As we leave Christmas behind and welcome in 2016, it’s time to start planning for the gardening year ahead.
If you’re growing vegetables, get out the seed catalogues and decide what varieties you want to grow – it’s always worth looking at what new varieties are available. Many seed companies highlight different ranges of vegetables for 2016: Thompson and Morgan have a great range of pepper and chilli seeds available in garden centres, while Mr Fothergills have a broad range of tomatoes – from the small vine type to the large beefsteak. Buy your seeds as soon as you can so you don’t miss out. Store seeds in a cool, frost-free place until you’re ready to sow them from March onwards… weather permitting.
The veggie options
Seed potatoes usually arrive at the start of the New Year and, for many, this heralds the real start to the gardening year. Head to your garden centre and buy them in January if possible, as the most popular varieties quickly sell. Once you get them home, place them in old egg boxes to chit, which means allowing shoots to form, and keep them in a light, cool and frost-free environment. Remember you can start seed potatoes growing in pots inside as early as you like, while onion sets, shallots, asparagus and garlic are usually delivered in February.
If the weather’s fine and free from frost, burn off those extra pounds gained over Christmas by finishing any clearing up jobs that weren’t done at the end of 2015, especially tidying up leaves and debris. This will help prevent disease from spreading and remove hiding places for slugs and snails. Trim old leaves away from hellebores; this 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. The last couple of winters have been mild, but if the big freeze looks like arriving, make sure vulnerable plants such as hebe, phormium, cordyline and palms are covered with fleece and its worth brushing off conifers and hedges to stop them splitting open with the weight of the snow. Remember to lag outdoor taps in the winter to prevent any cracking and leaks caused by freezing.
Give fruit trees the ‘all clear’
If you haven’t used winter wash on your fruit trees yet, do so on a mild day before the buds start to burst; this will clear up any pests and eggs left overwintering on your trees. Make sure you have a grease band wrapped round the stems; this can be kept on all year round to catch any pests climbing up the tree, and is a vital step to help prevent diseases such as scab, rust and mildews. Rules on fungicides have changed, so this is even more important this year.
January and February are the ideal times to tackle your greenhouse: turn it out, wash it down and disinfect it. Wash down any staging, seed trays and pots with a good detergent or greenhouse disinfectant, then wash down the glass again with a detergent or disinfectant to remove any algae, pests and overwintering eggs. Pick a mild day to prevent the risk of cracking cold panes of glass.
If you’re itching to get things moving in the greenhouse, try sowing some sweet pea seeds. Using a seed compost, sow them into peat pots, two to three 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.
Why not pop a pot of tête-à-tête narcissus or hyacinths onto a window sill – they make you feel spring’s just round the corner; cheaper than a bunch of flowers much longer lasting. If you have primroses in the house, wait until they have finished flowering then plant them out in the garden to flower again next year.
Don’t forget our native birds, especially if the weather is poor – garden centres have peanuts, seeds, mealworms, fat balls and feeders in stock. Clean off bird tables regularly and remember to put out fresh water daily.