This vital job will help you assess its progress and keep it healthy.
How’s your heap going? Perhaps you started one up last year, and slowly you’ve begun gathering kitchen and garden waste to transform into compost goodness to give to your plot over the coming years. Well it’s a year-round job to keep on top of it, to make sure it’s got the right amount of different materials inside, is kept healthy, moist and airy at all times and turned over regularly.
Turning your heap is one of the essential jobs, which helps all the good bacteria that decompose your waste speed up the process and rot it all down effectively. It’s also a good way of assessing the moisture content and the smell, and gets vital air into the heap. If your heap’s cold and frosty it may be that it’s not composting quickly enough due to its low temperature – consider a closed heap in a sheltered spot, which will warm it up a bit and help the composting process.
Ensure your ratio of waste is kept correct – aim for up to about half of the heap as wet grassy waste, kitchen waste, annual weeds and perennial trimmings, for example, with the rest as woody waste prunings. This will set out the right balance for you first off, so that turning the heap will simply be a case of maintaining the equilibrium.
There are plenty of plants to choose from right now.
It’s always great fun at this time of year to see what’s on offer in the garden centres, and pick out some super spring blooms to show off. There are plenty of potted bulbs, but have a look round to see what else you can bring together beautifully, for an unusual but spring-like creation. Alpine and rockery plants are usually making their first appearance in garden centres for the year, so consider some of these in your plantings.
For a temporary display, use multipurpose compost, and feel free to add a few evergreen plants such as ferns or shrubs such as small hebes, leucothoe or skimmia – once you dismantle the contents of the pot these can be planted out in the garden. Often the effect with these temporary plantings is glorified flower arranging, until you transfer some of the plants elsewhere.
If your pot is larger and intended to be more permanent use a soil-based compost such as John Innes no.2. A wonderful way of making your pot more naturalistic looking, as if it’s just stepped out of an established garden scene, is to top it with moss – florist’s moss, lawn moss or packeted sphagnum moss that you can buy. This also serves as a nice weed suppressant and moisture retainer if need be.
Get growing now and you can start picking in June!
There’s nothing nicer than a strawberry picked fresh from the garden in early summer. Their flavour is wonderful, especially when the fruits have been allowed to fully ripen on the plants in the warm sun. Strawberries are very easy to grow and can be grown in several ways. Traditionally, they’re grown in the garden, but they also grow very well in any type of container such as a hanging basket, pots or troughs. One of the main advantages of growing in containers is you can grow them undercover in a greenhouse or conservatory to get an early crop and being in pots makes them easier to protect from birds and slugs, both of which love the ripe fruits! They will also grow very well outside on a patio or in a sunny spot.
For fruits this summer there is still time to plant in containers and you’ll find bare-root runners for sale from mail order companies or potted plants in garden centres. Once you have the plants all you need is some containers to grow them in and a bag of good quality multipurpose compost as the strawberry plants are going to be in the pots for two or maybe three years. If you pot now, by June you’ll be picking your first strawberries of the season!
Some simple care now will see your climber bloom again in summer.
Clematis are one of the most popular climbers that we grow in our gardens and the range of different types is huge. With just a little planning it’s possible to have clematis in flower for much of year, from mid-winter through until late autumn. Flowers come in all shapes, colours and sizes and the foliage also varies, with some varieties being evergreen.
Clematis are divided into three groups, depending on when they flower in the year. As a guide, Group One flower from mid-winter to mid-spring, Group Two from late-spring to mid-summer and Group Three, from late summer into autumn. The group the clematis are in also determines when the plants should be pruned, so even if you don’t know the name of your clematis or have lost the label, by noting when it flowers, you can easily tell what group it’s in and when to prune.
For group three clematis such as ‘Jackmanii’, C. texensis, C. viticella, C. tangutica and the other late flowering hybrids, we prune in late winter, before new growth starts. This is because they flower on the current season’s growth, meaning all the new shoots made this spring and summer will produce flower buds. Pruning of group three clematis is very easy and is simply a case of cutting the plants back hard.
