10 Jobs for January

If you have snow, brush it off conifers and trees with lightweight branches, a heavy fall of snow will splay and break branches and spoil the shape of the trees.

Weather permitting continue to plant bare-root and root-balled trees and hedging.

Dig any plots not already dug.

Prune apple and pear trees. Prune any overgrown shrubs or hedges except Prunus species.

Inspect any stored tubers, corms or bulbs. i.e. Potatoes, Begonia, Dahlia etc.

Begin to force rhubarb.

Take root cuttings from herbaceous plants.

Clean all debris and algae from paths and walkways, this helps prevent them becoming slippery and dangerous.

Check all stored fruit and vegetables and discard any showing signs of decay.

Continue to put out food for the birds.

As Christmas passes for another year and we’re all left feeling bloated and overweight from the excess of rich food and alcohol that we’ve ate and drank over the festive season, we of course start making resolutions for the new year, AH YES, what would January be without resolutions, “ I must do this in the garden”, “I must do that in the garden”, “I must do the other in the garden”, all made with great gusto and mostly forgotten before the end of the month. One old lady, a keen and knowledgeable gardener who lived local to me and one cold January day after hearing my new years resolutions put it rather well when she said “ John my boy, The pathway to hell, ‘tis paved with good intentions”
Nature doesn’t help us much either, for the most part gardens and plants appear dormant in January, catalogues of the new seasons seeds, bulbs and young plants have arrived and on a cold, wet or snowy day it’s much easier to sit in the heat of the living room and have grand visions of our new improved layouts than go outside to work in the cold damp, so much for the New Years’ Resolutions. However outside, beneath the soil, where it really matters, life is still busy, water sources are being replenished, root systems are extending and renewing themselves for the growing season to come and spring flowering bulbs have started to push their way through the cold soil, all hidden from the naked eye.
Remember that resolution you made to shed those excess pounds and how you will have to join the gym, forget about it and remember how in a guilt ridden moment you pledged to abstain from chocolate, forget about that too, instead if the weather is anyway reasonable grab a fork or a spade, spread a layer of compost or farmyard mature on any vacant area of the garden and dig it in. If the weather proves unhelpful and you are unable to work the soil, head for the compost heap, no matter how cold or wet or frosty it is turn the heap over, do it a couple of times, you won’t do it any harm. If the weather continues to be awkward start and tidy your plot, remove any place where slugs or snails could hide during the winter, this is a sure fire way to reduce their numbers for next summer.
Not only will a few hours a week of energetic work in your garden in January keep you fit and healthy, (remember the colder it is the more calories you burn, if only to keep warm) it will save you a fortune on gym fees and slug pellets.
Before you know it all the berries on the trees and shrubs will have disappeared to be replaced by catkins on the Garrya and Hazel, rabbits tails on the Salix, flower buds will be swelling on the bare stems of Forsythia and cold, dreary January will be gone for another year. As I was writing this my wife give me a little poem she had come across somewhere, I don’t know where she found it, nor does she but I thought if very interesting.
“January storms of wind and rain
Brings the bitter ice and snow
Yet even while the frosts remain
Under the trees the snowdrops glow”

May I wish you one and all a very Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful New Year and may all your crops flourish and be bountiful.

How to choose and plant bulbs

Bulbs must be one of the easiest plants to grow all they need is a well drained site and plenty of sunshine. If you want colour next spring now (September- December) is the time to plant.

First, if possible check that bulbs have originated from cultivated stock and not collected from the wild. Avoid any damaged, shrivelled, or ones that feel soft, instead choose bulbs that are full and firm. I know it’s not always possible to examine the bulbs first, but you can always return them in they not in good condition and remember with bulbs “size matters”, the bigger the bulb, the more flowerpower, so always buy the biggest bulbs you can afford.

Choose a well drained sunny spot (not waterlogged, the bulbs will only rot in the ground).  When planting in the ground, as a rule of thumb, plant each bulb about three times its own depth and space them around two bulb widths apart. It is important to plant the correct way up, generally speaking plant with the pointed end facing upwards. Always make sure the soil is replaced and firmed around the bulbs after planting, taking care to remove all air pockets, air pockets are a sure way to kill your stock.

In the border, underneath shrubs or in gaps between perennials, bulbs will provide a riot of colour long before other plants burst into life. Daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, and tulips are great for this purpose. If you want a more formal approach try planting tulips in beds of a single colour, when they have finished flowering you can remove the bulbs and replant with half-hardy annuals. If you have a wooded area try planting crocus, scillas, anemones etc. under the trees where the soil is soft and moist, the effect can be quite breath-taking. A dull drab lawn can be brightened up considerably by the planting of winter aconites, snowdrops, dwarf daffodils, crocus and others. A very easy way to achieve a natural effect in grass is simply to walk down the lawn and throw the bulbs in front of you, then plant them where the land. Children love helping with this task. If you are planting a large number of small bulbs in grass, a great tip is just lift a large piece of turf up and plant a handful of bulbs underneath before replacing the turf and firming it back down. Always remember to let the bulbs die down after flowering before cutting the grass.

