Although the days are short and the view from our Garden Centre is dull and overcast, David Coton suggests that getting out into the garden is one of the few pleasures we can enjoy while social distancing restrictions are still in place.
One of the most useful ways to start the New Year is to shred your Christmas tree, the needles will provide a great mulch for acid loving blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas, and hydrangeas.
Check the ties around trees, shrubs and climbers to see if they have survived the autumn gales, and that any protection around tender plants is still in place.
Look in your garage or shed to see whether Dahlia and Begonia tubers are still in good order and not rotting or drying out.
Sweep up any remaining autumn leaves, remembering not to walk on the lawn after frost. Clear away ivy that is threatening to take over the walls of your house and hedging. If we have a mild spell, the grass may well need cutting.
Pruning and Dividing
Apple and pear trees need to be pruned when they are dormant, removing dead, diseased and overcrowded branches. Deciduous trees and hedges can also be pruned but leave evergreens until the spring. Cut wisteria back. prune back to two or three buds from the main lateral stem and make sure all the supporting wiring is tight.
Cut the canes of autumn fruiting raspberries 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 to one bud.
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.
If the earth isn't too wet and sticks to your boots, it's still worth digging over vegetable plots to catch any frost, and around perennials while working in organic matter.
Cutting and Sowing
Hardwood cuttings can be taken from Roses, Buddleja, Dogwood, Forsythia, Holly, Honeysuckle, Philadelphus, Viburnum and Willow as well as currants and gooseberries.
Plant bare rooted trees and move shrubs. Dig a generously sized hole and fill with soil, organic matter and a general fertilizer. Stake the trees, firm in and mulch. Deciduous hedges can also be planted at this time of the year.
In a heated greenhouse, you can sow broad beans, leeks, onions, carrots, radishes and lettuce and early salads. Also sow Begonia, Calendula, Lobelia, Salvia and Pelargonium in a propagator. Sweet peas can be sown as well and seedlings from an autumn sowing can be pinched out.
Continue to dead head winter flowering pansies and other winter bedding, tidying them up and redirecting their energy into more blooms.
If you find plants that have layered themselves i.e. the lower branches have naturally rooted in the soil, dig up and you'll have a free new plant.
If that's not enough to be getting on with, continue housekeeping by making sure the shed and greenhouse are tidy and well organised. Sharpen your secateurs and loppers ready for pruning and think about servicing the lawn mower.
January is the best time of year to give your pond some tender loving care or even a major overhaul if you think it's needed. Just as long as it's not frozen over, as breaking any ice can damage any aquatic inhabitants.
Even if they look hungry, remember not to feed your fish. Doing so could mean that the food is not digested, it will rot down inside them and cause internal bacteria problems which could lead to fatalities further into the year.
If you are having a problem with the pond freezing over, and worried about your fish not getting enough oxygen, do not break the ice by force, the shock waves can distress and even kill your fish. The best way to safely create a gap is to place a pan of boiling water onto the ice and let it melt gently.
I would advise that you refer to our blog on keeping your pond ice free which details all the alternative methods including heaters and air pumps.
Leaves And Debris
Usually, at this time of year, you will find that there is a lot of sludge and debris, including autumn leaves that have fallen into the pond. Although cold temperatures reduce the rate that these break down and cause water quality problems, they should be removed before the temperature starts to rise.
January is also the perfect time of year to get your pond pump out for a service. Give it a good clean, removing and cleaning the impeller and the impeller housing. This will ensure the longevity and efficiency of your pond pump, meaning that you won't need to go to the expense of buying a new one too soon.
Most pond pumps will have a strainer cage, open this up and hose it down, unblocking it and removing any debris. You should be able to get to your impeller and pump housing, which will also need a clean to prevent clogging and seizing.
Whilst you're carrying out the maintenance on your pond pump it's also wise to lift it off the bottom by placing it on a platform. This will prevent the pump from sending the warmer water at the bottom of the pond up to the surface causing problems for your fish.
Caring For Wildlife
Finally, don't forget about feeding your garden birds and looking after other wildlife during cold weather when food is short. Read our blog on Winter Wildlife In Your Garden for tips and advice.