IN THE FRUIT AND VEG GARDEN
Apple and pear trees are best pruned when they’re dormant, but leave plums, cherries and apricots until early spring to avoid silver-leaf infections. If you’ve got redcurrant, gooseberry, or blackcurrant bushes, keep pruning them back to make them more productive – if you don’t have any fruit bushes but would like to, now is the perfect time to go for it, but be sure to plant in a well sheltered position.
Over in the veggie patch, you should have some leeks, parsnips and Brussel sprouts to harvest, and you can start preparing for the new season’s planting too. Why not try placing your cloche over the earth for a couple of weeks before getting a head start on your early peas?
Potatoes can also be started off now – stand your early potatoes in a frost-free area in the greenhouse in an egg carton or module tray where they’ll receive plenty of light to begin sprouting them. Charlotte potatoes are a particularly good variety to start early, but if your greenhouse is particularly cold, protect them with some horticultural fleece, as even the hardiest potatoes aren’t invincible.
SOW YOUR SEEDS
Some plants need a longer growing season than others, so start planting these in January and February. Of course, it’s still too cold for them to survive outside, so you’ll need something like a heated electric propagator, which helps seedlings grow in a controlled environment until they are ready to be moved outdoors.
The propagator will manage the temperature of the soil to create the perfect environment for germination – when setting it up, make sure the temperature sensor is fully buried in the soil (it’s the soil and not the air temperature that it needs to measure and control). The ideal temperature is between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius, although heat-loving plants like peppers may need temperatures up to 30 degrees. Your seedlings need moisture and heat to germinate, and light only once the first shoot has emerged. Look at geraniums, begonias and snapdragons for adding spring colour, while for your vegetable garden, aubergines and peppers can be started off now.
In your greenhouse, you can plant hardy amaryllis in pots, which are famously easy to bring to bloom and will thrive come early spring, bringing a splash of colour into your home. Before planting, leave the base and roots of the bulb in lukewarm water for a few hours, before planting the bulb up to its neck in nutritious compost, taking care not to damage the roots. Make sure to place it where it will receive plenty of sunlight in the greenhouse, and water it sparingly until the stem appears – once the bud and leaves appear, begin to increase the water.
Outside, despite the chill, you can still plant bare-rooted roses – to avoid disease, don’t plant them where old roses have been, unless you have replaced and conditioned the soil. You can also use a cloche as a mini greenhouse to shelter any over-wintered or early vegetables from frosty weather. An alternative to a propagator, they can raise the soil temperature by as much as 10 degrees. Ideally, the cloche should be in place up to a week before any saplings are transplanted or seeds sown.
PREPARING FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
As winter is traditionally the time for taking stock, it’s likely you’ll spend more time tidying up and doing odd jobs around the garden rather than lots of planting. If you put in the time now, spring will be a much more pleasant gardening experience.
Now is the time to prune back your wisteria and roses while they’re dormant, cutting back any dead or crossed branches. Apple and pear trees are best pruned now, but leave plums, cherries and apricots unpruned until early spring to avoid silver-leaf infections. If you’ve got ornamental grasses, cut those back to around two or three centimetres before new growth begins. Take the time to clear up borders and beds in general, removing any debris and dead leaves, but if you want your garden to be hedgehog-friendly then leave a patch for them to weather out the winter.
If it snows, brush the snow off your greenhouse so your plants inside continue getting the light they need, as well as off hedges and conifers so their branches don’t snap. It’s also a good idea to avoid walking on the lawn when there’s a blanket of snow or thick frost, as this can damage the grass.
While most of your garden sleeps, you can take on those annoying little jobs you’ve been putting off so you have time to concentrate on the more important things come spring. Broken fences, snapped trellises, rusted garden tools – tackle them all and thank yourself later. Looking after your garden tools is more than just keeping them looking shiny – dirty secateurs can introduce bacteria to any plants you’re pruning, so keep them squeaky clean.
Finally, give your greenhouse an early spring clean – not the most glamorous of jobs, but your plants will be grateful. Do the job properly and clean out all gutters, water butts and tanks, and remove all algae, moss and dirt from the panes to allow more light in. Scrub out empty pots and planters in preparation for spring, and put everything in its proper place so you’re good to go when the warmer weather arrives.
Don’t forget about your houseplants – just because they’re indoors, that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from winter conditions. Having the central heating on constantly over winter can dry them out, so keep a full spray water-bottle nearby to give them a regular misting. You can also place them in a tray of pebbles filled with water to help improve humidity.
Once all those jobs are done, it’s time to sit back and relax… But why not start planning your flowerbeds and vegetables patches? Draw up a garden plan, create a schedule for crop rotation, and begin ordering your seeds for an enviably organised garden in the spring.