After weeks of strong winds and floods that have battered gardens in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Gardeners are now expecting freezing cold winds, ice and snow, as a winter blast from Siberia is on its way.
Gardening in January is not for everyone, but as always, there is a lot to do in the garden if you wrap up warm and get outside to burn off those Christmas calories.
At this time of the year it is normally wise to obey the signs and 'Keep Off The Grass', it will either be waterlogged or hard from frost. Some of your best work this month will be achieved inside, either planning for next season from your armchair, sowing in the greenhouse or cleaning and repairing tools and other equipment in your shed and garage, but there's still a lot to be done in the garden.
It's a good idea to check that the ties that you applied in the autumn to shrubs and climbers are in good order as well as the hessian and bubble wrap around plants that aren't hardy. Make sure they are receiving the maximum amount of light. Check over stored Dahlia and Begonia tubers for rotting or drying out.
Store empty terracotta pots in the shed in case the frost gets at them causing splits. Move those that are in use to a sheltered position as frozen compost expands and may also result in cracks.
Tidy up the shed, everything should have its place but during the hectic summer months organization sometimes becomes untangled leaving everything in disorder. It will all be worth it when you discover long lost secateurs. And when you do find them, don't forget to sharpen the blades and wipe them over with oil before returning to their correct position.
Encourage birds into the garden by providing hanging seed feeders and fat balls. Sunflower hearts are full of calories and attract a wide range of species; Niger seed suit thin billed birds such as goldfinches; sparrows love Maize; Black Sunflower seed is eaten by a range of bids particularly finches and tits; while Peanuts, rich in protein and oils, attract woodpeckers and blue tits. Make sure any feeders are cleaned regularly and if the food isn't eaten try another seed mixture.
In addition to food, the birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers in good order. If you do not have a bird bath try filling a bowl with water and place somewhere away from the reach of cats.
Christmas might be just a memory but don't forget to shred the tree after Twelfth Night. Acid rich, it will be a good mulch for blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas and other acid loving plants.
The winter, when they are dormant, is the best time to prune apple and pear trees and many other deciduous trees, hedges and shrubs. Leave evergreens, cherries and plums until the spring.
Without pruning, fruit trees lose their shape and become unproductive and if you prune in the winter, the sap will give its goodness to fewer spring buds and this means stronger growth where you most want it. This is especially important with young trees.
Make sure the tools you use, secateurs, lopers etc are sharp. Remove dead, damaged and diseased branches altogether or back to a healthy bud. Any vigorous shoots on main branches should be cut back by half or two thirds, just above a lateral or outward facing bud. If there are any shoots growing from fruit spurs or from previous pruning cuts, remove them completely.
On young trees, remove any thin shoots and then cut any new growth from last year by about a half, again just above an outward facing bud. Thin out any crossing or inward growing branches so that the centre remains clear.
Also on your pruning list should be any ornamental vines such as Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper, this is good for practical reasons as you don't want them blocking up drains or getting under roof tiles. Buddleia and elder should be pruned back hard to their base. Out of shape laurel, yew and privet hedges can be rejuvenated with hard pruning that promotes strong new growth and you are then able to subsequently shape and train them properly.
Continue to pick off faded flowers from winter-flowering pansies to keep them thriving until spring arrives and to prevent them setting seed. Make sure that those in baskets are well watered.
If the weather is good, there is still time to dig over ground to catch February frosts, but, when soil sticks to your boots, it is too wet and you'll compress all the air out of it, destroying its structure. Either avoid treading on it or, if you have to, work from boards. Dig between perennials working in organic matter to provide drainage to aerate the soil, watching out for bulbs that might lie underneath, finish with a compost mulch for the worms to work in.
Book your petrol mower in for its annual service so that the blades can be sharpened and oil changed. Looking after it now will prolong its life and lessen those exhaust fumes.
Try taking a cutting from your favourite rose. Remove a length of stem from last year's growth with a cut below a leaf joint. Cuttings should be about 8 – 12 ins long, so make a slanting cut above a bud and throw away the tip. Make a deep vertical trench in the soil and fill the base with sharp sand, firm in the cutting to about half its length and water well. Any further cuttings should be about 8 ins apart. In about a year you will have a brand new shrub.
Other than roses, hardwood cuttings can be taken from Buddleia, Dogwood, Forsythia, Holly, Honeysuckle, Philadelphus, Viburnum and Willow as well as currants and gooseberries.
Plant bare rooted trees, prepare a hole about 3ft in diameter. If the soil is poor mix in some organic matter and fertiliser. Insert a robust stake (at least 2ins in diameter) deep into the hole, ensuring the top will be several inches below the lowest branch. Fill the hole, shaking the tree to work the soil around the roots. Note the previous soil level (visible on the tree stem) and ensure that the tree is planted at the same level. Firm in, mulch and tie to a stake.
Now is the time to move those shrubs that you have realised are in the wrong place or who have outgrown their space. Lift them onto a sheet of plastic. Dig a hole large enough for the roots and mix with plenty of organic matter, plant at the same level as before, refill the hole and firm the soil. Mulch to keep the moisture in.
Divide clumps of rhubarb that are congested, making sure they aren't waterlogged. For tender early stems you need to start to force your rhubarb to encourage early growth. You could obtain a forcing jar but any terracotta pot, bucket or similar will create a warmer darker atmosphere when placed over the crown. After about a month you should have tender pink stems to pick.
On the allotment while you are continuing to harvest hardy varieties of cabbages that haven't been eaten by pigeons, cauliflowers (remember to protect the heads with leaves) and leeks as well as parsnips that have been sweetened by the frost, kale, swedes before they become woody and sprouts before they become too large.
Cut the canes of autumn fruiting raspberries down to the base. Remove about a quarter to a third of the oldest blackcurrant stems. Shorten the stems from last year's growth on gooseberries, white and redcurrants by about a half, cut back the small shoots that have emerged from side shoots back to one bud to encourage fruiting spurs.
Sowing seeds in the greenhouse will give you a sense of spring in deep mid-winter. In a heated greenhouse you can sow leeks, onions, carrots, radishes and lettuce and early salads in boxes.
Also sow Begonia, Calendula, Lobelia, Salvia and Pelargonium perhaps in a propagator. Sweet peas can be sown as well and seedlings from an autumn sowing can now be pinched out. When they have five leaves remove the tip to encourage side shoots. Place them on a sunny windowsill or on a high shelf in the greenhouse that gets plenty of light and make sure the compost doesn't dry out. This is also the last chance to sow seeds outside that need frost in order to germinate.
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