How are your New Year resolutions going? If paying more attention to the garden featured amongst them this is the time to start putting your resolve to the test. Busy times lie ahead and it is a good idea to get going as soon as possible.
The best place to start is with pruning. You can prune apples and pears much earlier than this but you do need to get it done by the end of February …
This is also the best month for pruning currants and gooseberries. Reduce last year’s growth by a third or so. You may find that a gooseberry bush is growing new little plants from ’layered’ branches and these should be cut away from the branch and grown on elsewhere (or potted up and given to someone else). Autumn fruiting raspberries should be cut down now to a few inches above ground level and they will fruit in the autumn this year. Summer fruiting raspberry canes need cutting back immediately after fruiting so don’t prune them now. This is, however, the right time for planting new raspberry canes. These should be cut back to grow new canes this year for fruiting next year. Clematis that flowered in the summer (generally, the larger flowered varieties) will be a mass of tangled dead stems now but they will probably be showing green shoots. Cut the stems back just above a new shoot about a foot (30cm) above the ground.
It’s too early to do much in the way of sowing things but you can start tomatoes if you have a heated green house. You can start salad crops, like early lettuce or radish, in a cold green house either in seed trays or in a border in the green house. You can also start things in a seed tray on a window sill but there is a danger that plants will grow straggly rather than being compact. Putting a foil-covered sheet of cardboard behind the seed tray will help to prevent this and keep plants growing straight.
If you have followed the current trend and left perennial flowers for their stems and seed heads during winter they will need cutting down. Flower beds can be weeded and the soil lightly turned over. Wait until the soil is not too wet before doing this. You can add compost as a mulch round plants and spread a general purpose fertiliser towards the end of the month or in March. This will be flowering time for hellebores and the flowers will show best If you cut back old foliage. Winter-flowering pansies in containers or hanging baskets should be dead-headed to prolong flowering. They will probably begin to flower more profusely now than during December or January. Dahlias that have been stored as dry tubers should be potted up in soil or compost, watered sparingly and put in the light under frost free cover to start them into growth.
If the weather is fairly mild, grass may have started growing and can be mown on a high setting. If you haven’t had the mower serviced yet it needs to be done as soon as possible so that the mower is available when it is most needed. Fallen leaves should have been cleared up by now as dead leaves left in any quantity on a lawn will damage the grass.
If you have a pond and netted it to keep leaves out you can take the net off now. Clear out any leaves that have got into the water and cut back any foliage on the pond plants that has died. As the water warms up, blanket weed and duck weed will begin to do their evil thing and the sooner you start clearing it the better. It probably won’t go away but you can keep it under control.
In the vegetable garden use any remaining winter crops like leeks or sprouts. If you believe in winter digging get this finished and hoe over any areas cleared earlier. You can also spread garden compost on the cleared soil or warm it up with a covering of horticultural fleece or with cloches or plastic tunnelling. If you plan to grow potatoes, the seed potatoes should be spread out in the light with the bulk of the eyes upwards to start the shoots developing (chitting).