January's garden chores

Posted on: 05 January 2017 by Gareth Hargreaves

Paul Ward puts on his wellies and tackles January's garden chores.

winter garden

It's time to prepare for the coming year by searching seed catalogues, planning the planting and picking the plants.

Wassail your fruit trees on January the 17th. 

Wassailing was an annual custom in Britain where fruit orchards were common right up to the early 20th century. It entails celebrating good heath to the fruit trees and an encouragement to fruit well, usually taking place early on in the New Year on the 17th of January (old twelfth night). You go out and toast the trees and throw your toast over the trunk of the largest tree. Dancing around them and generally making merry is equally as effective.

     Wassail the trees, that they may beare,
     You many a plum and many a peare,
     For more or less fruits they will bring
     As you do give them a wassailing.

     Robert Herrick 1591 - 1674

Garden Workout

The average person consumes about 9000 calories on Christmas day against an average requirement of 2000. So maybe we can all make a resolution to work it off in the large gym attached to our house where we keep the plants. Do you have any digging to do? Weeding? I weeded at the end of November thinking that that was it for a few months, I now notice with horror that's loads more have sprung up in the month since then, the mild weather and plentiful rain are to blame.

If you do summon up the energy to go out and dig, leave the clods of earth as they fall off the spade, don't bother breaking them up, the frosts will do that for you. Frost isn't all bad.

Make plans

Consider plants and planting. Put canes or a hose pipe across the garden to mark out planned beds,  patios or other features. Then ignore it for a few days, look out of the window and change it all totally if necessary. Winter is a good time to prepare for the coming growing season. Take your time when deciding on your grand design and get it right before you start on it when the warmer weather and breaking buds tempt you beyond the confines of the fire-side (whether metaphorical or literal).

Order seed catalogues

Order seed catalogues and plan what you'll grow from seed this year. I think of this as buying genes for the garden. Perfectly packaged and prepared for growth with all they need to get started. Seeds are natures own genetic technology. If you've never grown anything from seed before, it's one of gardening's main wonders.

Lay the decking

If you've already decided, then get a patio or deck ordered and laid now. You'll certainly get it done quicker and probably also cheaper than later on. Make your mind up and order in March and the chances are you may not get to sit out until June. These areas extend the season of use of the garden. Lunch alfresco on a warm April day surrounded by the fresh green shoots of spring is a real delight.

Keep Off The Grass

Stay off the grass when it frosty. It will recover if left to thaw out, but walking on it can damage many of the blades. I think of it in terms of having cold fingers, simple things like knocking on a door suddenly become incredibly painful, it's like that for the grass being walked on when frozen, a bit like having your frozen ears flicked by the bigger boys at the bus stop!

Plant hedges & trees

Main tree and hedge planting time still. The winter months are the best time to plant any trees and hedging or  other bare-rooted shrubs. These are bought bare-rooted from nurseries, this way they will be dormant, but have a more extensive root system than those grown in containers. They should be planted as soon as you can so they spend the minimum time out of the ground. This applies in particular  to ornamental cultivars which seem to be less tolerant than most.

If you can't plant them straight away, then "heel them in".  This means cover the roots with soil in a temporary position so that they don't rot or dry out. Don't be tempted to leave them in the bag or other wrapping even for a short time. If you haven't space to put them in the soil, then "planting" them in sharp sand (a couple of quid from a builders merchant for a 40kg bag) will do nearly as well (dries out quicker than soil). You could even do this in a bucket or other container as long as there are drainage holes in the bottom so the roots don't sit in water.

Why bother? Why not wait until it's a bit warmer and more pleasant and plant out of containers?

Bare rooted trees and shrubs are cheaper, as little as half the price for trees and cheaper than this for shrubs though the range of available shrubs is smaller, so you can either save money or spend the same and get a much bigger plant.

Planting now means that they get off to the best possible start in the spring. As soon as the plants wake up and start putting their roots out, they're already in your soil rather in a pot that will then planted in the soil later, one less jolt to the system.

So brave the elements and do it now! Make sure though that you add lots of organic matter to the soil when filling the planting hole and that you stake trees well.

We're in the middle of the dormant season now, but already thinking of the growing season to come. I often think how lucky we are to have such pronounced seasonal changes, it all helps to keep us fresh as well the garden.

By Paul Ward

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