January Gardening for Dummies
No British garden is a thing of beauty in January (cue a deluge of photos from irate proud gardeners – go on, prove me wrong!), but a little bit of TLC now will pay you handsomely come spring and summer and there are a few jobs that require your attention even during the hard winter months. Jackie Hunt, who is head gardener at the award-winning Turn End Gardens in Haddenham, Bucks (I know not that local to these ‘ere parts), suggested these winter gardening tips if you feel like getting out into the outdoors and exercising without the need for lycra – though don’t let me stop you if you want to dig up you dahlia’s in your neon crop top.
Wisteria needs pruning twice a year, to keep it in its allotted space and to encourage lots of flowers. Back in July or August, I shortened the long green whippy shoots to about 5 or 6 leaves. This transfers the energy in the plant into making flowers rather than growing long shoots. In winter (January or February) I cut back those same shoots back further, to just 2 or 3 buds. This keeps the plant compact and prevents leaves from obscuring the flowers.
At Turn End we normally try to get some mulching done in autumn, when the garden has been cut back and the soil is mostly bare, but because the autumn and early winter has been so mild, the soil is still holding some warmth. If you have fee draining soil, you can vastly improve it by covering the surface with a 5cm layer of garden compost. The compost is gradually and naturally incorporated into the soil and helps it hold water and nutrients. If you have heavy clay soil it will also help improve drainage. A mulch will also protect the roots of plants from winter cold and suppress weeds.
We make our own compost from garden waste, but you can use well rotted manure, leaf mould, or buy composted garden waste from your local council. Only mulch the soil whilst it warm, so pick a warm, sunny spell. Don’t mulch on top of frozen and frosty soil or in cold weather. Keep mulch away from the crowns of herbaceous plants and the stems of shrubs to prevent rotting. You can start mulching again as the soil starts warming up again in mid spring.
Take advantage of sunny dry days by opening greenhouse doors and windows to get a good change of air through the building. Keep an eye on plants and pick off and dispose of rotted leaves. Inspect stored plants such as dahlias to check they’re not rotting or drying out.
Recycle your Christmas Tree
Is your Christmas tree still sitting at the end of your garden, waiting for the spare moment in February when you finally get around to disposing of it? You can check with your local council about recycling your real Christmas tree. Many local household waste and recycling centres and some local garden centres will shred it to make into mulch.
Keep putting out water and food for birds
Most berries have been stripped from trees and shrubs by mid winter, so make sure you keep putting out food for birds. Keep bird baths scrubbed clean, full and unfrozen. If you’re not sure what food to buy for birds, there’s some great advice on the RSPB website.
Jackie Hunt has worked as the gardener and estate manager at the award-winning Turn End gardens in Haddenham, Bucks, since 2010. Previously she was a gardener for the National Trust and ran her own garden design and maintenance business. We’ll be back again later on in Spring with another list of chores to keep you busy in the garden.