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Welcome back (January).

I try to find joy in every month of the year, but January by far is the hardest. It is bleak at best. Christmas has been packed up and put away. The hyacinth that’s perfume filled my home throughout December, now stands to one side looking disheveled and knackered.. me too hyacinth.. me too!

But there are some glimmers of hope in January, not only does the house have a top to bottom clean down while the garden is snoring away. But the preparation for Spring can be planned. The layout, the design, flicking through brochures and bulb collections while ticking off seeds the sow for the year to come. All of which can be done next to the fire.

There are however moments between the down pours when we can venture out into the garden and tick off some jobs. While doing so, you may even see some signs of life beginning to emerge. Snowdrops start to pop their heads through the soil. The Robin will be bopping around your garden looking for a tasty treat. The beauty is there, even if we have to wrap up warm to find it.

So here are the jobs for the month.
Wildlife. While many creatures have snuggled down to avoid the harsh winter weather (I can empathise with that), birds stay active in these winter months. But between the scarcity of food and the threat of the neighbourhood tabby, they do need a little help. In the video below I will show you step by step how to turn the remainders of last nights roast into a fat ball banquet for birds.
Keep food topped up and fresh. If you don't make your own that is also absolutely fine, but keep food topped up for birds. Clean the water in their bath to stop contamination. Break ice on the water each morning. Cut off branches of your leftover Christmas tree to use as a habitat for small animals at the back of a border. Be careful when digging, if you see bees on the ground then step back and leave that area alone. Some queens nest in the soil over winter to hibernate. Don’t worry come spring they will fly off. If you accidentally dig one up, don’t try to re-bury her. Simply make a small hole with a dibber near her and offer her some sugar water to give her the energy to move back underground.
Pruning We prune hedging such as box in summer to restrict growth and maintain the shape we want but many other trees and shrubs need to be pruned in winter while they are dormant, before the sap rises. Winter pruning gives them a new lease of life, encouraging a vigorous flush of new growth in Spring, as well as an opportunity to cut away damaged or diseased wood and crossing/rubbing spurs as well as tidying up plants such as roses that have grown too large and unruly or have become tangled up. Here are some pruning jobs to do this month. Apple and pear trees - but not plum trees Roses (bush not rambler) Gooseberries Blueberries Redcurrent Blackcurrant Whitecurrant Wisteria Late flowering clematis (summer onwards flowering). Honeysuckle (not winter flowering types or you will lose your display). What to sow indoors.
Now is the best time to clean your pots for future sowing. Designate an evening to filling a bucket with warm soapy water. (Not the extra antibacterial dish soap if you can avoid it; it leaves a nasty residue which can kill seeds). But just some simple dish soap. Give each pot a good scrub so as to stop any infection that could spread from soil to soil. Once dried and stored we can start to set up our indoor seed station again. This could be in a conservatory or a sunny windowsill. There is however a word of warning. Seeds kept on a windowsill through the day may need to be moved at night. A windowsill creates a cold trap and it can cause more harm than good to emerging seedlings. This can however be helped with the use of a cover. Those clear plastic covers will act like a mini greenhouse for your seedlings, helping to retain heat. Peppers take a long time to grow and they need to stay warm for a long period of time to germinate. Placing them above a radiator next to a window is the perfect spot for them. There isn’t a lot that can be sown now in winter, there just isn’t enough light for things to germinate properly. Even with grow lights, the soil will be too cold for them to be transplanted out yet. But for now here are some that can be started.
