Louise Curley

22 Dec 2021 09:23

Gardening Jobs in Midwinter

It might be the depths of winter, but if you’re keen to embrace the start of a new year and burn off some of those Christmas calories there are some jobs that you can get on with over the coming weeks. The key to winter gardening is to minimise the amount of time you walk on the soil or lawn, if you can. Soil at this time of year is at best damp but it’s more likely to be waterlogged or frost-covered and walking on it will cause compaction. If you do need to walk on borders or the grass wait for a dry and mild day and put down planks of wood – walking on these instead of directly on the soil will spread your weight.

Rhubarb is one of the first crops of the new growing season and it’s possible to have an even earlier harvest by forcing the plant to produce sweet, tender stems. Firstly, remove any weeds around the plant and the remains of any of last year’s growth, then mulch around the plant with compost or well-rotted manure. Place a large bucket, dustbin or traditional terracotta rhubarb forcer over the crown of the plant to exclude light. You can also insulate the outside of the container with bubble wrap or hessian sacking to provide extra insulation from the cold, speeding up the forcing process. It should take about 6-8 weeks for the plant to produce long, pink-red stems which are sweeter than non-forced rhubarb. Forced rhubarb is a particular delicacy in West Yorkshire in an area that’s become known as the Rhubarb Triangle.

There’s still time to plant bare root trees, hedging plants, fruit bushes and roses. These are plants that come with no soil around the roots and they’re only available between November and March, when plants are dormant. Bare roots plants are vulnerable to drying out and should be planted as soon as possible. However, if the ground is waterlogged or frosted, give them a temporary home, planting them up in containers filled with compost and give them a water, then plant in the ground when the weather improves.

I like to leave the growth of perennials and grasses in place over winter rather than cutting everything back in autumn. Not only do the skeletal frames of the plants look good covered in frost, they also provide homes and food for wildlife. However, some plants will be starting to look a bit worse for wear by now after being battered by the wind and rain, and any plants that have become a soggy mess on the soil will potentially obscure any early spring bulbs pushing through. Now’s a good time to gradually start clearing beds of the plants that look the worst. Gather up the cuttings and put them on the compost heap, so that if there are any creatures hibernating they won’t be disturbed too much.

In the greenhouse, check over plants for any signs of overwintering pests and fungal diseases. Towards the end of January, as the days start to get longer, sow winter salads and hardy annual flowers such as cerinthe and sweet peas.