A new year has arrived, bringing all the potential excitement (and uncertainty!) that every gardener looks forward to. For some of us, the new gardening year actually started last autumn (when we planted our sweet peas or our biennials) but, for others, the new gardening year won’t really start until we see that first snowdrop bob into bloom (not too far away now, we hope!). Whichever side of that debate you sit on, here are our top five jobs to be getting on with in your garden this month.
A former colleague of ours was adamant that Boxing Day was the best time to prune fruit trees (although we think it was just his excuse to get out of visiting his in-laws!) In reality, you can prune fruit trees at any time while they are dormant, from leaf-drop (usually around November) to the buds bursting out in early March. January tends to be the time that most people will prune their apple and pear trees. Focus on the three ‘D’s, removing dead, damaged or diseased branches first, then reduce and reshape to a manageable and pleasing size. It’s helpful to know where your tree grows its fruit (on new or last year’s growth) but this great article from the RHS puts minds at rest for anyone who isn’t sure:
You might think the weather is too cold to think about taking cuttings, but some plants prefer it when they are dormant. Now is a good time to take root cuttings of fleshy-rooted perennials (such as oriental poppies, verbascums or acanthus) and of thinner-rooted plants like phlox and Japanese anemones. You can also take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs, such as viburnum, forsythia and willow.
Take your cuttings and pot them on quickly, before they dry out, in free-draining compost. Cover them and water well, from above to make sure they are in good contact with the soil. Place them somewhere bright but away from extremes of weather and temperature. Depending on the plant, it can take a few weeks for small, new leaves and roots to start forming.
If you’ve never taken root cuttings before, try this simple guide from Gardener’s World magazine:
With climbers and larger plants now reduced, now is a very good time to be able to see and access fences and other wooden garden structures. As birds are not nesting yet, it’s also a good time if you need to trim back ivy or Virginia creeper if it’s gone mad over a fence or pergola!
Check to see what’s wobbly or damaged and repair or replace as appropriate. Based on recent years, we can probably expect some further high winds and storms into February and March so work now could save you some emergency repairs in future.
On dry days, now is a good time to apply stains, preservatives or treatments to outdoor wood. Of course, we would urge you to go chemical-free where you can (particularly no petroleum-based or metals-based ingredients) and ensure your garden remains planet-friendly. However, the reality is that – once they have dried – many modern treatments aren’t likely to be harmful to children, pets or wildlife, so please just choose with care!
As winter really bites, our feathered garden helpers could do with our support. There are fewer seeds and berries around, and natural sources of water may be frozen, so do think about making your garden a snack-stop. Bird baths should ideally have their water refreshed daily but certainly as often as you remember to. On particularly cold days, you may need to melt the ice more than once a day. High energy foods (like those containing suet pieces) are great to help them through, too. We have a wide range of Tom Chambers food and feeders in store if you want to stock up. Remember to clean your feeders regularly too, to prevent the spread of diseases affecting garden birds.
Before the nesting season gets underway, now is also a good time to put up bird boxes. The size, position and type of entrance your bird box has will determine what type of bird is likely to call your box home. Ideally, a selection of different boxes in your garden will encourage the widest range of birds. As you’d expect, there is some great advice from the RSPB here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/
With the evenings still fairly dark, if you didn’t have your head in the gardening catalogues before, now is the time to plan ahead! Go through your seed packets and sort out which are out-of-date (or empty!) so you know what to order for this year. Seed potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic bulbs will be available to order now for planting in early spring. You may also be able to order bare-root plants now (from fruit bushes to roses and shrubs) to plant any time the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged.
If you are a regular veg’ grower, plan this year’s planting to ensure you grow each type of crop in a different bed to previous years; this ‘crop rotation’ helps to prevent any pests and diseases carrying over from one year to the next.