I shall be seeking the sun in the Canary Islands for a good part of January so I am writing this at the beginning of the month during the warmest, wettest winter we have ever known. At this normally dormant season there are just a few tips of spring bulbs beginning to show but in my garden new life is stirring everywhere. Herbaceous perennials are putting on new growth, hellebores and anemones are flowering, white tips are showing on the snowdrops and I have had a solitary daffodil blooming since the latter part of December …
What is there to come? Will it stay mild and follow the pattern of an early but normal spring or shall we be taken aback by a blast of real winter weather? And how will the spring flowers cope with that; not to mention early fruit blossom, which is always at risk from frost. The only advice I can give in the face of such uncertainty is to get on with the things you would normally do but have supply of horticultural fleece to cover tender plants in the event of a cold spell.
If it stays wet don’t try working waterlogged soil or doing any planting outside. You will just be putting things in a mud bath. If you have got a heated greenhouse or an indoor propagator you can get on with sowing early vegetables and some flowers. Most will need heat to allow germination so follow the instructions on the packet. Tomatoes and salad leaves can be started early and many varieties of annual flowers. If you haven’t started sowing sweet peas, these can be sown now in a cold greenhouse. I sowed mine in October and they are now doing so well I shall need to get them out of their starter pots and plant them out in the soil in the greenhouse where, later on, I grow tomatoes.
If you haven’t managed to prune apple and pear trees yet they need to be done as soon as possible in view of the advanced growth this year. Don’t prune plums in the winter as this can encourage disease. Leave it till after fruiting in the summer. Large flowered summer clematis will probably be showing new growth on the dead stems and the stems should be cut back to some new growth about a foot (30cm) from the ground. You would normally prune roses in March but if they are making good growth you could bring this forward provided the weather is not frosty. Deciduous grasses should be cut back to ground level but just comb out dead growth from evergreen grasses with a hand fork. Now is the time for a general tidying of ornamental borders; cutting back dead stems and weeding. Lawns may well have continued to grow throughout the winter and they will benefit from cutting on a fairly high setting. Only do this when the grass is fairly dry. Tearing sodden and clogged grass isn’t a good idea.
There are several general jobs that you can be getting on with. Greenhouse glass will need cleaning together with a general tidy up. Buy new compost for seed sowing as it is recommended that old stock shouldn’t be used. Clean up the surface soil in containers where plants are kept all the year round and top dress them with some fresh compost. If you haven’t yet got your flower and vegetable seeds you will need buy these either from a nursery or a garden centre, although nurseries often have more specialised varieties. I have mentioned before that I have bought plug plants of annual flowers over the last couple of years. Real gardeners do all their own propagating but plug plants ( tiny plants that need growing on until they are big enough to plant outside) do save quite a bit of time and, with advancing age, I am beginning to think it is a good idea to find ways of cutting out some of the work. They are readily available from growers like Suttons or Thompson and Morgan. And don’t forget that we have several good nurseries locally where you can buy garden ready plants when the danger of frost has passed.