Planning For The Gardening Year

4th January 2013

Tips from the experts at National Garden Gift Vouchers

It may be cold outside, but there is plenty of gardening you can do indoors – and even with your feet up. The first few weeks of the year are ideal for considering the overall structure and shape of your garden, assessing what you already have and planning how to improve it.

Start by having a good look through the seed catalogues for summer flowers you can grow from scratch, and flick through gardening books and manuals for ideas, inspiration and easy-to-implement garden tips. If you’re thinking of growing your own fruit and veg then it’s a great time to plant seeds indoors for some early crops such as lettuces; summer brassicas including cabbages and cauliflowers; spinach and salad onions. One key job for January is to get seed beds ready; another is to prune gooseberry and/or currant bushes.

A simple way to brighten up the January garden is to bring colour to container evergreens. It’s a good idea to invest in a basic collection of these – bay, box, conifer and holly, say – that you can customise throughout the seasons by adding bedding plants around the base of each bush. Create a mix of containers that you can group together to create a dramatic impression, or scatter throughout the garden to spread the effect, with a variety of seasonal, colourful plants decorating them: white cyclamen for winter, lavender blue pansies in spring and white and pink daisies in summer.

Another plant perfect for some instant winter-spring colour and suitable for containers, window boxes and borders is the Primula (pictured above). The majority bloom in the spring, but they have been known to flower through mild winters. There’s a wide range of colours, from bright yellow to pastel reds and blues and they can, conveniently, grow in most soil types and be planted in sun and semi-shade. They can be used very effectively in bedding schemes with tulips and other winter-spring bedding plants or planted alone in blocks of colour. When growing them in containers, use multi-purpose compost and ensure that they never dry out – and do remember to dead-head the plants regularly as this will encourage a longer flowering period.

January’s checklist…

• Clean and oil garden tools

• Scrub pots so they are disease free and don’t infect new plants

• Sharpen secateurs

• Take the lawnmower in to be serviced

• If it snows, shake off evergreens, hedges and conifers to stop the weight causing any damage

• Treat timber fences, archways and sheds with wood preservative

• Bring mature shrubs to life by pruning older branches as close to the stem as possible

• Keep container plants protected from frost and check to see if they need watering

• Remember to put out food and water for birds

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If your garden is in a mild location, then snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils will begin to show their heads in February, but beware – the weather is changeable and can still be bring days that are extremely cold and full of frost.

It’s time to give your garden a little bit of love with a quick tidy up and you could also start sowing seeds and planting – weather permitting. Growing your own plants from seeds is really one of the most rewarding and economical ways of getting your garden going after the winter. For grow-your-own gardeners February is all about cultivating and continuing to prepare seed beds (if the ground isn’t frozen), covering them with clear polythene, cloches or fleece to warm up the soil before sowing. From mid-February you can sow tomato and cucumber seeds for growing in greenhouses (which certainly makes summer feel a lot closer) and plant out both garlic and shallots in light soils.

It’s also your last opportunity to winter prune apples, pears and autumn-fruiting raspberries and to plant bare-rooted raspberries.

A simple idea for February is to make a mini woodland glade in your garden. If you haven’t any dappled garden shade then you’re missing out on some amazing plants, so think about starting to create your own stunning springtime feature. Plant a couple of small trees, such as weeping willow and twisted hazel, adding lots of leaf mould to the ground to make these woodland natives feel at home. Then plant some hellebores, a couple of pots of dwarf daffodils and some native cyclamen into the ground and fill in the gaps with ferns. Finish the whole thing off with a covering of bark chippings.

Another woodland plant to consider is the Camellia (pictured above), which does best when planted in a sheltered or shady position. It’s also ideal for the romantics among you looking for a floral gift for your loved one, as the fragrant Camellia represents desire, passion and perfection. This is one of the best garden plants to use for adding a real splash of colour in the dark winter months, wonderful in the ground or in a container. Camellia can be grown in a more exposed position if watered carefully, and thrive in a free-draining spot with plenty of humus in the surrounding soil. Depending on the variety, you can have flowering from November through to April and the range of colours is vast, from dark reds to sweet, light pinks plus stunning whites, with single, double and other flower forms.

You don’t have to spend a fortune, and your garden can be any size and rural or urban, but a little effort in these months will pay off. By the end of February you’ll see the structure of the 2013 garden laid out in front of you…

February’s checklist…

• Prune large flowering clematis right back to a strong bud

• Divide and replant snowdrops

• If the weather is dry, make sure evergreens in containers are watered regularly

• Once winter flowering jasmine has blossomed, cut out dead stems, trim back new shoots and tie back new growth

• For the maximum show of flowers later in the year cut back summer flowering shrubs such as buddleia, lavateria and hardy fuchsia

• Deadhead winter flowering pansies to keep them blooming

• Depending on frosts, prune roses, climbers and hardy evergreens

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