Prepare them now for a healthy head start before planting out
Seed potatoes for planting this growing season are now available in garden centres or from mail order companies. Depending on where you live in the UK, planting early varieties of potatoes is usually done between mid-March to mid-April, or when the soil naturally starts to warm up. However, once you’ve got your seed potatoes you can start to prepare them ready for planting. This is known as chitting and is when the dormant buds or eyes at the top of the tuber are gradually started into growth to develop into short, green shoots.
Although seed potatoes can be planted and will grow perfectly well without being chitted, those that are started into growth will get off to a head start once they are in the ground. Normally it’s only first and second early varieties that are chitted as they’re the ones that are planted early in the growing season. To start them into growth stand the tubers, eyes upwards, in trays or old egg boxes and place them in a light, frost-free place. An ideal temperature is between 5C-10C. If too cold they remain dormant and if too warm, the growth will be thin and spindly! The process takes around six-weeks for the shoots to develop properly, so early to mid-February is a good time to get them started.
These glorious plants will bring colourful beauty to your garden.
Did you know 2018 is the Year of the Marigold? It’s part of an international campaign that takes place every year to help boost different plant and seed sales – this year it’s the turn of the lovely, humble marigold. And yet, some of the glorious varieties available to grow these days look anything but humble! See below for some real stunners to add a fabulous addition to your garden.
Both types we’re familiar with – African and French marigolds – can be sown now indoors, with a bit of gentle heat to get them going. Sow the dainty, flaky seed batons finely on good, lightly moist seed compost, and then cover up with a thin layer of more compost. Kept at around 15-20C, germination should take between a week and two weeks, and once large enough to handle you can prick them out, transplant them and grow them on in separate pots. Plant them out in your best patio pots in a sunny spot at the end of May, for all to see their colourful beauty. You can even sow them directly outside from around April.
Many seed companies and garden centres also offer ready-grown plug plants, so for those with other, more pressing garden jobs to be getting on with, it’s is a nice, simple and easy way to bring beautiful summer container bedding to your garden.
Bring on the heat by starting off these seeds now
On a cold January or February day, when you’re dreaming of hotter climes and warm weather, it’s the perfect time to get in the mood and sow some chillies indoors. Slower to grow and develop than tomatoes, they need a longer time to get established – hence you can start now.
Chilli plants need some good heat and light to grow and fruit well. Start off by sowing your seed thinly in modules or trays of good quality seed compost, which hasn’t been sat outside in the cold and wet – ensure it’s warmed through by being indoors for a day or two, and moisten it before sowing. Cover the sown seed in a thin layer of more compost.
To keep a consistent temperature, keep your tray at between 18C and 24C in a heated propagator, though an evenly warm spot by a light window is okay if you can maintain this temperature range. At night the temperature can be reduced a couple of degrees. Keep your tray in as light a spot as possible once you can see germination taking place, and be sure to prick them out once two seed leaves have emerged.
Water regularly and pot up as they grow, being sure to feed your grown plants with a tomato feed once established.
Specialist chilli seed supplier Sea Spring Seeds (www.seaspringseeds.co.uk) offers around 70 varieties of chilli seed, and also sends out good quality plug plants from April to grow on if you haven’t the means to raise them from seed.
Increase the variety of planting in your garden with a special plot just for them
Raised beds are a fantastic garden tool, offering segmented gardening at waist height, which is easier on the back and less work in general. Tall raised beds also make a design statement as a focal feature. They offer a long root run for those plants that need it such as carrots, provide a warmer soil temperature if needed, as well as add good drainage to an otherwise wet garden. But perhaps its most versatile and useful merit is the fact that you can dedicate a special raised bed to those plants that prefer a certain type of soil, which otherwise you might not have been able to grow.
It means you can grow a wider range of plants; there are so many beautiful acidic soil-loving plants that deserve a place to thrive in your garden, so why not build them their own little plot? If you only have room for a smaller bed, invest in a ready-made kit, which will be cheaper. Larger, bespoke ones may need to be hand made.
