Blooming Times – The Winter Garden
by Flo Whitaker
There is no excuse not to get out in the garden this January as Flo Whitaker gives us plenty of jobs to do, even if it is cold!
January is usually the coldest and wettest month of the year, but it can also produce glorious dry days of blue skies and bright sunshine. Wrap up warm and make the best of these moments. Gardens never sleep. Even in the depths of winter there is always something to be getting on with.
Shrubs that were planted last autumn should be regularly checked over. Wet soil expands as it freezes and this action can push a new plant completely out of the soil, leaving the roots vulnerable to frost. If this happens, replant and firm the soil well. Adding a thick mulch of compost or straw will help insulate soil against further frosts. Likewise, windy conditions can push a plant over, so check that ties and stakes are secure.
On the veg patch, winter cabbages and Brussel sprouts may also require staking. Sprout plants can become very large and top heavy, making it easy for the stems to snap. Clumps of parsley can be covered with a cloche. This provides frost protection, although parsley is so resilient it doesn’t much need it, but a cloche also helps to keep the leaves clean. Parsley is wonderful stuff; looks good, tastes good and does you good. It’s crammed full of vitamins and minerals and ‘proper’ outdoor grown plants have a vivid colour, aroma and taste totally missing from the pallid supermarket offerings. To pick a bunch of home grown parsley in midwinter is a real treat.
On dry and bright days, open up the greenhouse vents for a few hours. Damp, stale air is the perfect breeding ground for rots and moulds – allowing fresh air to circulate will help reduce the problem. At this time of year, most plants grown undercover will be dormant or just ‘ticking over;’ only requiring a cool, frost-free environment. Strong wintery sunshine quickly raises a greenhouse’s temperature, which may confuse plants by triggering them into new growth too soon.
Garden birds will appreciate your help now. Make sure they have access to clean water. They need it for drinking and bathing every day – yes, even in January, brrrr! As well as the usual traditional bird foods, they also enjoy raisins, oatmeal and kitchen leftovers. Don’t bin that scrap of stale Cheddar! Grate it and put it on the bird table. Many birds, especially blackbirds, love cheese and this calorie-loaded winter treat will disappear in minutes. Pastry trimmings will also be appreciated, along with blemished/damaged apples, plums and pears. Freeze the fruits whole, then, as required, throw one onto the lawn for the birds to enjoy.
As the fruit slowly defrosts, its flesh will turn into an easily digestible, high energy pulp – a potentially life-saving meal for our feathered friends.