If you are growing in Pots and Tubs the trick is to keep it simple, grow each variety on its own and make sure your container suits your bulb type e.g. for crocus use a shallow container, for daffodils use a deeper container. Planting could not be easier, put a layer of broken pots or small stones in the bottom or the container fill with any good multi-purpose compost, add extra grit for drainage, plant your bulbs about three times their own depth and water in. It’s a good idea to cover the tops of the pots with netting, this helps to prevent vermin and some birds from stealing your stock. Keep the pots moist, protect from severe frost and wait for the burst of colour in spring. Bulbs suitable for pot culture include dwarf daffodils, dwarf tulips, crocus, snowdrops, and many others even some of the bigger daffodils make excellent subjects in pot’s, examples include Dutch Master, Sir Winston Churchill etc. Some types and varieties of bulbs can also be forced to bloom early e.g. hyacinths, certain varieties of daffodils and others but that’s a subject for another day.

ACHILLEA milliefolium or COMMON YARROW

My plant of the month for August is a rather unusual choice because I’ve picked a plant which many people regard as a bit of a weed but on closer examination it proves to be a very interesting and useful plant in many ways and will make a welcome addition to any garden. Named after the Greek hero Achilles who used the plant for its medicinal properties, not least its ability to stop bleeding quickly, Achillea millefolium or Common Yarrow is a hardy perennial herb, native to Europe and Asia but now naturalised in many other parts of the world. Known for its wide, flat flowerheads which consist of a multitude of tiny daisy-like flowers which sometimes bloom late, even into October.  Yarrow is now available in many  colours ranging from creamy white, various shades of yellow, through to soft and vivid pink, plenty of choice for any mixed border. Sometimes known as Bloodwort, Achillea is an excellent companion plant and will improve the health of many other plants growing near it by increasing their essential oil content and making them more resistant to insect attack. Easily cultivated, Achillea prefers a well drained site in full sun and will survive even in poor soils. It also has a reputation for improving soil fertility and is an excellent compost activator which helps speed up the composting process. Growing to around 60-75cm Yarrow makes a useful cut flower and can also be used in dry bouquets. The plants anti-inflamatory and antiseptic properties are widely used in herbal remedies and the leaves can also be used as a cosmetic cleanser which is good for greasy skin. Achillea millefolium is sometimes used to make a tea like brew and in small quantities can be added to salads. The fragrant leaves and flowers are known to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to add colour to your garden.

TOP 10 GARDENENING JOBS FOR AUGUST

Before going on holiday remember to arrange to have your plants watered while your away.

Harvest vegetables as they become ready.

Deadhead all flowering plants regularly

Lift and pot up rooted strawberry runners.

Continue to water containers, and new planted items, preferably with grey recycled water or stored rainwater.

Adult vine weevils are active now so take measures to eradicate them.

Raspberry canes which have finished fruiting should be cut to soil level.

Remove the lower leaves on tomatoes and let air circulate around the fruit, this helps reduce the chance of diseases.

Start to take cuttings from some of your favourite shrubs.

Trim box hedging and topiary

.
INCREASING YOUR STOCK

Many types of plants will root easily and quickly in water, follow our 5 simple rules and watch your stock multiply.

1.  Choose healthy shoots of new growth and cut into lengths of approx. 4-5 inches.

2.  Cut immediately below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves, you then have a clean, stem to dip in the water.

3.  Put the stems of the cuttings into a glass of water, (jam jars are very useful for this purpose) and rest the top leaves on the rim of the glass, this keeps the end of the stems off the bottom  of the glass and it doesn’t matter whether you root them singly or in bunches. Fill the glass right up to the rim and place in a bright, warm position out of direct sunlight.

4.  Keep the water glass topped up with water and within a few weeks you should see the first white roots start to emerge from the stems.

5.  When a good root system has developed pot the cutting up separately into small pots of compost and keep moist. After about 5-6 weeks start to feed and pinch out the growing tips of the new plants to encourage them to branch.

Houseplants which will root successfully by this method include, African violet, coleus, begonia, geranium, impatiens or buzzy-lizzie, rubber plants, tradescantia or wandering jew, verbena and no doubt many others. Tomatoes can also be propagated in this manner.

Plant of the Month – July 2011

FUCHSIA

A genus of approximately 100 species and over 8,000 hybrids and cultivars most of which have been bred and developed for their attractive flowers although a few do have golden (i.e. Fuchsia Genii) or variegated leaves (i.e. Fuchsia Versicolor).

Originating in the mountainous regions of South America and New Zealand fuchsia can now be found all over the world and although not native to the British Isles fuchsia in one form or another can be seen growing in the majority of gardens in the U.K. and Ireland. It has become so well established that Fuchsia magellanica  and Fuchsia riccartonii two of the hardiest types are now growing wild in mild south and western areas of the region.

Very adaptable, there are varieties to grow in hanging baskets, others for pots and containers to be used as conservatory or patio plants and still others which are used in borders and beds, there are tender varieties, hardy varieties, (i.e. Fuchsia Mrs Popple),  there is even a hedging variety. I find it difficult to think of another plant which can be used in so many different sites and positions. In many gardens fuchsia are used in all of these situations and provide a riot of colour throughout the summer.

