Monthly Advice - January Jobs in the Garden
JANUARY IN YOUR GARDEN
The weather can be so fickle at this time of year - warm one day, wet another and freezing the next day, January can be pretty sharp when it chooses. So preparing for the worst is just sensible. Also please note that ALL pruning advice assumes the work is done on a day when the temperature is well above freezing. Ideally you want to leave about 48 hours between pruning and a frost to stop tissue damage.
- Evergreen or coniferous hedging will be damaged by thick coverings of snow. Snow is incredibly heavy and can snap branches and splay open the tops of hedges. Take pictures of the beauty of it all and then gently brush off the snow to preserve your hedges and clipped shrubs.
The wind is another element and when it chooses to blow, it can be a pain for newly planted hedging especially evergreen hedges which have more windage than deciduous plants. Wind dries plants out so young hedges enjoy a temporary windbreak.
Wind also loosens the roots of anything that has been recently planted. When the weather has calmed down, on a mild day, check to make sure newly planted hedging has not been affected. If it has, tread the soil back round the roots gently but firmly. This advice applies equally to fruit and ornamental trees, roses and soft fruit.
- You may not have done this on Boxing Day, but winter is a fantastic time to clip box hedging. People used to say it should be done on Derby Day but that was before the arrival of Box Blight which loves the combination of warm, moist weather, little air movement and freshly wounded (as in clipped) box leaves and branches. However box blight is dormant in winter... which means a box hedge clipped in winter will have healed by early spring and so be much less prone to attack by box blight. Good time to rake up and BURN any leaves under the box because that is where the blight is over-wintering.
- It is not too late to finish pruning apple and pear trees or, if you have already had one shot at it, take another look to see if you have achieved the best shape that you can. Stone fruit must ABSOLUTELY NOT BE PRUNED NOW. A good way of remembering this is that pretty much all stone fruit start with the latin name Prunus (cherries, plums, damsons, mirabelles, apricots, peaches, nectarines etc). Until they start into growth just imagine them saying "No Prune Us" whenever you walk by with those lovely Felco 7's you got for Christmas...
- This is the most important month for covering peach and nectarine trees against peach leaf curl if you are growing them outside. Use an open ended polythene shelter to cover the tree, parallel to its support, to keep the tree dry and to prevent the fungus spores landing on the emerging leaves. Spray with a copper compound a couple of times between mid-winter and mid-spring. Do not spray once the flower buds begin to open.
- Check stored fruit and take away any that are rotting. The really keen storer will wrap each fruit in paper to prevent disease getting in…..
- Late January is a good time to start to give your ESTABLISHED fruit trees a treat (leave newly planted trees alone for the first couple of years). Use an organic fertiliser like blood, bone and fish or seaweed meal because they release their nutrients more slowly than chemical fertilisers and you want to keep the tree healthy and not engender a sudden growth spurt that will produce soft growth that may be damaged by later cold weather. Apply the fertiliser under the mulch around the trees, water it in (good joke in this weather) and then replace the mulch around the trees.
- First thing on the list is how to get rid of your Christmas tree. Check and see if the local council are offering a recycling or collection service. Failing that, get a few neighbours together and hire a chipping machine to deal with all of your trees so that you (and they) can have woodchips to use as a mulch once it has rotted down. This is best used around ericaceous plants such as azaleas, camellias, heathers and rhododendrons as the chippings are acidic and will lower the pH of the soil as they decompose. Other ideas include ‘planting’ your tree somewhere and using it as a birdfeeder. Whatever you do, don’t use it as firewood in your house because the turpentine oils in the wood can clog up the chimney and cause chimney fires.
- Newly planted or young conifer trees still need protecting from the scorching effect of cold winds on their foliage. Keep your wind barrier well secured: attach fleece, hessian, bubble wrap or just strong polythene to posts to provide a shelter. If you are really worried, surround the plant itself with straw but make sure that enough light can get in and that the air can still circulate.
- Stormtime again. Check that stakes are firm and ties are not broken and not too tight. Firm in roots that have been loosened in the gales. And cast a weather eye up to branches of larger, older trees. High winds break branches and a good limb from a mature beech can weigh a couple of tons. Cut back any damaged wood (or book your tree surgeon) and warn family and visitors of any trees that look in any way dangerous while you wait for them to be sorted out.
- This is prime rose planting time - from now until the end of winter.
- Check that any climbing roses are still tied in to their support structures.
- If you have not already, your really need to cut bush roses back to reduce their height so that they are less likely to suffer from wind rock. Not only does this make the roots unstable but you can end up with compacted soil around the main stem of the rose where water then collects and causes rot.
- Rhubarb crowns can be planted up to the middle of February. You can also start forcing established rhubarb this month.
- Fruit cages can be damaged by the weight of snow. Ideally remove the top netting so that it cannot be weighted down by snow, or even leaves and twigs. This is also a good idea as hungry birds come into the cage and eat hibernating pests.
- Check posts with straining wires for raspberries, blackberries etc. Even without leaves the plants on the wires are windage and the posts work loose in any gales.
- Weeding now reduces weeding in spring manyfold.
