A cold and wet January has not encouraged activity in the garden so gardeners will be raring to go this month. This is particularly true as we face the prospect of another two or three months in Covid-induced lock-down. Last year many of us in isolation were made even more aware than usual of the therapeutic power of gardening and this will be a source of relief and hope this year.
The onset of spring always brings a lift to the spirit and we shall be especially glad of this at a time when, sadly, we shall once again need all the sources of hope that we can find. I walked around my garden before writing this in mid-January and I was delighted to see the first snowdrop buds showing white under an apple tree.
One of the joys of gardening is the sense of anticipation that we get when sowing seeds and the second half of February brings the prospect of doing some sowing if you have a greenhouse or a windowsill that you can use for plants. Among the things you can sow then are salad crops like tomatoes, lettuce and radish and basil, savoy cabbage and calabrese and some annual flowers. Seed packets will always indicate sowing times which can often be spread over several months which allows for successional sowings. If you are growing potatoes, especially early ones these should be put out on a windowsill for ‘chitting’ (getting shoots to grow before planting.) – Put the seed potato upright with the end showing most eyes uppermost. Putting them in a cardboard egg box is a good way of keeping them upright
When sowing seeds It is always best to use fresh compost. Some garden centres may be open for those of you willing to venture into public places while on-line shopping will be the answer for the more vulnerable. Free delivery is available which is a great help with heavy items. Peat free composts are much better than they used to be and we are all encouraged to use them. There are separate composts for sowing and potting but there are also multi-purpose composts which are good for both sowing and potting on. Plants which will be permanently grown in containers are best grown in John Innes no 3 compost. Acid- loving plants and shrubs need an ericaceous compost. Fertilisers are cheapest when sold in fairly large quantities and these too are available on-line, Grow-more is a good chemical fertiliser and the organic fertiliser I like best is pelleted chicken manure which is easy to spread and not smelly. It is good to use it around plants in flower beds as well as on soil in the vegetable plot from now on. There is, of course, nothing to beat a load of horse or cow manure if you can get it and store it
You may well have left flower borders to enjoy the sight of frosty grasses and seed heads and to let the birds eat the seeds but now is the time to cut dead growth down to the ground. Deciduous grasses need to be cut back soon before new growth makes it difficult to cut out dead stuff without cutting into green growth. Ornamental borders will also need weeding and general titivation.
Apple and pear fruit tree pruning can be done in December or January but if yours hasn’t been done yet it needs to be done this month before the sap is rising. Currant bushes and gooseberries should also be pruned in February, cutting back new growth by about a third. February is also the time for cutting autumn fruiting raspberry canes down to a few inches above the ground. This allows time for new canes to grow and produce fruit from August to November. New bare root canes, both autumn and early summer varieties can be planted in February and the canes cut down to a few inches above ground level. Summer fruiting raspberries will grow new canes during the year but they will not fruit until the next season.
The soil in open ground is likely to be too cold and wet for sowing but you can get ready by clearing the ground of weeds and either digging it over lightly or, if using no dig, spreading a layer of garden compost. Spreading polythene sheeting over an area will help to warm up the soil and newly sown plants can be protected with horticultural fleece.
It’s time to think about summer bedding and you can get this in three different ways; buying plants from a nursery or garden centre (opening arrangements permitting) ordering plug plants on-line (either immature plants which need to be grown on under glass for a while, or as “garden-ready” plants) or sowing them yourself from seed.
Finally, during this difficult time, if you have got a garden make the most of the productivity, pleasure and comfort it offers.