Although it’s still jolly chilly outside, the daylight hours are lengthening each day, which means there’s more time to be outside enjoying the garden!
There are so many beautiful plants and flowers to be enjoyed at this time of year, many of them scented to attract pollinating insects. As there aren’t as many insects around in winter the scent is often incredibly powerful as well as sweet; look out for deliciously scented Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, Hamamelis mollis, and, my favourite, Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. If your garden is devoid of interest at this time of year why not visit a local garden or nursery for inspiration, buy a beautiful plant, or make plans to take cuttings, or grow something new from seed. If you choose the right plants you’ll be helping to provide food for hungry early bees and beneficial pollinating insects, as well as enhancing your garden. Look out for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ logo, or ask for advice at your local nursery.
It’s the perfect time to sow alpines from seed, as they need a cold spell followed by warmer temperatures in order to trigger germination. Cyclamen, Sempervivum, Saxifrages, Sedum, and other alpines, can all be sown now.
Plant Jerusalem artichokes: look for smooth skinned varieties such as ‘Fuseau’, which grows to form a tall windbreak of up to 3m (10’) or ‘Dwarf Sunray’, which is more compact at around 1.2m -1.5m (4-5’) tall, depending on soil conditions. ‘Dwarf Sunray’ has the benefit of earlier flowering and has a thinner skin, which doesn’t need peeling.
Take root cuttings from perennials such as Phlox paniculata, Papaver orientale, Verbascums, Statice, Anchusa azurea, Acanthus, Brunnera, and Japanese Anemones.
Clean glasshouses and cold frames with disinfectant. When the inside of your glasshouse is clean and dry, put grease bands on the legs of your staging. to prevent vine weevils climbing up. Ventilate glasshouses and cold frames on sunny days.
Float a rubber or plastic ball on the surface of your pond, to stop the surface completely freezing over. If we have snowfall, brush snow from any frozen areas of your pond, to allow sunlight to penetrate to the plants and creatures below. Promptly brush any snow from trees, hedges, and shrubs, to prevent the branches being broken or splayed out and disfigured by the extra weight of the snow.
Prune wisteria: if you pruned your Wisteria last summer and cut back the whippy growths back to five or six buds in July or August, you can now reduce these further, cutting back to two or three buds. If you didn’t prune your Wisteria last summer, you can still go ahead and prune now – cut the whippy growth back to two or three buds, and look forward to a wonderfully scented flowering display in springtime.
Finish pruning deciduous trees now while they are still dormant: remove all dead or diseased branches, check tree ties and stakes – replace any that are damaged or too tight for the tree. Check any newly planted trees and shrubs, and firm in, if the plants have been lifted by frost or strong winds.
Protect fruit trees, gooseberry, and blackcurrant buds now. Birds love to eat these fruit buds, but you can protect any developing buds with fine netting. Food is scarce for birds at this time of year, so it’s important to provide fresh food and water for them.
Position cloches to prevent the soil from getting too wet; this will also allow the soil to warm up ready for early vegetable sowings in February and March.
Force rhubarb using pretty terracotta forcing pots, or even an old dustbin packed with straw. Although, do bear in mind that your forced rhubarb harvest will be less than half that of your harvest from rhubarb that has grown naturally uncovered. The early forced harvest is sweet and tender, but it has an exhausting effect on the rhubarb crown; the plant will need to be rested for the following two years to allow for recovery.
Plant Lily bulbs, and sow sweet peas in deep pots like deep Rootrainers outdoors.
Sow summer flowering bedding plants under cover.
Take cuttings of Chrysanthemums.
Take hardwood cuttings of willow.
Chit early potatoes.
Keep on top of weeds by hoeing.
Service lawnmowers, check and overhaul garden machinery and tools, repairing as necessary. Clean pots and trays, so you’re ready for sowing.
The RHS gardens at Wisley, Painshill Park at Cobham, Winkworth Arboretum in Godalming, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, which has a three acre Winter Garden within its one hundred and eighty acre garden, are all well worth a visit at this time of year. Look out for special Snowdrop garden open days…..be inspired by nature.
I wish you a happy and productive year ahead, I hope all your gardening dreams come true this year!
This article was first published in the mid-January 2013 edition of the Surrey and Hants News.
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