Updated: Jan 1
I write this on New Year's Eve (sad person that I am) having come inside from a glorious afternoon outside. Today we saw temperatures of 18C in the garden, bright sunshine and honey bees gathering pollen from a flowering mahonia. They should be all balled up together inside their hive, waiting for spring.
With the exception of a very cold week in December, this winter is shaping up to be incredibly mild. Last year I saw my first snowdrop shoot on January 6th – this year it was on December 17th when I cleared leaves from the area where most of them are planted. Looking at the weather forecast for January and February I can only see one night of mild frost – but know to take nothing at face value where frosty weather is concerned and only hope that, should we have a late, savage frost, it does not do lasting damage to precocious young and emerging growth.
This photograph was taken on January 28th 2021 - how will this year compare to then?
Here are some of the things we will be getting with this month:
It is an excellent time for cleaning and maintaining garden tools and equipment – get machinery serviced, wash tools and treat wooden handles and shafts with linseed oil. Clean plant pots, the potting shed and greenhouse.
Check your stock of seeds and order more if you need them. It is also a good time to order summer bulbs such as eucomis or lilies and start to plan whether you need any new perennials or evergreen shrubs to fill in gaps in borders later in the year.
When the garden appears to be at its most “empty” – perennials have died back, shrubs and hedges have been pruned and bulbs are hiding below the ground – you get the clearest idea of its true structure and can see where borders need to be reshaped, beds enlarged, paths created and hedges planted. Go round with a notebook and then, when the ground is dry enough, pick up a spade and get started. Try to distribute your weight over as large an area as possible by standing on boards as you work – this helps to minimise compaction of the ground.
I find the winter is good time to turn my compost heaps and tidy the surrounding area.
The ornamental garden
This is the ideal time to move, or buy and plant, bare rooted trees and shrubs. We will be moving several roses, a spirea and a young sambucus (elderflower) which I took as a cutting last winter and may add a couple of fruit trees. I will also pot up a fig tree seedling which has sown itself in our hydrangea bed.
January is a good time to take hardwood cuttings. Choose pencil thick, 25 cm long, young stems from deciduous shrubs and trees such as sambucus, roses, cornus, willow etc and push them into the ground or a pot. Keep them watered and in a sheltered spot and in a year’s time you should have a new, viable plant. You will find detailed instructions for taking hardwood cuttings on line.
Continue to weed, tidy and mulch, avoiding damaging young crocus, snowdrops and aconites as they push their noses above the ground.
The edible garden
Prune apple and pear trees.
Check that perennial vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus and not waterlogged or covered with wet, rotting vegetation. You can also mulch them now.
It is not too late to plant garlic. This year I need to qualify this as the winter is so mild. Garlic cloves need a month in the ground where the temperature does not rise above 10C if they are to develop into decent bulbs with plenty of juicy cloves.
Mulch raised beds and prepare the soil for spring planting.
Order vegetable seeds.
I sow my chilli seeds in a heated propagator at the end of January. They take a long time to germinate and grow to a decent size for planting out so an early start is invaluable.
Continue to feed wild birds.
Check that insect and animal shelters are in good repair (without disturbing the occupants).
If you are having a bonfire check for hibernating small mammals and reptiles.
Finally – Happy New Year. January is a month for looking after yourself. If you cannot face the cold outdoors, curl up in front of the fire with a good gardening book or magazine and find inspiration for the year to come.