It is difficult when it is minus four degrees in Banbury and minus five in some of the surrounding Oxfordshire villages to think that there’s anything that can be done in the garden in January. However, there are always things to think about for the garden at any time of year. You could ring a garden designer and think about how the design of your garden could be improved in the coming year. Does it meet your needs? Have the children outgrown the sandpit or play equipment? Do you need more space for parking cars? Do you want room for growing vegetables? Have the shrubs outgrown their place? Would you like to make your garden more attractive to wildlife? Would you like more space for sitting and entertaining? Or could it just be more interesting? I am happy to talk to you on the phone about any issues concerning the design of your garden.
On a more practical level, apart from clearing paths of snow and possibly brushing some of the snow off more fragile shrubs, so that they are not likely to be weighed down and broken, it is best to leave the garden alone during sub zero temperatures, as you may harm the structure of plants. It is particularly important not to walk on grass when it is frosty, as the delicate cells will be damaged, and come spring, you will have footprints of dead grass across your lawn.
It is important to keep feeding the birds in this weather, and if you have a fish pond, to float a ball or an empty plastic drink bottle on the water so that the fish are not completely frozen in.
When it is not quite so cold, there are other jobs you can be getting on with in the garden. Now is the time to prune apple and pear trees. It is also a good time to plant trees, shrubs and hedges, whilst they are still dormant.
Group two and group three clematis can be pruned at this time of year. Many people get confused by clematis groups and when to prune them. Group one clematis are early flowering, in spring or late winter; they flower on the previous year’s growth, so leave them alone at this time of year, or you will be cutting off the flowering stems. They can be pruned straight after flowering. Group one clematis includes Clematis montana. Group two clematis are early to mid-season large flowered cultivars, which also flower on the previous year’s growth as well as new growth. Don’t prune these too hard or you will be unlikely to get many flowers. Just prune out dead or damaged stems and cut back to strong healthy buds. This can be done from now until early spring. Group three clematis are late flowering clematis, including Clematis ‘Jackmanii’; they flower on the current season’s growth, so can be pruned hard at this time of year, so that they put on plenty of strong growth in the spring on which they will flower in summer or early autumn.
Now is the time when many people cut off their Hellebore leaves. Experts are divided as to whether this is necessary. It is traditionally done to get rid of any diseased leaves (ones with black/ brown patches on), and to show off the flowers on their own. However, it is a matter of personal choice as to whether you prefer to see the flowers accompanied by leaves or not. The plants are robust, once established, so soon grow fresh leaves in the spring, if you do cut them off. What I would say, is even if you decide to leave most of the leaves on, cut off any with brown or black patches on.
Epimedium leaves can also be trimmed in the same way. The purpose of this is to expose the flowers in the spring, which would otherwise be hidden beneath old leaves, and allow fresh leaves to grow following the flowers.
January is a traditional time for planning and choosing seeds to buy. When choosing seeds for the vegetable garden, you might want to look for varieties that have some disease resistance, and when choosing flower seeds, you might want to choose single varieties that are nectar rich to attract pollinating insects, and ones that have lasting seedheads that provide seeds for the birds.