Decide on your material – consider paving slabs, brick, stone and classic timber, which is cheap and versatile. Old pallets broken up and nailed together will work splendidly. Decide on its aspect, siting, how high you want the bed, and whether you put it on top of soil or independent of your borders.
Once constructed and placed, ensure you’ve created a longish root run for your plants, and considered any lime that may be present in bricks or stones. If you’ve used these materials, line the bed with plastic sheeting. The soil consistency and content is important. Half of your compost content should be ericaceous compost, while the other half of the content should be divided between a bark compost and topsoil. Plus, as with any acidic areas of your garden, composted pine needles or leaf mould makes for the perfect mulch.
Help your feathered friends and they'll help you in return
A healthy bird population in the garden is not only enjoyable to watch, they will help to control pests such as aphids and caterpillars and reduce the number of weed seeds.
As well as feeding the birds, providing nesting sites is a good way to attract them into the garden. Man-made bird boxes provide a safe and cosy place to nest or roost out of the harsh weather.
Ideally bird boxes need putting up in the winter to give the birds time find them and get used to them and there is still time to put some up now, ready for spring.
Bird boxes come in all shapes and sizes, but the birds don’t worry too much about their shape or colour. What is important is that you use boxes that are suitable for the type of birds you are trying to attract and there are many different types available to buy. Positioning of the box is also very important. Ideally it needs to be in a sheltered position out of direct sunlight, to prevent eggs and chicks from over-heating on sunny days. A north or east facing aspect is ideal. A perch on the box isn’t advised as this makes it easier for predators to get in and there should always be a clear flight path in and out of the box.
Get more healthy bushes for free with this simple technique
Blackcurrants are a very easy fruit bush to grow. They’ll grow in most soil types providing it’s fertile and moisture retentive. When established in the garden they’ll produce a good crop of currants from mid-summer that are delicious and high in vitamin C. The fruits are ideal for making jams and preserves, for using in pies and making fruit drinks, or mixing into fruit salad.
The productive life of a blackcurrant is at least 10 years, but if pruned regularly, fed and mulched, there’s no reason why it won’t carry on growing healthily and fruiting for up to 20 years or more.
Modern varieties such as ‘Ben Sarek’ and ‘Ben Connan’ are very good and produce large crops on compact bushes, making them ideal for smaller gardens.
Blackcurrants are very easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings taken in the dormant season. The stems on currants have what is known as ‘pre-formed root initials’ and when inserted into moist soil or compost, they quickly develop roots.
Take cuttings from last season’s strong stems now and only propagate from healthy, vigorous plants that fruit well. You can root the cuttings directly into the garden or in pots of compost and come spring they’ll burst into growth to make a new bush.
Celebrate the season with a bright and cheerful creation
Now’s the time of year when gardeners get a little excited about the imminent influx of spring blooms and new growth, as well as the promise of much lovelier weather to get out in! So to celebrate the season and create something pretty, why not get some colourful planting underway and jazz up your windowsills and outdoor tables with a selection of potted bulbs?
Instead of individual clusters of plants, plant a few pots of bulbs together in different sizes of shallow bowls, with taller ones at the back or in the middle, surrounded by smaller irises and snowdrops, for example.
You could even daintily edge your pots in low-growing winter aconites. Tuck in a few and then backfill tightly with multi-purpose compost, finishing off with your mossy topper to add a natural woodland feel to your display.
Nothing says ‘bring on spring’ more than lots of early-flowering bulbs to admire! Once they’ve all finished flowering, leave their leaves for a few weeks, then trim them right down. You can plant them out in the garden once they’ve gone.
It’s easy to take cuttings from them at this time of year
There are many types of vines that we can grow in our garden, including ornamental ones such as Vitis coignetiae and V. vinifera ‘Purpurea’ that are grown for their colourful foliage through summer and autumn, although they also produce small, unpalatable grapes. Edible vines that are grown for their white or black grapes that ripen in late summer can be grown outdoors or undercover, depending on the variety you choose.
