• Sally Watts

January - Get to know Jack Frost!

Updated: Jan 14

The Weather can be so fickle at this time of year - 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.

First thing on the list is how to get rid of your Christmas tree. Check and see if the local council are offering a recycling or collection service. Failing that, get a few neighbours together and hire a chipping machine to deal with all of your trees so that you (and they) can have woodchips to use as a mulch once it has rotted down. This is best used around ericaceous plants such as azaleas, camellias, heathers and rhododendrons as the chippings are acidic and will lower the pH of the soil as they decompose.

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.

Cut off old leaves of hellebores if you haven’t already done so from ground level to expose the flowers.

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.

Start cutting back deciduous grasses and other perennials for winter interest. Alternatively you can leave them a few more months to provide cover for wildlife.

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.

In mild areas and during dry spells you can lift and divide herbaceous perennials to increase stocks and revive poorly flowering clumps.

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.

Prepare soil for new lawns to be laid or sown in spring.

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.

Watch your lawn for signs of waterlogging 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.

Evergreen or coniferous hedging will 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.

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.

You may not have done this at this time of the year, but 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.

Good time to rake up and burn any leaves under the box because that is where the blight is over-wintering.

Carry on feeding the birds as January and February are the toughest months for wildlife in the garden. Water is also incredibly welcome when its 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!

A very happy and Prosperous New Year to you all!


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Garden Design in and around Peterborough, Cambridge, Northamptonshire & London

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