Although you’ll have no success sowing seeds outdoors in the depths of winter, in the greenhouse there are already a few things that can be sown this month:
- Onions and leeks can be sown in modules – sow 5 or 6 seeds in each with a view to thinning out to 3 or 4 seedlings per module. (Depending on the size of the initial modules, the onions could well need repotting prior to planting out.)
- Early Summer cabbages and cauliflowers
- Peas sown now, with a little luck, could give you a crop as early as May.
Don’t worry, however, if you’re not able to do any sowing as there is plenty of time in the coming months.
Annual bedding plants, for summer-long colour in planters and flowerbeds, can be sown this month in the greenhouse. Examples include petunia, salvia, lobelia, busy lizzy and sweet peas. As with vegetable sowing, don’t worry if you’re not able to get anything done just yet as there is plenty of time in the coming months; sowing now will just give you a few extra weeks of colour (at most) in early summer.
Start A Garden Diary
Even if you ignore every other tip I ever give, consider this one. Given that the difference between a good gardener and a bad one is a couple of weeks, get a diary (they’ll be half price soon) and use it exclusively for garden notes. Make a note of what was planted when and then later on in the season record your results – flowering/ cropping times and success rates. (If you’re really keen, you could go for the full phenological record, making a note of key occurrences in the life cycles of the flora and fauna of your local environment.) This time next year you’ll have an invaluable resource documenting a year’s worth of your experience.
Start Collecting Eggshell
Crushed eggshell has a number of uses in the veg garden:
- To keep slugs and snails off your plants (albeit with varying degrees of success)
- As a fertilizer to provide calcium and certain micro-nutrients, and also to increase the alkalinity of the soil
- To clearly mark out the areas or rows in your beds where seeds have been sown, to remind you where seeds are for the days or weeks prior to their germination.
Have a baking dish in the bottom of the oven into which you put eggshells as and when they appear. The eggshells will dry and become more brittle whenever the oven is on, making it a fairly easy task to crush them into a coarse powder when you have collected enough.
Seed potatoes become available in the shops this month, and the most popular varieties for your area will be flying off the shelf quickly. Do your research now so that, when they are in store, you know exactly what varieties you need.
If blight has been a particular problem in previous years consider choosing one of the blight resistant maincrop varieties, such as Sarpo Mira, Axona, Sarpo Shona, Sarpo Una, Blue Danube, Kifli.
When the sowing season starts to gather pace in a month or two, you’ll be wanting a ready supply of pots, trays, modules and tubs. Get ahead of the game now by cleaning last year’s containers (ideally with a horticultural disinfectant). It’s a fairly wretched task, but you’ll be pleased you did it come March. Also, start collecting the sort of useful containers that would otherwise find their way into the domestic waste – yoghurt cartons, plastic punnet, etc. Toilet roll tubes make excellent biodegradable modules.
Something most keen growers will encounter at some point is the need to artificially “stratify” seeds. Stratification is the process of exposing seeds to a period of cold prior to germination to break their dormancy. Most seeds don’t need stratification, but some do. Examples include aconite, alchemilla, some ornamental alliums, angelica, aquilegia, astrantia, bergenia, clematis, eryngium, geranium, lavender, lily, lobelia and trillium. (Also, a majority of shrub/tree seeds need extensive periods of chilling. See November tips for details).
Now is the time to artificially stratify such seeds if they are to germinate in the Spring, with a period of chilling in the fridge for anything from 2 weeks to 2 months. Specific instructions will be given on the seed packet, but the general rules are:
- Prior to chilling, sow the seed in a tray of moist seed compost, seal in a clear plastic bag and leave at room temperature (15-20°C) in light conditions for 3 days
- Place the seed, still in the tray and plastic bag, in the fridge for the recommended time
- Check the tray regularly and remove germinated seedlings out of the fridge and into the coldframe/greenhouse/etc.
- Make sure the compost remains moist but not saturated throughout the process.