What to sow: Peppers Sweet peas Peas (meteor) Onion and garlic sets Jobs for the veg patch A good way to get an early harvest of rhubarb is to force it by covering it with something opaque to encourage it to grow upwards. You can get terracotta pots desiged for this purpose but a black bucket or something similar that will block the light completely will do equally well. Forcing is best done with plants that have not een forced before or are at least 3-4 years old, otherwise you risk exhausting the plant and the flavour goes. Cover and warm soil with membrane, horticultural fleece or a polytunnel if you have one. The sooner your soil can warm up the quicker you can plant out. Make sure that any netting you have is secure Check your harvest from last year and discard anything that has rotted. The flower garden. There isn’t much to plant out unless you buy hellebores from a garden centre that are already displaying their flowers. There is still time to plant out tulips and daffodils but they must be in the ground before the end of the month, otherwise they will be very late to the party, weak and have a poor display. The later they flower the worse they will do. So get them in! But that is plenty for you to do in the garden this month. Remember to wrap up warm and not slip on ice! (My deck becomes an ice rink!) Pruning the Do and Don’ts There are pruning some absolute musts! I will cover these as well in the video to show you a visual, but for now here is your tick list before you cut. Do Make sure secateurs are sharp and clean Find the bud on the branch Cut at an angle the complements the placement of the bud Don’t cut too far away from the bud or disease may enter Don’t cut too close as you can damage the back of the bud, leave it open to damage from frost or drying out. Aim to cut 2mm above a bud at an angle. On trees such as apple or pear make sure to cut before a fruit bud not a leaf bud. (I’ll show you in the video the difference between them in the video). Let’s say you have planted a lovely new woody shrub this winter. You will need to do a little pruning to give it the best start in life. For this you want to balance the top growth with the bottom root system. If the shrub is already full of top growth but has a small root system in a pot, the plant will not have enough energy to support it. So we need to snip it away at the top to give the roots a chance to 1, establish and spread into the soil and 2, support the top growth. Take a look at your plant and any woody thin branches at the bottom and prune twiggy growth away. Right down at the base. Clip away anything that is crossing or rubbing. Only remove one branch. Look down at the plant and see if any are already broken. If all the growth is at the top, encourage lower growth by reducing the plant by 1/3 to a bud. It feels mean but it isn’t. Do not Prune any fruit bearing tree or shrub whose fruit has a pip. For example cherries, apricots, plum etc. These need to be pruned June/ august time for cherry, plums would be spring for new plants and mid summer for established. But never winter. Over-pruning is the downfall of most gardeners. We have all done it, at a great loss! Branches hold food like carbohydrates for the plant. If we remove too much we can damage the roots which die back. Each tree has a “leader” which is the main branch growing up. If we remove too much of this it will shock the tree and it will grow more leaves than fruit or flowers. If we do an overall “hard prune” and take way too much off, it can stop the tree from producing anything for up to seven years. It is far better to prune a little away each year than do one massive attack. Snow… friend or foe? Snow it’s beautiful, even my grouchy self can’t deny that snow is pretty! Do I welcome it in the garden? Sometimes. It can damage some woody or evergreen shrubs, snapping off branches. It can damage frames or other structures, weighing them down till they snap. And vegetables left in the ground unprotected will defiantly die back. However it does protect plants as well, acting like a blanket from harsh winter winds. If the snow settles with a few good inches, then as a blanket it will protect hardy plants from further dropping temperatures. Then when it melts it produces much needed moisture for the plant. Some plants depend on the cold to spark them into growing, leeks and onions for example. Most other garden plants prepare themselves for the cold by going into hibernation. Some deciduous plants will drop their leaves and only produce minimal root growth during a cold winter. But once the temperatures reach 5C that is when plants start to “wake up” and grow again, starting to search their roots out for nutrients. This is why the Spring frost and snow is the most fatal to a garden. So is snow an enemy? No, not really, as long as it is expected and not an unwelcome surprise. But stay prepared even into spring to avoid sorrow.

There isn't a massive amount to do in January really, but I like to treat this month as a preparation month for the Spring to come.
If however you still want some inspiration to get back in the garden here are the jobs we will cover on the videos below.

  • Pruning apple trees

  • Making your own bird feed (fat balls)

  • Sowing Sweet Peas

  • Planting spring bulbs

I hope this new layout helps you all more, let me know below in the comments if it does or what you would like to see more of.

As always friends

Happy Gardening


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