Commercial vines are grafted onto rootstocks, but at home it’s easy to propagate them from cuttings taken in late winter. There are two methods that work well. One is to take hardwood cuttings around 20-25cm (8-10in) long, depending on the vigour of the vine. The other is to take vine-eye cuttings that consist of a short section of a stem and a single bud. This is a good way to take lots of cuttings as each bud along a stem is a potential plant. The underside of the vine-eye is wounded with a knife to expose the cambium layer and encourage roots to form.
For both methods you need healthy one-year old stems from last year and for best results they should be rooted undercover, especially the vine-eye cuttings. A cold greenhouse is fine, but preferably one with frost protection.
Start them indoors now ready to plant out in spring
It’s worth planning your flower garden now with a range of hardy and half-hardy annuals, so you can take advantage of the full range of seed available to you and get a head start on growing. With a bit of indoor heat when sowing, you’ll have lots of young plants growing away well for you, ready and waiting come spring to be planted out. This method ensures earlier blooms than if sown direct later on, too. Just sow the amount of flowers you can fit in – you’ll need a lot of room to keep lots of sown flowers happy, which may prove unmanageable! Fast-growing annuals will get lanky and leggy too quickly, while longer-to-germinate annuals will fare better and take their time before being well-grown at just the right time for planting. Check seed packets for their germination details and heat requirements – an average of 15C (59F) is needed for good germination.
These easy-care aromatics look and smell great!
At this time of year it’s a case of start as you mean to go on and get going with a few jobs that can be done before spring. Potted herbs that hold strong in winter make a fantastic display now with a useful bit of foliage interest, as well as being a handy culinary container from which to pick sprigs for your warming seasonal dishes.
Grow everything in a large pot or a long, rectangular planter for best effect, and give each plant a deep root run and a wide enough space to grow unencumbered. Ensure lots of drainage holes puncture the bottom, as most of these warmer climate herbs don’t like wet feet! The same goes for the compost as regards drainage – treat your herbs to a nice permanent, soil-based compost such as John Innes No 2 or 3, which has been added to with a few handfuls of grit.
Winter cultivation is mainly keeping herbs away from too much wet in a rain shadow, and raising the pot onto ‘feet’ to improve drainage. Keep plants in a warm, sunny spot through the year.
With some regular trimming it will get better with age!
A wisteria in full bloom in May is a wonderful sight and the hanging racemes of flowers make a lovely display on a wall, fence or pergola. Wisteria is a vigorous plant and really needs to be trained and pruned regularly to keep it under control. If not, in just a few years it will grow into a plant that’s large and unruly! However, with a little regular pruning and training you can easily keep wisteria in check and manageable to create a specimen plant that will flower and get better with age.
August is when much of the pruning is done to shorten the long, whippy growths and to tie in new shoots to create and maintain the shape. In winter, when the plant is dormant, a second prune can be done to keep the growth tight and compact. Pruning now is simply a case of checking over the plant and shortening even further the stems that were pruned back last summer. The aim is to create short spurs just 5cm (2in) long, on which flower buds will develop in spring. Now is also a good time to remove any dead wood, check for suckers and make sure the stems are secured to their support.
Trim them now to keep them healthy and encourage new growth
Blackcurrants and redcurrants can both be pruned in winter, but they need a slightly different pruning method to keep them healthy and fruiting.
Blackcurrants grow as a stooled bush, with all the growth coming from ground level or below and they fruit on the previous season’s growth. The aim when pruning is to cut out as much of the old wood as possible and leave the new growth to fruit this summer. However, this isn’t always possible, because as you cut out the old wood, you also take some of the new shoots with it. To minimise this, always try and prune out branches low down to encourage strong replacement growth from the base of the plant.
Red and white currants are pruned differently because you want to maintain a framework of older branches from which new growth is made. Once a framework is established the new stems can be shortened back to between 7.5-10cm (3-4in) to create fruiting spurs, which will flower and fruit this summer. During the winter you can also thin out some of the older wood if the plant is getting too large and woody. This encourages new replacement growth and keeps the bush healthy.