The choice of flower size and colour is almost as wide as the number of varieties, pink, white, red, purple, orange, blue, and an almost endless combination of these colours. From blooms as big as your fist right down to some which are not much wider than a match stick. Some have single type flowers others have double type flowers while others have huge blooms with many petals arranged like miniature petticoats.  It’s well near impossible not to find a fuchsia to suit any situation or colour scheme.

Easy to grow, fuchsia performs best in a moist, well drained, fertile soil in full sun or slight shade. They need a steady supply of water during the growing season and a liquid fertiliser should be applied every two or three weeks. In winter plants should be kept slightly moist and protected from frost.

If you need to increase your stock or to replace old plants fuchsia cuttings root easily by various methods during late spring and summer.

Ever wondered how or what makes this so called gardening bug take hold, or why some people catch it and others don’t? Take for instance my next door neighbours Martin and Francis, I’ve know these two men all my life, both are now married with families and both have very strong interests in fishing and other country pursuits.

In fact many a well cooked fish I’ve eaten in their company (no fast food here). Gardening, not a chance, no interest whatsoever, a complete waste of time especially when you could enjoy a day’s fishing or shooting. That’s why I was surprised one evening in spring 2008 when Martin called down to the nursery and asked if he could borrow our walk-behind tractor.

Certainly says I, what are you going to do? Fran and me are going to plant spuds in that piece of ground beside our yard says Martin but we won’t need the rotavator until next week and off he went. I never gave the request a second thought because I figured the chances of the boys planting spuds in the piece of ground were nil at best.

However, driving past their yard next morning I noticed a neighbour farmer ploughing the garden and the next evening he was there again, this time with a heavy cultivator making a seedbed. Martin got the lend of the walk-behind tractor a few days later and the spuds were duly planted. They planted some other items that year, cabbage, a few strawberries, nothing too difficult and the results although not great must have been encouraging because last year a new piece of ground was cultivated for potatoes and the ground from the previous year’s spuds was planted in all kinds of vegetables, peas, beans, beetroot, you name it, it was planted.  By now the fever was beginning to take hold.

The harvest improved and by spring 2010 this gardening bug had bitten so deep that a new greenhouse had to be erected to ease the pain. I visited the boys on their allotment earlier this week and I have to say it was a joy to behold. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, to name but a few of the items on display and all in prime condition.

The new greenhouse had no fewer than nine different tomatoes growing inside, ranging from cherry types to beefsteaks, there were yellow ones, red ones, stripped ones and even purple ones. They even had tumbler types in hanging baskets. I am sorry to say these lads have now reached the point of no return and are already constructing extra deep raised beds to grow monster carrots and parsnips next year.

It’s bad enough being bitten by this bug yourself but the big danger is the contagious nature of this beast. I had first hand experience of this in April past when Martin’s father Mal and his friend Joe arrived at the nursery in Mal’s van and left a short time later with a load of fruit trees and soft fruit bushes.

Now I hear he is boring everyone in the pub on a Saturday night about how to grow quality fruit and I also hear on the grapevine (if you will pardon the pun) that his friend Joe is growing herbs on the window sills of his home. If we’re not careful this whole thing could reach pandemic proportions before long.

There’s a G.P who lives at the end of our road and every evening he walks down to the loughshore to watch the waterfowl and have a yarn with the local fishermen.

I think he only does it to get a crafty smoke and some evenings he calls into the nursery on his way past just for a chat. On one of these occasions I asked his views on this “gardening fever” – Could it be serious? Was there any cure for it?

He told me it was a real phenomenon with no known cure but he added it can  be kept in check if fed a constant diet of new plants and new varieties.

After he left I found myself thinking  “now  that’s one disease we don’t really want to eradicate”.

I was driving back to the nursery the other day and some  litter lout had discarded a couple of newspapers on the roadside and they were blowing all over the carriageway as each vehicle drove past and I got to thinking “Over the years what a great friend the newspaper has been to the gardener”

I mean, how many times have we spread newspapers over young plants and seedlings to protect them from frost?  We were all doing this before the invention of fleece.

Now in the era of “reduce, reuse and recycle” and with almost all ink used in newsprint being soy based savvy gardeners are finding many other uses for old newspapers.

Torn up or shredded newsprint makes an excellent addition to the compost heap, it also makes an excellent mulch around plants where it will help retain moisture and will enrich the soil as it decomposes.

If several pages are used together it can be a very useful barrier to stopping weeds germinating, especially under a layer of mulch.

An old friend of mine who excels at growing vegetables wraps his celery and leeks in several layers of newspaper before earthing them up to blanch. It helps keep the plants clean and once again enriches the soil as it decomposes.

I have often shaded cold frames with sheets of newspaper when germinating seeds, that’s a tip my grandfather taught me.

I was also reading the other afternoon about a little mould for making pots out of old newspapers.  I thought this a great idea, biodegradable pots for seedlings and young plants for free.

The list of uses a gardener can find for old newspaper is almost endless. Obviously the litter lout who discarded the newspapers by the roadside was no gardener.

Remember to use newsprint and not the glossy magazine paper which is much harder to reuse in the garden.