Gardens Tips & Jobs for January
As we enter a New Year & a new decade our thoughts naturally turn again to Spring which may seem a long way away still but once the snowdrops & other early plants start appearing the idea of pottering in the garden will once more appeal. The past three months with the awful grey wet & stormy weather have certainly prevented any meaningful gardening but the few sunny days at the end of the year have helped restore the spirit.
Although January can be a quiet time in the garden, make the most of any mild and dry weather by getting on with as many jobs as possible. Doing them now will mean there’s less pressure in Spring, when things can get a bit manic! With yet more wet weather & flooding in many parts of the country it may be difficult to get outside this January. If so it is a great opportunity to catch up reading all those glossy gardening books you bought over recent years but which have remained unopened in a book case !
January is a great month to make the most of any mild weather and restock the garden with hardy trees, shrubs, roses, climbers, hedging, fruit, herbaceous plants – and just about anything else! So take a good look around the garden and see where you’ve got bare areas that will benefit from some new plants. You can plant providing the soil isn’t waterlogged or frozen.
Bare-rooted plants are available this month and, as they’re less expensive than containerised plants, they’re a great way of making the most of your money – especially if you’ve got large areas to plant up.
Make sure the soil is well prepared with plenty of added organic matter – such as well-rotted manure, compost, composted bark or tree planting compost. Mix in more organic matter with the soil dug out from the planting hole and add some bonemeal fertiliser.
Always plant at the same depth that the plant was originally growing and firm the soil around the roots.
Trees will need to be staked with a good tree stake, secured with two tree ties. Climbers will need to be tied into their supports; tying branches horizontally or in a fan shape not only looks more pleasing, but it also improves flowering.
After planting, give the plants a good soaking to settle the soil and roots and to ensure fast establishment. Mulch the soil around them with a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick layer of organic matter to help keep down weeds and maintain soil moisture levels in spring and summer.
Evergreens will benefit from shelter from strong, cold winds if you live in an exposed area. Put up shelters of windbreak netting supported on strong stakes.
Making garden compost is a great way of producing your own humus-rich material for use as a soil improver and mulch. Any plant material can be used, as long as it isn’t diseased. You’ll need a compost bin or heap to keep all the material together and provide the correct conditions for speedy rotting.
Make sure there’s a good mix of plant material, and that any stems or large leaves have been cut into smaller pieces otherwise they’ll take ages to rot down. You can speed up the rotting process by adding a compost accelerator.
If compost is ready to use, spread it out over the soil or dig it in. If it’s not ready, re-mix it and refill the bins.
Now is an excellent time to treat fences and trellis with a preservative. Deciduous climbers will have lost their foliage and can easily be moved out of the way. Don’t be tempted to prune them back unless you know it won’t affect flowering this year.
Make good use of quiet moments to clean all your old pots and seed trays, so that they’re ready for spring. Thorough cleaning will reduce pest and disease problems troubling young plants and seedlings; use household bleach or Jeyes Fluid.
When gardening on wet clay soils, work from a plank of wood or board, rather than treading on the bed. This will help spread your weight and help avoid compacting the soil.
Grow Your Own - Fruit
Keep the secateurs busy, as there are several pruning jobs you can get on with.
Start or continue the winter pruning of established, free-standing apple and pear trees; not cordons, espaliers, pyramids or fans, which should be left until summer. Similarly, pruning stone fruit must be left until late spring or summer.
Make sure you have a plan of attack and don’t just prune for the sake of it. Consider removing the following:
- The four Ds –growth that is dead, dying, damaged or diseased.
- Growth that is crossing from one side of the tree to the other.
- Any branches that are rubbing.
- Any branches that are growing too low, growing too tall, or those that are growing out too far from the main trunk and ruining the shape of the tree.
Prune red and white currants and gooseberries by thinning out very old, very thin and diseased growth. Then cut back main branches by half to three-quarters and sideshoots on these branches to one to three buds from their base.
For blackcurrants, cut back up to one-third to a half of all the older branches to their base to give plenty of room for young, vigorous growth.
Grape vines can be pruned as they’re dormant; major pruning at other times of the year can lead to severe bleeding, which will weaken the vine and may even kill it. Last year’s sideshoots should be hard pruned to one or two buds.
Carefully rubbing off the old, loose bark of indoor vines can help deter overwintering pests.
Lift and divide old, unproductive crowns of rhubarb and replant in well-prepared soil with plenty of added well-rotted manure or similar bulky organic matter.
Place cloches over strawberry plants to produce an early crop.
Grow Your Own - Veg
At this time of year there is an almost irresistible urge to start seed sowing. However, unless your soil is very well drained and you live in a sheltered, mild district it is far better to wait until spring. Most vegetable seeds won’t germinate until the soil temperature reaches 7C (45F) and will just rot if sown in cold soil. Sowings made in spring will catch up with those sown in winter and usually produce better, stronger crops.