Have a little tidy up now to help plants come through
It’s so exciting when the new year festivities are over and we gardeners turn our attention to the seasons to come, thinking about what flowers will emerge for us and some of the other plant treats in store.
Next to think about is the fantastic slew of little early bulbs that will make an appearance really soon (if not already), such as winter aconites, crocuses and snowdrops.
These tough but dainty little beauties need room and light to grow, but often we’ll – quite naturally – have left a whole swamp of old foliage and fallen leaves around over autumn and winter. In the spirit of a new year tidy up and, of course, to consider the space needed by these bulbs, get ahead of your garden spring clean and clear some space for these new plants.
Old perennials and overhanging grasses will need removing at some point anyway, so start now; you’ll reduce the chance of too many pests and diseases being harboured, too. Leaving your tidy up any later in the season may mean trampling about in borders and damaging the bulb foliage that has come up, so try and do it before much of it emerges.
Some plants may be tough to grow but are worth it
Gardening is all about trial and error, growing old favourite plants, but also trying out new things, too. Do you like a challenge? Are you interested in unusual plants that are slightly more difficult to grow? Well, look no further than our mini selection below of four demanding plants that, if you look after them according to their list of needs, will be superb additions to the garden or home. And the satisfaction of helping hard-to-please plants thrive is all the more gratifying!
Pictured here are eremurus crowns being planted, which charmingly look like leggy starfish. They can be planted if the ground isn’t frozen, or you can wait until spring to do it. These tall plants, aptly called foxtail lilies, like very dry conditions, no frost or wind, no disturbance and not to be grown in pots. Each crown is best planted on a mound of grit or sand for drainage. Essentially they’re naturally at home in arid, semi-desert conditions in Asia, so warmth, sun and well-draining soil is a must; when you manage to grow these tough cookies it’s a real achievement and well worth the effort! Why not give yourself a challenge next year, keeping your gardening fresh and exciting?
Re-use any festive surplus in the garden
Don’t feel guilty about this month of excess – you needn’t waste any of the uneaten food or natural decorations at all: there’s always somewhere in the garden that it’ll all be of use.
Most things can be chucked on the compost heap to give it a good seasonal helping of food, except for meat. Raw or cooked meat will become a stinking mess, unhelpful to the natural balance of the heap, and attractive to hungry pests such as rats that will appreciate the snack and hang about in the garden. Shred or cut up thick stems and branches before you add them to the heap or use them as a mulch.
And the birds will likely have a treat, too, as all that kitchen waste will be lapped up by our feathered friends. Crumbs of Christmas cake, cheese gratings and chopped up dried fruit; all is perfectly fine to feed them with. Just don’t put anything salty out, and be sure it’s all shredded and chopped well so they don’t choke.
Old satsumas, bubble and speak and the odd roast potato (if there are any leftover!) will also be welcome scraps for them. The birds will be just as well-fed as us! They’ll need it though, and once they get to know your garden as a good source of food, they’ll be back, making a wonderful winter sight.
Give them a prune now to improve productivity
Don’t be afraid to prune fruit trees – it can seem daunting, particularly if yours is slightly overgrown, but if you keep a few straightforward things in mind as you’re doing it you’ll greatly improve your tree’s health and productivity.
Arm yourself with secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw if needed, and your job will be much easier. Keep in mind the vision of an open, airy canopy, with branches that have room to breathe and aren’t congested – that’s what you’re looking for.
Plus, trees such as apples and pears fruit on new growth, so you don’t want to be lopping all that off – it’s more about removing a few older branches to let the new ones have their moment in the sun. Don’t prune too much off as this leads to whippy, upward growth called watershoots, which will be unproductive and look unappealing. Also, don’t simply shear new top growth off, as this will result in no fruit. Choose about 20 per cent of old branches to thin out, and make sure any congested branches are thinned out too – the centre of your tree’s canopy should look open and clear. Shorten a few old branches by a third and neaten any side trunk growth to raise the canopy. Always stop if you think you’re taking too much off!