Most gardeners take time off in January to enjoy their gardens and spend time with family and friends.
There is nothing urgent to do, except for small maintenance jobs like regular watering, light pruning, deadheading of spent flowers and tying in unruly growth. If you are planning to go away on holiday in January then do the following tasks before closing the garden gate behind you – it will make coming home again something to look forward to.
- Mow the lawn a day before you leave and give it a deep soaking. It is not going to stop growing while you are gone and on your return you will have to cut it in stages over the first few days or weeks of January, removing only the top bits at first, then lowering the blades a little for a second cut and then down to the normally recommended height a few days later.
- Weed, water deeply and then mulch all the beds. Remove most half-open and open flowers to encourage the production of new blooms that you can enjoy when you return.
- Trim all hedges neatly – overgrown plants are a sign to unwanted ‘visitors’ that the householder is absent.
- Pick up fallen fruit and harvest what’s ripe and ready to cook, can, freeze or give away. Invite your neighbours to help themselves from your kitchen garden while you are away.
- Herbs in January will be full and lush now, with lots of material to harvest. Freezing the herbs gives fresher-tasting results than drying. Pick your favourite herbs, remove any tough stems and place them, either one at a time or in combinations you enjoy, in an electric blender. Almost cover with water, blend until they are finely chopped and pour the mix into ice cube trays and freeze. Label them if you have used different combinations.
- If you can, move your container plants to a shady spot so that they will take longer to dry out (which will make life easier for the kind person who has agreed to water them for you from time-to-time). Dig water retention granules into the soil of every pot and mulch with stones or compost – this good gardening practice can save precious plants in your absence.
- For indoor plants, place a piece of capillary matting or an old rug in the bath and soak it with water. Stand all your pots on the mat, after watering them well, and make sure the bathroom curtains are left open to let light in. The wet material in the bath should keep the atmosphere humid, which should keep the plants happy.
- Try this for the larger indoor plants and patio plants: cut the bases off plastic bottles, pierce small holes in their lids or necks (or remove the lids altogether and plug the neck with a wad of cotton wool) and push the bottles, top first, into the soil. Fill them up with water and it will seep through the punctured stopper or cotton wool plug and keep the soil moist.
- If you have an automatic irrigation system, check that it is in perfect working order and set correctly.
- Before leaving, make sure that all your garden tools and the wheelbarrow are safely locked away.
- The best way to spend your energy now, no matter where you live in our large and beautiful country, is to create your own personal ‘Dream Board’ to help you whip your garden into shape.
- Remove old flower stalks and dead material around the base of spent perennials to curb mildew, rust and red spider mite.
- Watch out for hawkmoth caterpillars feeding at night on impatiens, arum lilies and fuchsias – remove them by hand.
- Lawns will need slow-release nitrogen-richfertiliser to maintain their lush green summer colour.
- Garden containers, young seedlings and indoor plants should be fed with liquid fertiliser every two weeks.
- Azaleas and camellias will need an acidic fertiliser to help them set buds for winter.
- Don’t allow evergreen hedges and topiaries to grow out of shape. Keep them neat with regular light trims.
- Feed fruit trees like mangoes, avocados, lemons and granadilla vines. Apply specialised fertilisers for roots, foliage and future fruit production – use slow-release fertilisers at this time of the year.
- Remove fallen fruit to discourage pests from breeding in them.
- Plant seedlings of celosias, annual salvias, petunias, impatiens, vincas, begonias and marigolds.
- Problems with scale and aphids? Spray against ants, as they are attracted by the sweet honeydew the sucking insects excrete and will spread the eggs of these pests everywhere.
- Use your hose to flush stagnant water from bromeliads to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching in there.
- Tame overgrown shrubs, except those that will flower and produce berries in winter and spring.
- Thin out vigorous deciduous climbers like wisterias, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and ornamental grape vines (Vitis coignetiae).
- Cut back rambling roses to remove branches that have finished flowering – new growth will bring new flowers.
- Turn indoor and shady patio plants and hanging baskets regularly towards the light to ensure even leaf growth.
- Pull out the old flowering stems of Inca lilies with a firm tug. You can dig up some roots and new shoots and replant them in other parts of the garden.
- Divide overgrown clumps of bearded irises and replant.
- Cut spent lilium flowers, leaving the leafy stems to produce enough food for next season. Keep them well-watered and well-fed until they die down.
- Treat grapevines against downy mildew.
- If you left your clivia seeds on, they should be a good shade of red by now. Sow them while fresh, into seed trays.
- Do This
- Drive around the neighbourhood and take pictures of plants that are growing successfully in other gardens.
- Take a leisurely stroll through your local garden centres and nurseries and compile a shopping list of the plants you fall in love with. Photograph them too. Local nurseries should generally only stock plants that will grow in your area – if they don’t they will lose money.
- Page through all your old gardening magazines for ideas and pick the look you want to achieve. Cut the pictures out.
- Collect paint and material swatches in the colours and designs that you like.
Now do This
Take a large poster board and paste all your ideas, lists and pictures on it. Stick it on your kitchen or bedroom wall and add to it every day. Inspired by your Dream Board, and with positive thinking and good planning, you will be able to realise your dream garden, regardless of the curve balls that life, your budget and nature might decide to dish out.