Plan properly and this could be a gardening year to remember, says Ann Winwood.
As we welcome in 2023, it’s time to start planning for the coming season.
If you are growing vegetables, this is especially important. It is always worth examining the new varieties that are available each year. So why not get into the mood by digging over your vegetable patch if you didn’t get around to it in the autumn.
Ready, steady, 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. There are some 500 varieties of potato in the UK alone, though most of us only need to be familiar with the ones we cook with – favourites like Rocket, King Edward, Charlotte, Arran Pilot, Jersey Royal, Baby New and Maris Piper. Once you get them home, put them to chit (allow shoots to form) in old egg trays.
Ensure that you 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 frost. Onion sets and shallots are usually available in February.
If you haven’t used winter wash on your fruit trees yet, it makes senses to do this every year to clear up any pests and their eggs left overwintering on your trees. Winter washing fruit trees involves spraying them with a mixture of plant oils diluted with water. You will find the concentrated solution in garden centres.
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 gardening jobs that weren’t done at the end of last year, especially tidying up leaves and debris. This will help to prevent disease from spreading.
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 snow and hard frosts arrive, make sure vulnerable plants such as hebe, phormium, cordyline, palms and tree ferns are covered with fleece. Should we have heavy snow, it is worth brushing it off conifers and hedges to stop them splitting open from the weight of the downfall. 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 glass down 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 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 posts, 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.
Spring into action
Looking ahead to later in the 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 – stock your bird table with peanuts, seed, mealworms, fat balls and feeders. Clean off bird tables regularly and remember to put out fresh water daily.