From the nursery

Water stress Drought is already a topic of conversation in January and a real problem to evergreen outdoor and unheated crops. Frozen growing media makes soil water unavailable to plant roots, so knock out pots and check roots periodically. On sunny days when the foliage transpires, to avoid foliage scorch or even death of the crop, spray with an anti-transpirant such as Wiltpruf S600 to conserve moisture or use white fleece. This can be as much of a problem in tunnels as outside.

Frost protection Covering plants at night with white fleece is superior to polythene for frost protection. There are several grades of fleece available, so choose one with adequate thickness for your frost protection requirements. I have found that Cosytex performs very well in giving better plant protection, helps to prevent plants from heating up too quickly on sunny days and performs better in snowy conditions.

Winter jobs With adverse weather, take the time to review your pesticide and nutrition programmes. Jobs such as staking and caning climbers can be carried out under protection. Try and remove as much snow as possible on low tunnels to prevent covers from splitting and check snow levels on flat-topped shade areas. Make sure that you follow the code of practice when clearing gutters on multispan tunnels.

Irrigation Get your water pumps, fertiliser injectors and filters serviced and in good order for the coming season's hard work. Contact your pump supplier now and get them checked over.

Azalea gall This can be expected during January. This is usually a wet conditions disease, so spray with Croptex Fungex when the first signs of the white puffy growths on leaves, stems and even flowers are seen.

Glasshouse maintenance Grease up ventilation gear in glasshouses and carry out other structural maintenance jobs that have not been completed from last year.

Salt damage During snow and frost, protect conifers from salt damage alongside the road by spraying with an anti-transpirant. This will prevent the brown patches on hedges often associated with this problem.

Air flow Open tunnel doors, even for a short time each day, where tunnel heaters have been running for extended periods. This prevents the build-up of sulphur dioxide in the case of oil or ethylene in the case of gas heaters. Even those with fresh air inlets benefit from the air change.

John Adlam is managing director of Dove Associates

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