Here we go – a brand New Year full of promise! And amazingly, this is the 100th edition of our fortnightly Gardening Tips column – it’s quite a back catalogue now! I hope your New Year’s Resolutions include throwing yourself into gardening with renewed vigour this year, ready to make 2022 the best one EVER. If you’d like to listen to this as a podcast, please click in the link at the end.
Here are a few winter jobs to get you started, including sowing some early seeds, and looking after indoor cyclamen……….
Oooh, I do love to have a few seeds on the go, don’t you! Just to have a little something ‘bubbling under’, even in the depths of winter. But you have to be rather selective as to which seeds to go for. For instance, it’s much too early to be sowing things like Cosmos – even if you could germinate them with enough warmth and the shorter day length of winter, they would become too leggily big before all danger of frost had past and you could plant them out in the garden. So ignore those packets for the moment, and concentrate instead on the few things that relish a much longer seedling-development stage than most. Chillies, pelargoniums and onions are three such. Let’s look at them in turn………
You have to give chillies a good long run at it, if you want fabulous fruit at the end of the summer, as in our feature pic this week. They are frustratingly slow initially to germinate and then to start motoring, so get some going now with the aim of having some plumptious leafy well-rooted plants by midsummer, when they will start to flower.
- Once they have each sprouted a pair of proper chilli leaves (not the round seed-leaves which come first), pot them into large plugs/small pots to grow on in warm, moist really bright conditions.
- A good tip from a seasoned campaigner – by the time you realise that you might have cocked something up with the January sowing, you will have missed the boat for this year, so it’s best to keep a few seeds back and do a ‘back-up’ sowing in February, in case the first lot doesn’t come up!
These are the showy tender perennials as opposed to the hardy geraniums or cranesbills. You might well be used to growing these from cuttings, but a VERY cheap and satisfying way of increasing your stock is to start them from seed really early in the year. They will take about 16 weeks from seed to flower-formation. After that, your plants will yield cuttings for the future in just the same way as normal.
Fill pots or a propagating tray with peat-free compost almost to the top. Tamp it down and water the compost (remember we have seed tampers in our shop!)
Space your pelargonium seeds out on the surface of the compost at least an inch (2.5 cm) apart.
Sieve a little compost over the seeds but only just enough to cover them – don’t go overboard.
Put a plastic bag or a transparent cover over the pot/tray and keep them in a warm (20 degrees c.) bright place, making sure they don’t dry out.
Your seedlings should appear in about a fortnight, but don’t move them on into individual pots until they’ve got a couple of true pelargonium leaves. Pot them on steadily, and then after a period of ‘out-in-the-day-and inside-at-night’ (aka ‘hardening off’), plant them outside where you want them to flower when all danger of frost is past in your area.
Sowing onion seeds inside in January will give you bigger onions than those you have grown from onion sets planted later on.
Sow the seed thinly into pots or trays of moist compost and keep them in a warm place. When the seedlings are big enough for you to hold easily, move them on into individual modules and keep them in as bright a spot as you can find – doesn’t have to be warm though, just frost-free. Plant them out in spring.
Pruning for perfection
There are a few shrubs that can be pruned in the depths of winter, especially if you live in a warmer part of the UK. They include some vigorous growers like elder (Sambucus) and hazel. The best approach with elder is to cut back to ‘knuckles’ of older branches. New stems will come from these in spring, and they will carry the brightest-coloured foliage on ornamental varieties. If you see rotten stems, chop those right back to the ground, to encourage a new shoot to take its place.
Hazel is vigorous enough to be ‘coppiced’, whereby stems are cut down using loppers to the ground to create attractive multi-stemmed trees or shrubs.
Have a quick look at your apple and pear trees – cut back any long shoots to 2 or 3 buds from their base, but leave the stubby spurs to carry blossom and fruit. If there are branches that are crossing or going in the wrong direction, deal with those too.
Gooseberry bushes can also be attacked now – cut out the oldest branches and any spindly growth. Don’t do anything with cherry, plum or damson trees though – winter pruning carries a high risk of a real nasty called silver leaf disease worming its way in.
Enjoy the coloured stems of dogwoods (Cornus) and willows (Salix) for now – you’ll be cutting those back in late February and March.
- Were you given an indoor cyclamen at Christmas? Lovely! Keep it happy by positioning it on a cool north or east windowsill, watering it weekly from the base, not over the leaves and deadheading it regularly – pull off the dead flower-stems, don’t cut them. If you want to try to keep it for next winter, dry the corm out when it has finished flowering, and then start watering it again and feeding it next autumn.
- Even if your Christmas tree doesn’t have roots, you can still make use of it once the festive season is over. The chopped up or shredded branches or leaves make good carbon-rich compost if mixed with green waste. They may take longer to rot but they stop the heap becoming soggy and airless. Lots of local authorities have recycling centres for them too.
Did you enter our Christmas Crossword Competition? Lots of folk did (and they ALL did better than Caroline’s paltry effort!) and we’re delighted to announce that our winner is Lisa Griffiths, who wins a set of the gorgeous Liberté plant pots that we have in our shop. Congratulations to her, and a huge thank you to everyone who entered and joined in the fun.
The answers to the Prize Crossword are here.
This is the podcast of this week’s Gardening Tips.
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