Wow! What a month January turned out to – we certainly had some very cold and frosty weather along with quite a bit of snow which hopefully has, by now, disappeared from your area. Lets hope that only a few of the bulbs and plants being over-wintered in greenhouses were lost during the severe weather we all seemed to experience.
Hopefully the weather will start improving in February as this can prove a busy time of the year for gardeners. All of a sudden there are a thousand and one things that can be done now, such as early sowings of flower and vegetable varieties being started so as to give them a head start. It can
also be a good time to start preparations for sowing new lawns, as well as getting the machinery serviced and ready for the coming season if you haven’t done so already.
In areas where the weather is milder, perennial plants that had been in clumps could be divided and the outer, young, healthy parts replanted into freshly prepared soil. It may even be an ideal time to dig up and reposition any shrubs or perennials that have become overcrowded. With a number of plants now dying down for the winter, and before new shoots appear although they will grow through, a fairly thick mulch, 5-7.5cm (2-3”), could be spread around perennial plants, trees, shrubs and even fruit, but be careful not to cover any dwarf bulbs that may be in flower.
It may prove very beneficial for a large, clear sheet of polythene, held in place by either bricks or lengths of wood, to be placed over the soil keeping off any heavy rain, ensuring the soil remains dry. As time permits, the sheeting could be folded back, the soil dug over and the sheet replaced – this is particularly helpful when soils are heavy clay. If you are short of time, another solution may be to cover the soil with compost or manure, and then as spring approaches lightly fork in to the surface which will prepare the soil for planting. Where early sowings are going to be made, it is a good idea to warm the soil up by a few degrees, therefore, approximately two weeks prior to sowing cover the soil by using a single layer of polythene or fleece. By doing this it will quickly encourage germination and establishment.
Do keep a look out for pests such as whitefly, and any plants or cuttings that are seen to be infested should be sprayed.
A good way to provide extra winter protection for plants is to use a cold frame which should be situated in full light thereby receiving warmth from the sun but sheltered from cold winds. Ventilation should be provided on warm days so it is a good idea for them to be opened up which will prevent a build up of warmth, however, remember to close them at night. To provide extra warmth an old rug, blanket or even overcoat could be used on nights when conditions are very cold.
Ground that hasn’t been dug over yet could be covered with a layer of compost or manure ready for lightly forking in to the surface during spring so as to prepare the soil for planting.
Pots and seed trays which have been left should be thoroughly cleaned, using a little household disinfectant and rinsing with clear, warm water, so that they can be put away for use in the spring. A brush might come in handy to remove any stubborn dirt and old compost that might be harbouring pests or diseases in the pots and seed trays.
It is still a good idea to keep gutters on greenhouses clear of leaves and debris, and to allow maximum light in keep the glass washed.
To avoid tree and shrub branches from breaking, use a broom to knock off any snow laying on them, should you still be having this type of weather in your part of the country. Tree ties should be checked making sure they aren’t cutting into the bark. Any worn or damaged ties should be replaced. Should you have experienced any storms or high winds check to see that any tree stakes and ties haven’t been damaged. Fleece or fine mesh netting is an ideal way of protecting vulnerable plants from severe frost. Our organic fruit and potato fertiliser may be sprinkled around fruit trees and bushes
Early varieties of potatoes should be chitted (laid out in trays and allowed to form short sprouts) in a cool, light, frost-free place ready for planting towards the end of March – this is proven to increase the yield of the tubers. In the greenhouse or under cover in a warm propagator, you can now begin to sow seeds of cabbage (summer/autumn maturing), celery, parsley, sweet and cayenne pepper, tomato, leek and onion. Outdoors (under cloches or in a cold frame) you can sow early varieties of carrot, such as Amsterdam Forcing, broad bean, such as The Sutton, and parsnip. Shallots can also be planted out from the middle of the month. Remember asparagus crowns can be ordered now even though delivery may not be until late March/early April but it is a good time to start preparing the site where they are to grow, ensuring the ground has been dug thoroughly making sure it is free from weeds.
