January marks the beginning of a new gardening year, a time to reflect and plan for exciting new growing opportunities. Days will soon be slightly longer, and I hope that you will take the opportunity to spend more time in your garden.
I also hope that you get out to see gardens across the country designed to be enjoyed in winter.
Pots and borders
- Check Pansies and Primulas for greenfly. It may seem early, but they often have aphids on the undersides of leaves. Spray with Bug Clear Ultra or SB Plant Invigorator to rid your plants of them
- On the twelfth night of Christmas, cut the side branches off your Christmas tree and use these to cover tender plants in the garden. Covering will keep the worst of the frost off and allow the plant to breathe at the same time.
Christmas tree branches used to protect plants in pots
- Remove any blotched leaves (hellebore leaf spot) from Christmas and Lenten Roses (Helleborus niger, niger hybrids and H. x hybridus) to prevent this disease from spreading to the new leaves.
Leaf spot on hellebore leaves
- Sow annual bedding plants of Begonia, Lobelia, Salvia and Pelargonium in a heated greenhouse or propagator. You can do this on a bright windowsill too. These bedding plants are always slow to get started, so you need to start early.
- If you didn’t sow them in autumn, sow sweet peas now for the earliest blooms. They are going to need a little heat, but a bright windowsill will do.
Pelargonium in pots
- Fork your borders over between established plants, but keep off if the soil is wet. Fork in a complete base fertiliser. I use Vitax Q4.
- Mulch with composted green waste or chipped bark to keep the weeds down.
Trees, shrubs, roses, conifers, etc.
- Apply general fertiliser to all borders. Growmore, Vitax Q4, Bone meal or Blood Fish and Bone are all good. I particularly recommend Vitax Q4 since it has all the major nutrients but also the minor trace elements that plants need.
- Gather up and bin (don’t compost) diseased leaves from under roses and fruit to limit the carry-over of disease from one season to the next. Applying a thick mulch will also help stop the disease from spreading. Composted green waste or chipped bark is perfect for this.
A well staked tree
- Check tree ties and stakes. Adjust those that are too tight and tighten those that are not! Make sure the top tie is near to the top of the stake so that it prevents the tree rubbing. Make sure that the stake is still sound and the tree isn't holding it up!
- Plant when the weather is mild and when the soil is not wet, sticky or frozen hard. Improve the planting area with well-rotted compost or manure. For bare-root plants work some compost around the roots and add a handful of Blood Fish and Bone fertiliser. Stake and tie securely.
The winter garden at Cambridge Botanic Garden
- Protect plants from deer and rabbits where damage is likely. The non-toxic spray-on product ‘Grazers’ should do this for you.
- Plant hardy plants to brighten your garden. I'd recommend planting hellebores, Cyclamen coum, Viburnum tinus Eve Price, Mahonia, snowdrops, Algerian iris, Chimonanthus (Winter Sweet), Witch Hazels, winter-flowering heathers and Christmas box.
- Check around newly planted shrubs and roses after frost and storms. Look for signs of soil upheaval and wind-rock. Press the soil back down with your feet so that the roots are firm again.
Hamamelis mollis - the Witch Hazel
- Propagate plants from hardwood cuttings. Always choose healthy shoots as cuttings. Easy ones to root are Forsythia, Escallonia, Ribes (currants), Cornus [dogwoods) and Salix (willow).
A range of easily propagated hardwood cuttings
- Trim Virginia creeper, Boston Ivy, rambling roses and other climbers away from windows, gutters and eaves.
- Inspect leylandii hedges carefully for aphid attack. If left untreated, this pest can lead to brown patches. If aphids are present, thoroughly spray with a pesticide. Add a wetter such as washing up liquid to the mix to get good coverage.
The indoor garden
- Mist the tops of houseplants regularly, especially if they are in a room with central heating.
- Water carefully; it is better to let plants dry out between watering and then give a thorough soak than a small amount regularly. Many indoor plants are killed by kindness. Check out Dan's tips on how to water houseplants:
- Clean houseplant leaves with leaf shine. Dusty leaves will struggle in low light at this time of year and don't look very nice!
