The first of January may be the start of the Roman calendar year, but as far as gardening is concerned it is only the beginning of the end, spring being more commonly regarded as the start for gardeners. However, in January some plants begin to flower, snowdrops, winter aconites, the occasional primrose, and winter heliotrope with its delicious fragrance; others such as Christmas roses, winter jasmine and witch-hazel will be in full flower.
A wander round the garden on a sunny January day will point to seasonal jobs, in spite of its still being the close season for most plants. Bud pecking by birds, particularly of ornamental cherries, may be in full swing; one of the repellent sprays will help. Supporting stakes and ties of shrubs and trees may need renewal; snow should be shaken off branches, if possible, before they break – shelter and protection of small or tender plants may need strengthening.
Borders can still be mulched. If you are a chrysanthemum fan, cuttings of winter flowering varieties need taking now, and of course will need some heat, in a propagating frame in the greenhouse; carnation cuttings can be put in as well. It is a good time to take root cuttings of phlox, anchusa, gaillardia, and perennial mullein (verbascum), which can all be increased in this convenient way.
Keep the greenhouse temperature up, the atmosphere not too damp, and ventilate slightly, even in severe cold; clean out rigorously all fallen vegetation, as botrytis (grey mould) thrives on this and is at its worst in cold, damp conditions.
Seed should be ordered now from the new catalogues. Annuals, biennials and bedding plants can all be ordered; some of the more easily grown annuals for quick display are echium, godetia, calendula, (pot marigold), limnanthes (butter and eggs), annual chrysanthemum, cornflower, nigella (love-in-a-mist), night-scented stock, forget-me-not, nasturtium, larkspur and a variety of ornamental grasses, for sowing in March-April. Biennials for May and June sowing are foxgloves (the modern hybrids are delightful), sweet Williams, Canterbury bells and wallflowers (all good cottage garden plants). Pansies, honesty, sweet rocket and clary can be added, and a really striking and handsome plant is the mullein called Verbascum bombyciferum, with a rosette of great soft furry grey leaves, and a 5 or 6 ft. spire of white woolly buds unfolding to produce pale yellow flowers. The bedding plants can be started in February from seed-petunias, nemesias, ageratums, bedding dahlias, impatiens, lobelias, tobacco plants (nicotiana) and dwarf phlox are some to sow in a warm greenhouse.
Pruning of apples and pears can continue, so can that of cherries and plums, provided there are no diseases about such as silver leaf or bacterial canker; otherwise the wounds are very easily infected, and such trees are best left uncut until summer. Redcurrants and gooseberries can have their summer pruning completed by cutting the remains of the year’s new lateral shoots back to 2-in, stubs, if this was not done in December. Raspberry canes should be tipped and ties renewed where necessary. Winter tar oil wash can be sprayed on to top fruit and soft fruit bushes to kill the over-wintering eggs of aphids, capsids and sap-suckers, spraying a drenching wash to run-off; it will clean off lichen and moss as well.
If peaches, almonds and nectarines are showing signs of bursting at the end of January, spray with a copper or sulphur fungicide to ward off leaf curl, again giving a drenching spray to run-off. Look for small mammal damage to bark of trunks; continue planting in suitable weather.
The vegetable front is the quietest, but even here there are jobs to be done. Digging and adding bulky organic materials such as well-rotted manure, compost and moist peat, especially if you have a sandy soil, is one and, on a cold, sunny winter’s day, taken easily, this is a not unpleasant task, and one finishes glowing with virtue as well as exertion. Dress with lime, but only if the soil is very acid and, in any case, not at the same time as the working in of the bulky organic materials; allow an interval of at least six weeks between the two. Decide on your plan of campaign for rotating your vegetable crops; this enables use to be made of all nutrients in the soil and avoids the build-up of such troubles as eel-worms, clubroot, scab and so on. Rotating means what is says; every year one of three (or four) different categories of vegetables is grown on a given piece of ground; the following year those types grown on plot (A) are grown on a second piece and their place of the previous year taken by a second (B) collection. In due course the vegetables in collection (C) are grown on the original piece of ground, and so sets revolve round, using three different soil sites.
In general, vegetables for this purpose are considered in the following categories: (1) brassicas such as cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts, savoys, also lettuce mustard and cress, and radish – (2) potatoes; (3) legumes, e.g. peas and beans; (4) root crops-carrot, turnip, parsnip, beetroot. Onions are left to themselves and can safely be planted in the same piece of ground for many years, where they seem to do better than if moved.
In a rotation, potatoes can be followed the next season by the roots and legumes, and they are succeeded by the leaf crops, brassicas and salads.
There is no need to manure before planting potatoes, since the ground will have been dressed early the previous winter for the brassicas which will have just preceded the potatoes; it is, however, a good idea in most instances to mix in a general compound powder fertilizer a week or so before putting out the sets. After the potatoes have been lifted, manure can be applied in autumn where peas and beans are to go in spring, but for the root crops potash only need be given, and that a few weeks before sowing or planting. For both again, aleneral fertilizer shortly before sowing or planting is advisable.
In the third winter, compost or manure can be given before the brassicas, and by this time lime may also be necessary, allowing an interval of about two months between the two dressings. Since the leaf crops have such a large area of top growth, an application of a nitrogenous fertilizer while growing is advisable.
Tidying up vegetable refuse, such as old Brussels sprout plants and cabbage tops is very necessary to keep pests and diseases at bay. Some vegetables can be sown in heat in the greenhouse : these include tomatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, radishes and French beans, in a temperature of 643°F ( 15-16°C).