Arggghhh, January can seem such a long month, can’t it! It feels particularly so when the weather has been as unpredictable and damaging as it has been recently.
Spring still seems quite far away. But it WILL come, and in the meantime let’s cheer ourselves up with some jolly little tasks to prepare for its arrival, like sowing some beans inside, and oiking out some weeds…
Fungus the bogeyman
Dealing with over-wintering plants and seedlings inside is fraught with problems, including fluctuating temperatures and low-light levels. One of the trickiest to deal with is the appearance of mildew, botrytis and other moulds. These can grow rapidly in a moist atmosphere and weaken stems irrevocably. It thrives on the softer plant tissues, and new emerging shoots of any tender perennials overwintering in the greenhouse are horribly susceptible. Terribly disheartening when all your twiddling of heating and lighting has been kyboshed by dusty fungal spores!
There are six main ways you can help your plants to fight these moulds:
1.Wash pots, trays and containers before you use them. And wipe any tools you use on affected plants with a disinfectant straight away. This is one time when hygiene really matters.
2. Try really hard not to overcrowd the plants – I know space can be at a premium if you are looking after a lot of plants during the winter, but mould LOVES a warm and crowded spot.
3. Keep the air circulation good. Open vents, windows and doors as often as you can, weather permitting, so that air will flow around and under your plants, at least for short periods. Raising pots up off the ground on bricks and boards can also help the air-flow.
4. Never over-water any plants that are being rested inside during the winter – keeping the compost just moist is fine, or when you see it started to look dry and droopy. Water the soil or from underneath (standing the pots in a tray of water and then letting them drain) rather than over the leaves. Overwintering plants shouldn’t be given fertiliser as a general rule – the last thing you want to encourage is lots of juicy shoots for the botrytis to attack.
5. Regularly wipe away any condensation that has settled on glass or other surfaces and dry the area.
6. Check your plants often, and remove any affected stems or leaves as soon as possible or the infection will spread rapidly. Cut them back to strong-looking healthy tissue. Take any plants that have been badly clobbered by mould right away from healthy ones, or you may lose the lot.
There could be a very handy little bit of weeding to be done right now. After the weather assault that most of us have experienced in the last few weeks, our perennial flowering plants will have collapsed, and many of them will have very little to show above ground at the moment. But look at that! A happy little creeping buttercup just nestling up to clump of cranesbills, that you never noticed when your plant was in full fig!
As long as the ground isn’t frozen, January and early February can be an excellent time to don warm woollies and check round the garden borders, levering out any perennial weeds that have surreptitiously infiltrated. Once your plants get into their stride and starting to shoot all over the place in mid-spring, the invaders will be invisibly stealing water and nutrients from them, and the task of elimination will be much trickier.
I noticed another thing when I was doing this job just the other day – it was LOVELY just being out in the garden again – the sky was grey and threatening rain or sleet but a robin was singing nearby, the snowdrops and hellebores have started flowering, and I could detect the faint fresh scent of the yellow Coronilla citrina flowers…….. I urge you to do the same and find things to smile about in your own patch or neighbourhood – at least until frozen fingers drive you back to the warmth of a mug of soup inside.
- Broad beans are tough vegetables, and can even be sown in autumn outside for an early crop the following year, but lots of folk get some going now in a cold greenhouse or cold frame. Just push the large seeds into compost-filled root-trainers or deep pots (or loo-roll innards), cover with more compost, water and drain the pots, and leave them somewhere frostfree. By the way, there are a load of easy-to-follow tips like this in our little veg book ‘Beginners’ veg’ – the perfect thing to be sitting on the potting bench beside the pots, as we gear up for the main growing season. The link is at the bottom.
- This is an excellent time to plant bareroot deciduous hedges such as hawthorn, blackthorn, hornbeam and beech – all fabulous for encouraging wildlife into your garden as well as looking great!
- A friend of mine showed me the FABULOUS blooms on her Amaryllis the other day (check out the feature pic) – she’s obviously doing something right, because she’s had it for 10 years now! This would normally entail snipping off the flower stalks once the glorious blooms have faded, to about 1/2″ of the top of the bulb. Then you keep the bulb with its strappy leaves in a warm sunny place indoors, lightly watered, until all danger of frost is past in your area. You can then put it outside for the summer in a sunny spot – my pal says that hers even had some flowers on it over last summer. She’ll bring it in during the autumn, give it a good feed and off it will go again – lovely!
- Sow sweet-peas – Laura gives you chapter and verse on how to do this in a video, which you can find here.
- We have had a very enthusiastic response to our list of favourite winter plants – if you want some inspiration, take a look at it here.
Here is the link to the veg book in our online shop.
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