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  • Louise Mills

New Year Full of Hope

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Photo credit: Amanda Frank

January Gardening Jobs (by Louise Mills)

Although the garden may appear to have quietened down for the winter, there are still plenty of jobs to be getting on with. For me, despite it usually being the coldest month of the year, January has become a month filled with optimism and planning ahead, as anticipation builds for the next growing season.

Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

  1. Continue to prune open-grown apple and pear trees to ensure a healthy, productive cycle of fruiting wood. The aim is to create a framework that is an open goblet shape, with four to five main branches.

  2. Plant bare-root trees and shrubs, including roses, but only if the soil conditions allow. If the ground is too wet or frozen, place the plants in a bucket of moist compost in a cool, frost-free place until the conditions are right for planting.

  3. Move deciduous shrubs or trees that have outgrown their space or been positioned incorrectly. You should take as much of the root system and soil around it as you can to give it the best chance of survival in its new location.

  4. Winter prune Wisteria and other vigorous climbers (e.g. Virginia Creeper, Boston Ivy) while the flow of sap is relatively low. Make larger cuttings to thin the overall framework and lighter trimmings to expose next spring’s flower buds.

  5. Check winter mulches are in place to provide frost protection for tender perennials. They should be at least 15cm deep and therefore may need topping up if any has been washed away by heavy rain.

  6. Take hardwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs. Cuttings should be at least pencil thickness and 15-30cm in length, with nodes at the base and top of each cutting. If successful, they will root in spring and be ready to be moved next autumn. Buddleia, Philadelphus, Elder and Weigela all respond well to this method.

Kitchen Garden

  1. Start early potatoes. They must be chitted (started into growth) before planting out in March. This will advance the first harvest and improve the yield. Lay them in a tray in a light, cool, frost-free place.

  2. Force rhubarb crowns by covering them with a layer of straw or an upturned bucket/forcing jar to exclude light. In spring, crops of tender, pink rhubarb stems will appear 2 or 3 weeks earlier than uncovered crowns.

  3. Prepare raspberry canes for planting. They thrive in free-draining slightly acidic soil. Although they like to be kept moist, it is essential to avoid waterlogging so it incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil at planting.

  4. Prune gooseberries, red currants and white currants while they are dormant. Bush forms should be pruned to maintain an open-centred, upright shape, whereas cordons should be spur pruned. If fruiting shoots were pruned in the summer, they can now be cut to a couple of buds from the main branches. Don’t forget to wear thick gloves!

  5. Reduce watering of citrus plants. Keep them slightly drier at this time of year to prevent leaf loss and yellowing foliage associated with over watering.

  6. Sow onion seed. When growing onions from seed, they require a fairly long growing season so it’s good to get them started early in module trays.

  7. It’s not too late to plant garlic.

Other jobs

  1. Be prepared to provide frost protection to prevent damage to more vulnerable plants. Keep your eye on the weather forecast; the coldest nights will occur when there is no wind and clear skies.

  2. Recycle your Christmas tree by shredding it for mulch.

  3. Sweet peas can be sown now for flowers in early summer. Sowings will need to be covered with a lidded propagator and kept in a well-lit place at a temperature of 15℃.

  4. Look after your lawn by dispersing worm casts with a wire rake when the surface is dry and keep off frozen or wet grass; damage from your feet may show up as patches of yellow in the spring.

  5. Keep on top of those weeds! Bittercress and groundsel will happily germinate in milder winter temperatures.

  6. Clean, tidy and organise sheds and/or greenhouses, if you haven’t already. It’s also worth cleaning pots and seed trays ahead of the growing season to avoid the spread of pests and diseases.

  7. Give wildlife a helping hand in cold weather. For birds, provide high-fat bird feed alongside a usual grain mix and keep bird baths and ponds defrosted. Watch out for toads, frogs and other animals when turning your compost heap and resist the urge to be too tidy - leaf litter or material from last year’s herbaceous plants could provide the ideal habitat for overwintering insects.

Photo credits (unless otherwise specified): Louise Mills

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