Start drawing up your plans for this year's vegetable cropping and order seeds and other planting material, such as onion sets and seed potatoes. When seeds arrive make a month-by-month seed sowing organiser and store the seeds in cool, dry conditions.
Some sowings can be made indoors, but be aware that windowsills are rather dark and seedlings suffer if grown on them for prolonged periods, becoming weak and spindly. Greenhouses offer better conditions, but some heating will be needed to raise healthy well-grown plants (a minimum temperature of 7-10C/45-50F for most crops). Broad beans, Brussels sprouts, early summer cabbage, calabrese, cauliflowers, leeks, onions, peas, radish, shallots, spinach and turnips are all suitable crops for sowing in these conditions.
Young broad bean plants and winter lettuce can be planted out now. They will probably need cloche or fleece protection from frost, cold weather and wind.
Plant shallots and garlic in mild areas with well-drained soil. Garlic cloves can be planted in modules in mild areas where the soil is less free draining.
Jerusalem artichokes can be planted now.
Radishes, mustard, cress, winter lettuce and other salads can be sown in growing-bags in a greenhouse or on a windowsill.
On thick, heavy clay soils work up a bit of a sweat and work off the indulgences of Christmas by winter digging. Light, sandy soils are best left until spring, but you can help improve their soil structure by putting a thick layer of organic matter over the soil now.
Thoroughly dig over any bare areas of soil, incorporate plenty of well-rotted organic matter and, at the same time, remove any weeds. Winter digging not only helps break down the clumps of clay soils and improves soil structure, it also exposes soil pests to frost and bird predators.
Get ready for an early start in the veg garden by covering beds with clear polythene. This warms the soil, keeps it from getting too soggy and encourages weeds to germinate, which can then be dealt with before sowing to produce a ‘weed-free’ bed.
Towards the end of the month you can start chitting early potatoes, which generally produces a bigger, better crop.
Chitting simply means getting them into growth to produce strong young shoots before planting. Stand the seed potatoes upright in trays or egg boxes with the ‘eye’ end (the end with the most eyes or buds) uppermost. Keep them somewhere cool, light and frost free. If the tubers produce more than five young shoots, rub off the excess. The tubers will be ready to plant out in April.
If you grow peas and beans, leeks and celery make a trench and fill it with kitchen vegetable waste, torn up newspaper, cardboard, compost and anything similar. This will help hold moisture in the summer and so produce bumper crops. The trench can be filled in with soil in the spring, just before sowing or planting out.
If you didn’t get round to it in autumn, lift and divide overcrowded clumps of herbaceous perennials, especially those that have been in for a few years and didn’t flower well last year. This will improve their shape, vigour and flowering, as well as increasing stocks of your favourites.
Carefully lift the clump with a spade or garden fork and place on a sheet of polythene. Then carefully with a spade or, for plants with fleshy roots, such as hostas, a sharp knife, cut right through the roots to produce a number of smaller plants. The outer portions of the clump will be the youngest and the healthiest; the centre will be the oldest part and not worth keeping. When dividing perennials with fleshy roots, make sure each portion of root has a growing point.
Replant in well-prepared soil that has had plenty of organic matter and some bonemeal fertiliser added.
Root cuttings of some herbaceous perennials can be taken now, including anemone, eryngium (sea holly), papaver (perennial poppies) and verbascum (mullein).
Lift the plant and wash the roots or gently dig around the plant and tease out strong, healthy roots. They can be rooted in the ground or a cold frame, but rooting is better in a heated propagator at around 18-24C (65-75F).
Cut off a healthy root and cut into 5cm/2in (if rooting in the ground or cold frame) or 2.5cm/1in (if rooting in a propagator) sections; make a straight cut at the top of the sections (taken from nearest the plant) and angled cut at bottom to tell top from bottom. Space them out in pots filled with a 50:50 mix of multipurpose and John Innes compost and press down into the compost. Then cover the compost service with grit or gritty sand. Pot up plants individually once new roots have formed.
If you missed out on planting spring-flowering bulbs in autumn make up for it by planting potted bulbs. There’s plenty to choose from at this time of year. They look great when planted in containers – including hanging baskets.
Check overwintered tubers of dahlias, cannas and begonias once a fortnight to ensure they don’t dry out and shrivel up, and for any signs of rots or other diseases. Cut out any rots with a sharp knife and dust the cut surfaces with sulphur powder.
Towards the end of the month you can start sowing seeds of annuals that need a long growing season - such as antirrhinum, geranium (pelargonium), lobelia, salvia and bedding begonias. However, resist sowing unless you have the warmth to grow the plants on (a minimum of 10C/50F in a brightly lit place) and the facilities to harden them off properly before planting out. Sowing too soon in the wrong conditions can lead to straggly, unhealthy plants that never perform well in the garden. Leaving sowing until the conditions improve usually results in better plants and these soon catch up and out-perform those sown too early.
