Professional Gardener - Weather, warming up and crop rotation

Low temperatures have finally arrived and the winter tasks of protecting plants beckon, says Sally Drury.

Responding to the weather

Normally, January is bleak. Until this week, it seemed it was not to be so this year. In some parts of the country, temperatures continued to be unseasonably mild, prompting many plants to flower early and birds to search out and gather twigs and moss.

If your estate has suffered gale damage in pre-Christmas and new year storms, trees may still be requiring your attention. Inspect tree shelters, ties and stakes protecting and supporting newly-planted trees. It is also a good time to undertake work required to shape young trees.

Gardeners in areas that have seen excessive rainfall, rather than the predicted snow, may need to check the wetness of lawns and grassed paths. Soggy lawns are particularly prone to moss and algae infestation so it is important to see whether drainage can be improved by spiking the lawn. Where lying water will not drain, consider what will be involved in drainage installation work. Sort out any lumps and bumps if conditions permit but if it does turn icy remind everyone to "keep off the grass".

Close monitoring of temperatures should continue with respect to protecting the more tender and vulnerable plants and to ensure the adequate working of boilers and ventilation systems in conservatories and greenhouses.

If snow does arrive, be ready to brush heavy falls from shrubs and hedges before the weight breaks branches.

After the break

If you have had a break from heavy work over the Christmas and new year period, remember to respect your muscles when getting back to your tasks. Wrap up warm and build up the physical exertion gradually.

Kitchen garden

Plan crop rotation for vegetables so that not only can the build up of pests and disease be avoided but the best use can also be made of manures and fertilisers. Cover ground with polythene where it is necessary to warm the soil for early cropping.

Forcing-jars or buckets can be placed over rhubarb, although a lack of frosty conditions in various parts of the UK - including the famous Wakefield Rhubarb Triangle - risked putting forced-rhubarb production in jeopardy this year.

Ornamental garden and herbaceous borders

Prune wisterias, ornamental vines and climbing hydrangeas. Continue to lift and divide herbaceous plants and remember to inspect stored dahlia tubers. Cut off the tatty leaves around the flower buds of hellebores - they are already flowering in many parts of England.

Propagation and greenhouses

Sow pelargoniums, begonias, antirrhinums, lobelia and gazanias for use as summer bedding. Sow sweet peas if autumn sowings were not made. Keep an eye open for fungal diseases, especially Botrytis, and for pests such as vine weevil in heated greenhouses. If not done at the time, ensure that all reusable pots, containers and trays are washed, cleaned, disinfected and stored appropriately so that they are ready for use.

Tools

Ensure that the pressure washer is working properly - tools and machinery can end up especially dirty this month. Check out the Busy Barrow website and watch the video to gauge whether the perforated bin could be useful when working with aquatic plants.


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