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 plants produce is often incredibly powerful as well as sweet. Look out for deliciously scented Sarcococca confusa, S. 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 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 Lily bulbs, sow Sweet Pea seeds in pots outdoors.
Sow summer flowering bedding plants, under cover.
Sow chilli peppers in a warm, protected environment – inside a glasshouse, conservatory, or heated propagator.
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 require peeling.
Take root cuttings from perennials such as Phlox paniculata, Papaver orientale, Verbascums, Statice, Anchusa azurea, Acanthus, Brunnera, and Japanese Anemones.
Take cuttings of Chrysanthemums.
Take hardwood cuttings of willow.
Chit early potatoes.
Clean greenhouse and cold frames with disinfectant. When they are all clean and dry, put grease bands on the legs of your staging to prevent vine weevils climbing up. Ventilate greenhouses 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 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 the spring.
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 they have been lifted by frost or strong winds.
Protect fruit trees, gooseberry and blackcurrant buds now, birds love to eat their buds but you can protect 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.
Keep on top of weeds by hoeing.
Service lawnmowers, check and overhaul garden machinery and tools, repairing as necessary. Clean pots and trays ready for sowing.
Position cloches to prevent the soil from getting too wet, this will also allow it 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. Do bear in mind that your forced rhubarb harvest will be less than half that of your harvest from rhubarb that has grown naturally in the sunshine. The early forced harvest is sweet and tender, but it has an exhausting effect on the rhubarb crown, and the plant will need to be rested for the following two years to allow for recovery.
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 in the new year!
This article was first published in the mid-January 2014 edition of the Surrey and Hants News.
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