January- An exciting time for fresh starts in the garden!
January may seem a little dull and grey in the garden, but in reality it is an exciting time for fresh starts, looking ahead, and planning a beautiful garden for the twelve months ahead. Jobs in the garden this month are mostly about keeping things trim and tidy in preparation for the year to come.
First thing on the list for the year is how to get rid of your Christmas tree! Check and see if the local council are offering a recycling or collection service. You may prefer to recycle your tree as the needles of fir trees make excellent ericaceous compost, perfect for pleasing camellias, heathers, rhododendrons and azaleas. Depending on your tree, this might be as simple as sweeping up the fallen needles from the sitting room. If you have a fancy tree that’s been bred to never let go, snip off the branches from the main trunk. If you have access to a garden shredder this will speed things up no end. Otherwise chop by hand into smaller pieces, then scatter around the base of your ericaceous plants and let nature do her thing. You can also use the evergreen branches as frost protection; they are excellent for protecting perennial crowns.
Be mindful of planting out your Christmas tree in the garden as it could become huge!
The weather can be so fickle at this time of year with warm one day, wet another and freezing the next day. January can be pretty sharp when it chooses, so preparing for the worst is just sensible. Also please note that ALL pruning advice assumes the work is done on a day when the temperature is well above freezing. Ideally you want to leave about 48 hours between pruning and a frost to stop tissue damage.
Deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be prune or renovated from now throughout the dormant season. It is so much easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves. Suitable examples are beech, hazel and roses.
Deciduous hedges that have become too large often respond well to being pruned back hard in winter which is also the time to avoid nesting birds as it is an offence to damage or destroy a nest in use. Beech, hawthorn and hornbeam can all be reduced as much as half in height and width in a single cut.
You may not have done this at this time of the year, but it is said that winter is a fantastic time to clip box hedging. People used to say it should be done on Derby Day but that was before the arrival of Box Blight which loves the combination of warm, moist weather, little air movement and freshly wounded (as in clipped) box leaves and branches. However box blight is dormant in winter, which means a box hedge clipped in winter will have healed by early spring and so be much less prone to attack by box blight. It is a good time to rake up and burn any leaves under the box because that is where the blight is over-wintering.
Evergreen or Coniferous hedging can be damaged by thick coverings of snow. Snow is incredibly heavy and can snap branches and splay open the tops of hedges. Take pictures of the beauty of it all and then gently brush off the snow to preserve your hedges and clipped shrubs.
Prune wisteria. The main framework of large stems will have grown long whippy side shoots that should have been reduced in length around midsummer. These same side shoots should now be cut back to 2-3 buds from the previous year’s growth so that you encourage the production of more flower buds. When people say their wisteria never flowers it is usually because they did not prune around this time.
Ivies, climbing hydrangeas, Virginia creeper are all marvellous at prettifying walls but they will also invade window frames, gutters and doors so cut them back away from anywhere where they may cause (expensive!) damage.
Cut off old leaves of hellebores if you haven’t already done so from ground level to expose the flowers.
In mild areas and during dry spells you can lift and divide herbaceous perennials to increase stocks and revive poorly flowering clumps.
Start cutting back deciduous grasses and other perennials for winter interest if they are looking tatty. Alternatively you can leave them a few more months to provide cover and food for wildlife.
Watch your lawn for signs of water logging as the weather gets wetter.
If you missed the opportunity to carry out autumn lawn maintenance, and the weather is favourable, then you can still remedy the situation by spiking the lawn with a garden fork or mechanical aerator. Then fill the holes with a mixture of sharp sand and loam, brushed in using a stiff broom.
It’s a good time to cut a fresh edge to your lawn when most plants have been cut back as you can see more easily what you are doing.
Remember to avoid walking on frosty grass as this will burn or scorch the grass and the grass will appear to be black and have brown footprints after a while. Put planks down to distribute the weight of you and/or your wheelbarrow if you have to go back and forth.
Check protective coverings on tender plants remain in place.
If you haven’t already done so, raise pots off the ground to avoid plants having their roots sitting in the wet and for pots cracking in the frost.
Continue to rake up any winter debris and leaves off your borders to keep them tidy. Clear up any weedy beds ready for mulching in spring.
January and February are the toughest months for wildlife in the garden. Encouraging birds into the garden can help with pest control. Consider introducing a variety of feeders and keep feeding regularly as birds waste valuable energy travelling back and forth to empty feeders. Water is also incredibly important for drinking and bathing when it is freezing.
January always feels like the longest and coldest month so cheer yourself up by choosing summer flowering bulbs. Order them now ready for planting in spring. Put the kettle on, have a nice cup of tea and finish off the Christmas cake!
Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year!