tray balanced across the edges of three dahlia pots because I was so short of space, and its pot must have dropped off the root ball as I lifted it, and I must have not noticed in my declining state. The root ball didn't feel too dry, and the needles hadn't assumed that dull tone that tells you that something is going badly wrong with a conifer, but it can't have done it any good to sit without a pot for over a fortnight. Heigh ho.