- MIND MY RASPBERRIES! Raspberries are incredibly shallow rooted. You should never, ever walk close to your raspberry canes as you damage the roots. They may recover in summer (although your crop will be affected) but if the ground is frosted or frozen, you simply break them and kill the plants. Much better to hand weed around them in spring and for now just spread a good layer of straw around the plants to protect them.
- For those of you with allotments, take a look at the January advice page of allotment-garden.org
- Prune wisteria. The main framework of large stems will have grown sideshoots that should have been reduced in length around midsummer. These same side shoots should now be cut back to 2-3 buds so that you encourage the production of more flower buds. When people say their wisteria never flowers it is usually because they did not prune around this time.
- Ivies, climbing hydrangeas, Virginia creeper are all marvellous at prettifying walls but they will also invade window frames, gutters and doors so cut them back away from anywhere where they may cause (expensive!) damage.
- If you have not already cut your large flowered clematis back hard, then now is time. Leave your Montanas alone though as you will be removing flower buds.
- Enjoy your snow drops – make a special effort to go and find the first ones popping up.
- This is the time to be ordering 'bulbs in the green', by the time they arrive you will be able to see exactly where to plant them as the other spring flowering bulbs will be above ground. A great way of filling in gaps.
- Weed and tidy and trim the grass if need be in any area where you have planted your spring bulbs so that they look really good when they finally emerge. Use a kneeler to spread your weight so that you don’t damage the shoots or compact the grass.
- January always feels like the longest and coldest month so cheer yourself up by choosing summer flowering bulbs like pom-pom alliums, gladioli, scented freesias, bearded irises and sword-like crocosmia. Order them now ready to plant in spring.
- Bulbs that you have forced for indoor use – paper whites, hyacinths – and that are over, can be put outside somewhere light. Cut off the flower heads to prevent the plant trying to use energy to make seeds. Feed it with a high potash feed and let the foliage fade. In spring you can then plant the bulbs in the garden. Generally it is so exhausting for bulbs to have been forced that they will not repeat the process indoors, but given a year's rest, they will happily flower outside again in years to come.
Olive and Bay
- Keep an eye on the thermometer and if it begins to plummet then move your pots with bay trees to a frost-free place or wrap them well with horticultural fleece/hessian/straw and polythene. In a sheltered spot, out of the wind ours seem to tolerate temperatures down to about -10C
- If either your bay or olive tree are under the eaves, make sure that they are watered occasionally - just enough to stop their compost completely drying out.
- Carry on feeding the birds. January and February are the toughest months for wildlife in the garden. Water is also incredibly welcome when it is freezing.
- If you have a pond pump that is at risk in the frost, then protect it. And make sure your pond does not freeze over completely if possible. We just leave our (frost proof) pump running.
- If it's a mild winter then daffodils can bloom in early December, and blackthorn blossom can also make an appearance. Under these circumstances, complacency becomes the easiest skill to acquire, but in truth this spells danger for our bees, and as the warm winter progresses the problem gets worse. At a temperature above 12ᵒC the bees will leave the hive on scouting trips, convinced that there is food out there for them, and the appearance of those daffodils and the odd parch of blackthorn blossom only exacerbates the problem. Maybe a worker bee will return with some pollen, and that will prompt many others to go out looking for more. The problem comes when they don’t find any. They will have used precious energy flying around in circles and return to the hive exhausted and hungry. They will head straight to the stored food and fill their boots, but it’s one way traffic – all withdrawals and no deposits.
- A cold winter is much better for the inmates of the hive, as they don’t go out looking for food that isn’t there, and resultantly they use less energy and consume less food. Warm weather could spell disaster if you don’t keep an eye on the amount of food consumption. I have talked all about the use of fondant, and it acts as a monitor of food consumption. If fondant is placed on the hive and not eaten, then in all probability, the hive is functioning well, but keep checking.
- For a bit of light relief, read Stewart's Bee blog and for gloomier reading take a look at his monthly tips for January
- If you haven’t already serviced your lawn mower, now is a good time to do it before the spring rush. Go through your garden shed and sort out the garden implements. January is the best decluttering/oiling/sharpening month...
- With not much else going on in the garden and foliage at a minimum, make a date with the fence or trellis that you have been meaning to repair since last year.
- Try not to walk across waterlogged or frosted lawns as you either compact the soil or kill the grass. Put planks down to distribute the weight of you and/or your wheelbarrow if you have to go back and forth. But frozen beds will benefit from a layer of muck and it is good post-Christmas exercise to wheelbarrow manure around the garden and leave it in a layer over the veg and flower beds. The worms and the frost will slowly break it down and you can give it a final once over in spring.
- If you left herbaceous perennials standing for their winter structure many will look limp or straggly by now and it is a good idea to clear any tatty or diseased stems and compost them.
- Worm casts appear on warmer days and should be dispersed over the lawn with a stiff broom in dry weather. Leaving them lying on the grass encourages weeds to germinate.
- Go indoors and have another nice cup of tea - and just one more slice of Christmas Cake.
A very happy and prosperous New Year to you all