Gardening Tips

Gardening on gloomy days – tips for January


Second half of January and it is often difficult to see how we are going to reach the glory of spring, isn’t it!  But if you look hard, you’ll spot little signs that Nature is girding itself – an early primrose here, a hellebore bud there. 

And while we’re waiting for the all the fun and joy of spring, there are some gardening jobs to keep you busy, such as cleaning and re-cycling all your pots and cloches, taking care of indoor azaleas and trying some root cuttings………..

We are delighted that more and more folk are enjoying our podcasts each week – if you’d like to hear a recording of this one, the link is at the bottom

Cleaning up your act

I bet you have got a LOAD of plastic pots that you’ve acquired over the years – please don’t send them straight to landfill.  Most can be used for years and years, and just need a good clean-up in the winter, so that overwintering fungal spores etc. don’t get a chance to infect this year’s new occupants.  

Shake off the old compost and then scrub them in a bucket of detergent and/or mild disinfectant.  Let them dry before stacking them again for re-use. And if you won’t be using them again, do give them to someone who will! 

Clean up your pots each winter ready to re-cycle them for use this spring

If you aren’t re-using pots you already have, don’t forget we have the most brilliant little paper-pot maker in our online shop – an even more ecological alternative to re-using plastic ones – and these have the huge added advantage of being able to be planted straight out in the garden with your seedling plant with no root disturbance at all. I can’t tell you what a satisfying occupation it is to make them!

While you’re in cleaning mode, remember to give the greenhouse a good wash-down too, as well as those incredible handy cloches for protecting germinating and sprouting plants in early spring – it makes a BIG difference to their capacity for warming the ground, and gives hibernating pests a nasty time of it too, especially if you remember to clear out the little ridges and rims.

Root-cutting the right way

Is there a plant in your garden or in a friend’s, which you would love to have more of? Lots of perennials (and even a few trees and shrubs!) will grow easily from root-cuttings.  It’s a very good way of making more plants of things like Echinops, Acanthus, Crambe, Romneya, Anemone, Verbascum, Phlox, primroses and Oriental poppies – lots of lovelies. It’s a particularly easy way of propagating mint too (though round here, stopping mint is more of a problem than propagating it!)
1. Dig up the parent plant and wash the roots in a bucket of water. Using a sharp clean knife, take off some thick healthy roots – each cutting should be about 2 and a half inches (5 cm) long, but thinner root-cuttings should be a bit longer. Don’t go mad and strip the whole plant, but you can usually take about a quarter of the roots without any harm coming to the parent plant. 

Try taking some root cuttings – it really works for quite a few plants

2. Cut horizontally across the top of each root cutting and insert it into a hole made with a pencil in a pot of damp compost. Leave the top of the cutting at or just above the soil surface. You can put several in a pot together. Alternatively, you can lay the root-pieces on a seed-tray of compost, and cover them with another half-inch of compost.

Pop some bits of your chosen root in compost to make more – Simples!

3. Sprinkle some grit over the top, and leave the pot or seed-tray in a frost-free place over winter. Shoots should emerge in the spring, when you can separate the young plants carefully and pot them on.

The trick will work on other things that grow shoots straight from their roots too – raspberries, blackberries, lilac and even figs. Obviously you don’t have to dig up the whole plant here, you just need to expose some of the roots, and go from there. Our super-prolific fig-tree came from a friend’s root cutting!

Gardening shorts

  • Were you the grateful recipient of a lovely indoor azalea at Christmas? They are not the easiest of houseplants to keep going, but worth it if you can.  They need deadheading, and keeping cool and wettish – the trick here is to use rainwater or cold boiled water from the kettle, because they are acid-lovers. Feed the plant and put it somewhere shady outside in the spring; it will need some cold weather to trigger new flower-buds so bring it in in late autumn (but before the first frost).
An indoor azalea is worth taking a little trouble over
  • An unheated greenhouse can be warmed up a bit by leaving buckets of water in there, which will warm up during a bright day, and act as a very gentle storage heater overnight, raising the inside temperature by a few degrees.
  • Sow parsley now – it needs a long germination time (3 weeks in a heater propagator, 6 weeks on a windowsill) – these would be the PERFECT candidates for the paper-pots I mentioned earlier as their sensitive roots loathe disturbance when transplanting. If you want some more ideas of plants to sow now, have a look at one of our earlier blogs – link at the bottom.  While you’re about it, sow some more sweet peas – I may have to, because our naughty kitten knocked the seedlings I had sown in September into a chaotic heap the other day – bless!
Butter wouldn’t melt, eh…….but look at my poor sweet peas!

Here is the link to an earlier blog which talks about plants that can be sown early in the year.

And this is the link to a short podcast of this blog.

NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

5 replies on “Gardening on gloomy days – tips for January”

I have no luck with hardwood cuttings at all ?? I’d love to ask a question if it’s okay? Can anyone tell me of perennials I can grow from seed that favour acidic soil? I’ve an area with azaleas that needs some va-va-bloom ?

Hi Carly, Elaine here. Lucky you to be able to grow azaleas – no chance in my chalky soil! There are certainly some lovely perennials that are more than happy on an acid soil – Dicentra spectabilis (or Lamprocapnos as we are supposed to call it now) for one. Lots of companies sell seed for this lovely plant inc. Farmer Gracy and Sarah Raven. The same for Ageratum which is widely available. Other ideas might be Liriope, Trilliums (which I would LOVE to grow, if only I had the right conditions for them), Heathers, Pachysandra or even Japanese anemones which are happy almost anywhere, I think. I hope you find something that will give you the va-va-voom that you are seeking!

I have been trying to take a cutting of my Cotinus Royal Purple but have had no success. I cut a few of the smaller branches, soaked them in water, dipped in rooting powder and planted in a pot. Can you help/what am i doing wrong?

Hi Karen, Elaine here. Hmm, well it doesn’t sound like you are doing much wrong, though it could be that you are taking twigs that are too old and gnarly. I reckon that you would have better success with ‘softwood’ cuttings instead for something like a Cotinus – they certainly work very well for Lavatera and the like. Take new shoots about 4″ long in spring, with a little bit of heel from the older stem it grew from, if you can. These cuttings are full of sap and wilt quickly so you have to be quite speedy about taking off the soft tip, dipping them in rooting powder if you want to (I tend not to bother with that much any more, actually) and sticking them in a moist gritty compost-filled pot. If you can keep them looking perky under clear plastic or in a propagator in a bright spot for 2-3 weeks, they might very well have rooted by then! Hope that works for you – good luck!

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