- Feed indoor plants just monthly now. However, make sure the root ball is wet first.
A range of foliage houseplants
- Does your living room look bare now that you have taken out the Christmas tree and decorations? Why not liven it up with a houseplant!
- The following plants will do well even if there isn't good direct natural light - Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Kentia or Areca Palm, Asplenium and many other ferns and Fatsia (False Castor Oil).
- Where there is good direct light try variegated ivies, Kalanchoe, succulents, Chlorophytum (Spider plant) and variegated Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig).
- Central heating can dry out houseplants so stand the pots in groups on a tray of damp pebbles. This will create a humid atmosphere around the plants. Avoid over-watering and position them where they can make the most of the weak winter daylight.
- Remove old flowers (deadhead) from Cyclamen, African violets, Christmas cacti and azaleas to encourage more buds to open.
- Don't forget to keep cyclamen and azaleas as cool as possible for prolonged flowering.
- Move plants away from cold window sills when nights are very cold, and keep them the room side of the curtains.
Greenhouse, conservatory, etc.
A traditional greenhouse
- Regularly remove dying leaves and flowers from plants. If you leave them, you may have a problem with grey mould developing. Regular ventilation on warm days will also help to avoid this disease.
Typical grey mold Botrytis cinerea symptoms
- Spray with a fungicide at the very first sign of disease. Do this early in the day so that the tops of plants are dry before nightfall. Westland Fungus Fighter should do the trick.
- Keep a sharp watch for greenfly as they often appear inside this month. Spray SB Invigorator or Bug Clear Ultra as soon as any appear. If you catch it early you can often minimise the spray that you use by targeting just the initial infestation.
S B Invigorator and hand sprayer
- Wash the glass down to allow the maximum amount of light to enter. By using a sterilant such as Jeyes Fluid, you will also kill any overwintering pests that are lurking in nooks and crannies. Red spider mites and their eggs over-winter this way.
Lawns, hedges, paths and drives
- Mowing the lawn in winter has now become a feature of winter gardening. As long as the lawn is not very wet and the grass is not frozen, there is no reason why you can't. Just don’t have the blades set low.
- Try to get the mower serviced and don’t leave it to the last moment. Otherwise, you may have a frustrating wait.
- New hedges could be planted now and especially those sold as bare-root plants. I'm thinking of beech, laurel, hawthorn or British native mix which is great for wildlife!
Bare rooted plants on sale
- Cure dangerous slippery paths with a product such as Algon. It improves the look of the hard surface as well as making it safer by removing moss, algae, lichens and stains. Trial a small area first in case it alters the colour of the surface.
- If moles are a problem and you can’t trap them, there may be a mole catcher operating in your area. They often work on a no mole - no fee basis! This month moles begin to become much more active and enlarge their tunnels to prepare for breeding.
A mole surfaces in the garden
- Brush worm casts off your lawn as they appear. Worms are a sign that your soil is in good order, but the casts do make the surface slippery if not removed.
Ponds and bog plants
- Remove any fallen leaves from the water.
- Stop the whole water surface freezing over by floating a ball on the surface but never smash the ice if there are fish in the water as the shock could kill them.
Malus Evereste crab apple fruits
- Plant shrubs and trees that will provide food and shelter for wildlife in winter. Rowan, Cotoneaster, Berberis, Amelanchier, Crataegus, Buddleja, Crab apples, Pyracantha, ivy and hollies are good ones to choose.
- Make sure that there is always fresh water available for birds and animals.
- Put out a range of bird food to cater for all types of birds. Provide mixed seed on bird tables, mealworms for robins, fat balls for the tit family, peanuts for finches, fruit and cheese for thrushes and blackbirds.
A nuthatch on a bird feeder
- Regularly clean bird feeders and tables with a safe disinfectant.
- Make a log or rock pile in a quiet corner to act as a wildlife refuge. Toads, ground beetles and other garden-friendly critters will over-winter there.