Responding to the vagaries of our unpredictable climate is an ever constant challenge for gardeners with the Winter months being particularly challenging. What may be possible in mid-February one year may not be sensible until late March the next so the timing of some of these recommendations may well need adjusting!
On even the coldest days some jobs can still be tackled such as turning the compost and applying it to the surface of flower beds and vegetable plots. The secret of making well rotted compost is to aerate it by turning it. Ideally a minimum of two compost bins are needed so that as one of them is applied to the garden the contents of the other one are transferred into empty one. That way it all gets mixed up and air introduced. When applied as a mulch to flower beds it suppresses weeds and helps to keep the soil warm in Winter. It can also be dug into the vegetable plot in readiness for hungry crops such as potatoes that will be planted in the Spring.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
The Winter months are an ideal time to clear the greenhouse of plant debris from last year and to apply disinfectant in order to reduce the chance of pests and diseases becoming a problem. All surfaces including the glass (inside and out) should first be washed to remove dirt, then disinfected using Jeyes Fluid (available from most garden centres). The removal of dirt and algae from the glass is especially important so that as much light as possible can penetrate during the Winter months when light levels are low.
Resist the temptation to cut back shrubs such as buddleia and hydrangeas during the winter months. The dead flowers on buddleia contain seeds for the birds and these stems are best left until the spring when they can be then cut back to a main stem. Flowers will be produced on the new growth later in the Summer. In contrast, hydrangeas produce their flowers on growth made the previous year so only remove the weak or bent stems. Stems bearing old flowers should be cut back to a strong pair of buds.
Towards the end of the month plastic sheeting can be placed over the soil where it is planned to make early sowings of vegetable such as lettuce, carrots, beetroot and parsnips. This will help the soil to warm up and also divert excess rain from the seedbed.
Complete pruning of apples and pears and plant new trees with a supporting stake.
Early potato varieties such as Arran Pilot, Epicure and Ulster Chieftan can be started off by placing the seed tubers in a tray in a cool, light, frost-free place in order to encourage the production of shoots (a process known as ‘chitting’). Once they have produced shoots about 1-2 cm they can be planted. For an early crop try growing them in large pots under glass or in a sheltered position where they can be protected from frost.
Sow early varieties of carrot, such as Amsterdam Forcing, in large pots/containers placed in a greenhouse or directly into the soil under glass. Sow the seeds thinly in rows or preferably broadcast when in containers. Later in the month sow directly outdoors along with parsnips, lettuce, broad beans and peas once the soil has warmed up.