Protection Of Bulb Shoots
The tips of many spring flowering bulbs – for example snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells, chionodoxa – will be breaking through the surface of the soil in the next few weeks. Where they have become naturalised, or planted as if they were, they will probably be growing in areas where they could be trampled. Mark out these areas with string, eggshell, a contrasting coloured mulch or some way as to make them obvious.
Root Cuttings From Perennials
If you’ve ever had to do battle with couch grass or ground elder then you’ll know that some plants can reproduce from a small fragment of root. Suitable for a limited range of plants, typically those with thick and fleshy roots, this method of plant propergation will nonetheless allow you to produce large numbers of identical plants relatively quickly, provided you have access to a cold-frame, greenhouse or a suitable window space indoors
Most types of cuttings are taken whilst the plant is in active growth, but not so root cuttings; these are best taken from a plant when it is dormant, so now is the ideal time. A clear and concise step-by-step guide is given on the following website:
The cuttings can be left in a cold-frame or cool greenhouse (if the former, a little extra protection may be needed during a very cold spell). In the Spring green shoots will start to form, but bear in mind that the cuttings will only be fit for transplanting when a new root system has established, typically 3 or 4 weeks after the first green shoots.
Suitable hardy perennials include: phlox, echinops, verbascum, comfrey, oriental poppy, acanthus, echinacea, epimedium, primrose (some types), eryngium, pulsatilla, japanese anenome. (Note that the latter three do not cope well with disturbance at the roots of an established plant, so take a very limited number of cuttings from the parent plant and do so without digging it up.)
RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch
If you can spare an hour or two, join in with the RSPB’s Big garden birdwatch. Basically you choose your spot – be it your garden, allotment, local park or somewhere similar – and count the number of each birds species you see over the course of an hour. The results of 10s of thousands of such observations are collated into a nationwide survey that has, over the years since its inception in 1979, built up into a respected and very useful record of bird population trends.
This year’s (2017) birdwatch takes place on the weekend of the 28-30 January. Find out all you need to know here:
Previous Garden Tips That Still Apply
Winter Pruning – Any time in the dormant season is good for a wide variety of plants. (See Oct for details)
Hardwood Cuttings – An easy and free way of obtaining a wide range of fruit and ornamental bushes. If the ground is too wet or cold then leave it till the end of Winter. (See Oct for details)
Feed The Birds – Hanging feeders will attract blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, sparrows and nuthatches. Loose feed for robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, thrushes, fieldfares and redwings. (See Nov for details)
Protection For Over-wintering Beasties – Don’t be too enthusiastic when tidying your garden or plot of the debris that has accumulated over recent weeks and months. Take particular care if you are planning to turn or empty your compost heap. (See Nov for details)
Check Stored Fruit And Veg – Make periodic checks for disease or signs of pests amongst the produce you have stored. (See Sep for details of setting up a veg store)
Things Not To Do – Don’t dig if the soil is frozen or waterlogged. Don’t over-water house/greenhouse/conservatory plants. Don’t plant or move shrubs unless the weather has been unseasonably mild and reasonably dry for a significant period.
(See Dec for details)
Start Collecting Seed Catalogues And Think About Summer – Collect a good stock of gardening catalogues (which will already be available for next season’s stock), and start planning for the year to come. (See Dec for details)
Have A Fire – Consider treating yourself to one fire a year to get rid of diseased material from Winter pruning. (See Dec for details)
Tool Maintenance – Set aside a day to do some tool maintenance (including sharpening). (See Dec for details)
Winter Brassica Netting – Check for rips and make sure the net is secured all the way round the bottom. (See Nov for details)
Garlic Planting In The Greenhouse – Use a modular tray filled with compost and plant the cloves so that the top of each is just poking out of the compost. When green shoots are an inch or so high, and a strong root system has been established, the cloves are ready to be planted out. Do this during a mild spell, and after hardening off in a cold-frame. (See Dec for details)
Annual Greenhouse Clean – The purpose of this is to clean the glass, so that the maximum amount of light can get to the plants inside, and to disinfect all surfaces. (See Dec for details)