Continue to plant soft fruit as the weather permits. Any uncompleted pruning of established fruit trees and bushes should be carried out straight away before growth commences, otherwise this year’s crop may be reduced. It is a good time to prune sideshoots back to two or three buds on trained gooseberries. Rhubarb crowns should be covered with buckets which will help to encourage early pickings, also lift and separate any congested clumps.
Outdoor grape vines should be pruned so that last year’s fruited shoots will be shortened therefore encouraging new growth.
Remove any branches getting in the way and prune large apple and pear trees. Also, check any fruit you have stored and remove those that show signs of rot or deterioration.
Sowings can be made in a propagator, in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill at a temperature of approximately 21ºC (70ºF) of many summer bedding plants, such as geranium, petunia, impatiens (busy lizzie) and nicotiana along with some perennials. Take care not to sow too thickly or over-water as this can lead to the seedlings damping off (small patches of them suddenly dying for no apparent reason). Many people find that its best to pour the seed into the palm of their hand first, rather than sowing it directly from the packet. If seed is very fine, it can be mixed with silver sand to make it easier to sow thinly and evenly across the surface of the compost.
During this month cuttings may be taken from chrysanthemums that have been over-wintered.
Remember to regularly deadhead pansies, primulas along with other winter/spring bedding plants as, depending on the temperature, you may find they flower at varying times. Also by removing faded flowers this will help to prevent seeds setting which in turn reduces flower performance.
As amaryllis are now in full bloom, or will be very soon, the plants should be watered once or twice a week. This should be done by standing the pot in a saucer of water, allowing the plant to take as much as required, and so that the roots do not remain in the water after approximately half an hour remove the pot from the saucer and throw any water that is left away. Amaryllis are best kept on a windowsill as they prefer warm and light conditions. A liquid feed could also be given once a week as this will contain necessary nutrients.
Any shrubs or flowers that may have become too large for where they are at present can be moved to a new position during February.
Prune back hardy summer-flowering clematis as rapid new growth will be produced during spring which will carry new flowers later in the year.
Early flowering bulbs such as alliums and dutch iris that were planted last autumn should be coming into their own during this month. Anemone tubers should be soaked overnight so that they can absorb water which encourages them to expand. They can then be planted in pots for an early display. Alternatively plant outside in March or early April.
A minimum temperature of 4ºC (40ºF) should be maintained for tender plants such as fuchsias. Plants should be checked over at least once a week removing any dead leaves or flowers which will cut down the risk of fungal disease. Shoots that may have started to rot should be trimmed back to healthy growth. Keep compost almost dry making sure there is good air circulation for the plants – a fan heater may help in doing this!
Clumps of perennials can be divided with the healthy young outer portions being replanted into freshly prepared soil – this should only be carried out in milder areas of the country.
Towards the end of the month start begonia tubers into growth, in trays of compost at a temperature of 15ºC (60ºF). Previously grown tubers with any dead foliage still remaining should be cleaned off and then the tubers repotted in fresh compost. Water them in and a temperature of about 16ºC (60ºF) should be kept. It’s also a good time to plant new tubers of begonias and gloxinias.
Carry on planting up lilies in pots, ideally five bulbs of the same variety to a 25cm (10”) pot, and terracotta pots are more sturdy for when the tall flower spikes develop. If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to order – we have a great range of varieties on offer (see our bulb section for more information).
As milder weather conditions arrive, weeds will start to grow on areas of ground already prepared in preparation for sowing a new lawn – they should be brought under control before sowing begins in April. On existing lawns, brush off any unsightly wormcasts with a stiff broom, besom or rake. If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to get your lawnmower serviced.
Also if you have a floating pond heater continue using it to prevent ice from forming over the entire surface of your pond.
Providing a supply of food for birds, such as a special wild bird food mix, would be appreciated, at this time of year especially if the weather stays cold and unsettled. Remember though to place out of reach of cats.