Once we’ve passed the shortest day and January rumbles slowly on towards spring, life is filled with a twinkling sense of optimism in the knowledge that the grey days are numbered and within weeks we will be seed sowing and working contentedly in a garden bathed in warm spring sunshine. At this time of the year, it’s visions like that which keep you motivated. There’s still plenty to do in the garden providing you pick the time and place but take care where you tread. Don’t walk on waterlogged soil, which causes compaction, work instead from a plank or board, spreading the load. Avoid walking over the lawn after a frost too, it leaves yellow patches which remain until the grass starts growing and are mown out in early spring.
I’ve been checking through my flower pots weeding out ‘Hairy Bitter cress’, during mild periods it flowers, fruits and sets seed with alarming efficiency and keeping it under control pays dividends later in the year. If you were too busy last summer to prune summer fruiting raspberries, it is not too late, simply cut out last years fruiting stems at ground level and tie in last year’s young growth, evenly spaced along the supporting wires. It is also a good time to remove some of the leaves of Iris unguicularis revealing their fragrant winter flowers and old leaves of ‘Hellebores’ that are affected by leaf spot. At this time of year, stem problems are at their most obvious, cut out any showing signs of the prominent orange pustules of ‘Coral Spot’ or that are ringed with ‘Canker’ as in the image, cutting back to healthy growth well away from the original infection and disposing of the material away from the garden and don’t forget to service your lawnmower to avoid the rush in spring either.
Although the dormant winter is a good time to take hardwood cuttings, they are more likely to root early in the season and from the end of January until just before bud burst. I’m a big fan of ‘hardwoods’ because they don’t require any specialist equipment other than a pair of secateurs and are simple, easy and successful and don’t need a propagator, heat, misting or any specialist equipment, all you need is good garden soil, sharp sand, a pair of secateurs a permanent marker pen or pencil and some labels. Plants like ‘Dogwood’, ‘Buddleia’, Forsythia, Climbing honeysuckles, gooseberries, roses, winter flowering ‘Viburnum’ and flowering currants respond well to this treatment. Choose ‘pencil thickness’ one year old stems, remove the soft tip and cut them into sections 15-30cm (6-12in) long with a sloping cut above a bud at the top and a straight cut at the base below a bud and remove the buried buds. Plant them in a shallow trench in a sheltered site on well drained soil, with a layer of sharp sand at the base with two thirds of the cutting below ground. Firm the soil round them if it is lifted by frosts, keep them well watered during drought and lift and transplant your new plants next Autumn after leaf fall.
Happy New Year!