Start the way you mean to go on and you’ll have a super gardening year, says Ann Winwood.
As we leave Christmas behind and begin a new year, it’s time to get the catalogues out and start to plan for the coming season.
This is especially important if you’re growing vegetables – it’s always worth examining the new varieties that are available each year. Get in the right mindset by digging over your vegetable patch if you didn’t get around to it in the autumn.
Get set, grow!
For an early crop of rhubarb, cover a clump with an old dustbin or large container to force it into early growth.
Seed potatoes usually arrive at the start of the year, weather permitting – buy them in January if possible, as the most popular varieties soon sell. We stock over 45 different varieties, including several of the Albert Bartlett range plus the new Jazzy and old favourites like Rocket, King Edward and Arran Pilot. Once you get them home, put them to chit (allow shoots to form) in old egg trays. Place them in a light, cool and frost-free environment. You can start seed potatoes growing in pots inside as early as you like, so long as they are protected from any frosts we may have. Onion sets and shallots are usually delivered in February.
If you haven’t used winter wash on your fruit trees yet, it’s important to do this every year to clear up any pests and their eggs left overwintering on your trees. Choose a mild day before the buds start to burst. Make sure you have a grease band wrapped round the stems or coat the main stem with fruit tree grease, too; this can be kept on all year round to catch any pests climbing up the tree.
If the weather’s fine and frost free, finish any garden jobs that weren’t done at the end of 2018, especially tidying up leaves and debris. This will help prevent disease from spreading and removes hiding places for slugs and snails. Trimming old leaves away from hellebores makes it easier to see the flowers and prevents the spread of disease. If there’s no frost in the ground, you can mulch plants ready for spring growth in a few weeks time.
If the snow and hard frosts arrive as they did last year, make sure vulnerable plants such as hebe, phormium, cordyline, palms and tree ferns are covered with fleece… and it’s worth brushing snow off conifers and hedges to stop them splitting open from the weight of the snow. Remember to make sure outdoor taps are lagged and covered over in the winter to prevent any cracking and leaks caused by freezing.
While your greenhouse is taking a break from growing, turn it out, wash it down and disinfect it. Remove as much as possible; wash down any staging, seed trays, pots and so on with a good detergent or greenhouse disinfectant. Wash down the glass again with a detergent or disinfectant to remove any algae, pests and overwintering eggs. Wash on a mild day to prevent the risk of panes cracking. Having a clean greenhouse at the beginning of the season ensures seeds and plants get off to a good start – and it’s more motivating for you as a gardener to have a clean, fresh place to work.
If you want to start something off early in the greenhouse, try sowing some sweet pea seeds in a cool environment. Use a seed compost and sow them into peat pots – if you prefer not to use peat, you can make pots out of newspaper or buy alternatives – two to three seeds per pot. When they’re ready for planting out, the roots will have grown through the pot and it’s then very easy to just pop the plant into the ground or a container. If you’ve got some heat, begonias can be sown early but they do need to be kept warm and not planted outside before mid to late May.
Looking ahead to later in year, check out the ranges of geraniums, fuchsias and hanging basket plants that will be available in April and May. Plug plants will be available around the beginning of March, but they’ll need warmth to start with. Grow them in the house to get a head start, but remember you need to take note of the weather conditions and not be in a rush to put tender plants out before May.
Look out for signs of colour in your garden: plants such as hamamelis (witch hazel), snowdrops, viburnum tinus and hellebores will all show signs that suggest spring is on its way.
Don’t forget our feathered friends, especially if the weather is poor – we’ve always got peanuts, seed, mealworms, fat balls and feeders in stock. Clean off bird tables regularly and remember to put out fresh water daily.
This month’s tips are provided by Ann Winwood of Lealan Garden Centre, Shipley.