The quieter winter months are a good time for planning and carrying out a garden project. Two projects that I am hoping to get done, with the help of one of my sons, are replacing broken glass in an old greenhouse and generally improving its appearance and, the big one, clearing out the silt of many years accumulation in our pond. This will also mean taking out all the plants in baskets, weeding and replanting them. It will be necessary to drain out the water in the pond and, as it is always best to use rainwater if possible, I am hoping to pump some of the existing water into dustbins so that all the refill will not be tap water. I shall put the silt on plastic sheeting round the pond edge so that the wildlife in the pond has a chance of getting back where it belongs. Once dried, the silt can be spread on borders or the vegetable garden. One of my hopes is to clear out most of the roots of a rampant waterlily that has escaped from its basket and is dominating much of the pond surface. The moral is to check the ultimate size of any plants that you plan to put in the pond and to be careful to avoid invasive species.
There are also plenty of things to be done that you will probably think of as real gardening. In the veg garden there may be some harvesting still to do, maybe leeks and brassicas, but there will also be soil to clear and prepare for next year; either by digging or using the no-dig method I wrote about last month. Provided the soil is not too wet the next couple of months are a good time for bare root planting. Plants in containers can generally be sown at any time but bare root plants are cheaper and will establish well now. Summer fruiting raspberry canes and soft fruit bushes are best dealt with like this, as are roses , shrubs and trees. Make sure that trees are well staked. Last month I said that summer bedding could be cleared to make room for winter/spring bedding plants. I have a row of large flowering begonias in my front garden which need to be cleared but, after a slow start, they are currently looking magnificent, and it would be a shame to get rid of them. I have put the pansies which are waiting their turn healed in in the vegetable garden and we and the passers –by will enjoy the begonias for a little longer.
Apple and pear trees will need to be pruned in the dormant season; taking out diseased and damaged wood and reducing the new growth on fruiting spurs. Don’t cut off the tips of tip bearing apples like brambly. Take out a few of the older stems of currant bushes and reduce new growth of the others by up to a third. Gooseberry bushes are best pruned in February. Deciduous shrubs can also be pruned now. Some pruning may be desirable to keep the size and shape that you want and up to a third of main stems should be cut back to ground level to promote new growth.
Hopefully you have already brought tender perennial plants under cover but have horticultural fleece at the ready for shrubs that are at risk of damage from air frost. Camellias are an example of this. If you have got tender plants under glass but without heat they may need covering with fleece in really cold spells.
Dahlias are likely to be blackened by frost during this month and, once this has happened, they should be cut back to a few inches above the ground. If you don’t want to forget the variety or colour of your plants tie a label to the cut stems. The plants can then be dug up and brought under cover or left in the ground heavily mulched. If dug up they can be stored in dry compost in pots or boxes. Before doing this tip them upside down to ensure stems are well drained. Last year I dug up most of my dahlias and left them for the winter buried in the earth in the greenhouse. I also covered them with fleece in a cold spell. They all survived and flowered early. Leave dahlias unwatered until late March and don’t plant out in the open until May when the risk of frost has passed.
If you have had the patience to delay planting tulip bulbs this is the time for getting them in, whether in pots or in the open ground. I cover bulbs in pots with wire netting to stop squirrels digging them up.