January is not generally famed for beauty in the garden, but do have a look at our 3Growbags list of Brilliant Winter Plants (link is below). There are some real crackers amongst them!
For me, this month is mostly about anticipation. Can you feel the thrill of a new gardening year? What will we grow? What will the weather do? What will thrive, what will stumble? In preparation for all of that, there are some jobs to do now, such as sowing some seeds (there’s a short video below on this topic) and pruning maples and apple trees, amongst other things…
Tidying for spring beauty
There are plenty of bright little treasures to find among the flower borders and winter bedding, but they can become lost among rotting leaves, dead flowers and general debris. Things like aconites, early primroses (‘Barbara Midwinter’ is a gorgeous little carmine star), miniature iris like the ethereally pretty Iris histrioides ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ in our feature pic, winter pansies, Cyclamen coum, etc. can hugely benefit from a touch of TLC.
So give these little gems a chance to shine even in depths of winter. Pick over the plants every few days, trimming off the tatty dead leaves and flowers. But the way, we’ve actually got a very nice little hand-rake in our shop that might be just the thing for making this tidying-up job easier – just saying. There’s a link at the bottom.
Aim to allow the maximum amount of light and air to reach the plants. Top-dressing winter pots with grit is a great way of keeping the plants looking good, as well as deterring overwintering snails and bugs from nibbling them.
If you have bulbs among your winter bedding, they will start emerging soon, so clear foliage around their shoots , making some space around them. If it snows heavily, it could be worth going out and knocking the snow off these new shoots because they are often quite weak and breakable – the weight of the snow rather than the cold can damage them. And watch out that you don’t trample all over any bulb-shoots accidentally if you’re growing them in grass!
Caroline has recently ordered a Japanese maple and it has reminded me of what gorgeous things they are! Their beauty and variety of colour, size and form are so extraordinary that we must forgive them their pickiness – no strong winds, no alkaline soils, no hard-pruning etc. etc.
And here’s another element to their fussy attitude – if you attempt anything other than very light pruning at any other time than full dormancy, they will respond by ‘bleeding’ sap badly. So if you need to take out crossing stems, poorly-placed shoots or died-back bits, do it right now before they heed the call of spring.
Very early seeds
Hurray! Before the end of January, we can start sowing some seeds inside! It’s too early for the vast majority of seeds, but there are some that do MILES better for you in the summer if you give them a long germination and growing season.
This list includes leeks, chillies and peppers, antirrhinums, pelargoniums, begonia, coleus, lobelia and alpine strawberries. If you live in a cold area of the UK, this is one way that you can extend your shorter growing season.
The problem with sowing seeds this early is the obviously chilly compost and the low winter light levels; so you will need a heated propagator, heated cable, or a windowsill above a radiator.
And make sure you have very clean glass, maximising the amount of light that comes through. You can even help seedlings along by equipping yourself with a fluorescent plant lamp with a time clock, if you’re very keen!
Follow the instructions on the seed packet as you sow them, but for most, the technique is the same: scatter the seeds thinly on a seed tray of damp peat-free compost. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost, fine grit or vermiculite, tamp it down, and put the tray in the warm bright spot you’ve chosen. Click on the short video at the bottom, for a demo of this.
Don’t forget that chillies are actually perennials if you can keep them protected throughout the winter and have the space to do so. One of my friends ended up with fabulously huge and fruitful plants in the second year, by doing that!
- Check your indoor plants regularly for pests such as mealy-bugs, aphids, scale insect and whitefly. Don’t wait as I did once until it becomes such an infestation, that you have to throw the plant out!
- Use a miserable day to clean up old plant labels ready to use them for the coming season. You’re staying out of the cold rain, you are saving yourself money, and you are re-cycling materials – a warm glow is guaranteed!
- If you need to take any large branches off apple or pear trees, now is the time to do that, while they are dormant. Any cuts you make will have lots of time to dry and heal before the sap starts to rise again. Word of warning: leave plum and cherry tree-pruning until the summer – tackling them now might well invite silver leaf fungus in. Remember to take off large branches in stages, to reduce the likelihood of the weight ripping the bark of the main trunk as you cut.
Here is the link to the list of favourite winter plants that we have discussed over the years.
This is where I’m sowing chilli seeds this week.
This is the link to the lovely hand rake in our online shop.
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