Sweet peas can be sown this month, in a heated propagator, in long pots or tubes filled with compost.
Trees, Shrubs, Roses & Climbers
This is a perfect month for moving deciduous small trees, shrubs and climbers that are growing in the wrong place or have outgrown their space. Old plants may not establish well and so may not be worth the risk.
Where possible, start by pruning back up to half of the top growth – moving plants puts a stress on the plants and you can reduce this stress by reducing the amount of stems and leaves.
Water the soil around the plant thoroughly the day before. Dig up as big a rootball as possible that you or you and a friend can manage to lift.
Replant in well-prepared soil with plenty of added humus and bonemeal, so that the rootball sits at the same level as it was originally but is covered with no more than an inch or so of soil.
Tall shrubs and trees may need staking to keep the roots secure.
Water in well after moving and for the first year.
Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be carried out now. The exceptions are tender plants, and also Prunus species (such as ornamental cherries), as these are vulnerable to diseases if pruned now. Evergreens are also usually best left until the spring.
When pruning trees and shrubs, take the opportunity to examine branches for signs of disease and remove them before the disease spreads.
Ensure your wisteria flowers its head off this year by cutting back all sideshoots to 2.5-5cm (1-2in) long, except where you need to extend the framework to cover the support.
Check tree stakes and ties are secure and will withstand the winter weather; ensure that ties are neither too loose nor strangling trunks - they may need loosening.
Tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to protect them from wind damage. Any growth that refuses to be trained in this way can be pruned off.
If there is snow, you should carefully remove this from conifers and other evergreens. Heavy snowfall can splay branches and spoil the shape of the plant.
The new year isn’t a major time of year for lawn care, but a little work now will pay dividends in the spring.
Avoid walking on lawns in frosty weather as it can damage the grass and leave brown footprint-shaped marks.
The grass will grow in temperatures above 5°C (41°F), so if the weather is mild it may be necessary to use the mower to keep the lawn in trim. Ensure the cut is 3-5mm higher than during the summer to prevent turf stress. On average, this means a cutting height of around 3-4cm (1.25-1.5in) for a utility lawn.
Repair damaged lawn edges. Use a spade to cut out a square of turf containing the damaged area Turn the turf around so that the damaged area is on the inside and fill the gap with old potting compost topped with a little grass seed.
Re-cut all lawn edges to crisp up the appearance of the garden.
It’s too early to sow grass seed, but new lawns can be laid from turf if the weather isn’t too cold.
Watch out for signs of waterlogging during wet weather. Spiking the lawn with a garden fork may remedy this, but in severe cases, you may have to improve the drainage.
Worm casts can become a problem. Wait until they’re dry and sweep them away with a stiff brush or broom.
If you see deep-rooted perennial weeds, such as dandelions, you’ll have to remove them by hand as it’s too cold for lawn weedkillers to work effectively.
Have your mower serviced now; most people leave it until spring when you may have to wait weeks to have the work completed.
Cyclamen and azaleas appreciate a cool room with good light. Place poinsettias in a warm, light place, away from drafts, to ensure they last for as long as possible.
Cacti and succulents, apart from Christmas cacti, need a period of cool dormancy over the winter: keep them at 7-13C (45-55F), the compost barely moist and don’t feed. Resume normal care next spring to bring them back into growth and flowering.
Clivias also benefit from a rest period over winter.
If your Christmas cactus failed to set flower buds, it may be that the temperature is too high (above 18C/65F), or that the plant is receiving light from an artificial light source after dark. Try moving the cactus into cooler conditions or away from night lighting.
Pot up amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs in pots of good compost; you only need to plant the bottom third of the bulb, leave the remaining two-thirds above the compost level. Bring them back into growth with regular watering and light feeding with a houseplant fertiliser when in full growth.
Make sure you don’t overwater plants – this is the commonest reason for them dying. Only feed houseplants that are in flower, using a high potash liquid feed; leave the others to rest.
Water cyclamen by filling the saucer with water until the plant takes up no more - then throw away any surplus. Watering in the top of the pot may rot the tuber.
Water azaleas with rainwater or de-ionised water, not tap water.
Keep poinsettias moist but don’t overwater them.
Stand foliage houseplants on trays of wet gravel to counteract the drop in humidity from central heating. Misting the foliage with a hand mister and grouping them together also helps to create a humid atmosphere.
Give foliage houseplants a break from the dull winter indoor light by moving them nearer to windows or to a conservatory for a few weeks.
Make sure plants stood on windowsills are brought into the room over night; if they stay where they are it’s likely they’ll get a cold shock and may even be killed.
Regularly pick off yellowing or dead leaves and faded flowers to keep plants looking their best and help prevent disease problems developing and spreading. Check for pests as they can multiply quickly indoors; rub them off or use an insecticide spray.
Copyright - Heritage Gardens 2020.