Peter’s Gardening tips for January 2016

My thoughts and observations – gardening in the southern parts of England has been strange, bizarre, very extraordinary and any other superlatives you can think of!

Flora and Fauna are totally confused by the record breaking temperatures both night and day, not to forget the rainfall. The results mean so many plants and trees are in flower at the wrong time of year. Greenfly on roses, mealy bugs on apple trees, black spot and mildew on roses. It could be a bad year for fruit production with buds being frosted. I’ve seen flowers open on Damson and Blueberries. I hear fruit trees are in flower in parts of France, this will be an agricultural/horticultural disaster.

The soil or ground temperature being so warm has meant weeds everywhere, grass still growing, bulbs galore flowering, sap rising already on silver birches, birds singing and nest hunting, water boatman in ponds, caterpillars, slugs and snails very active, loads of tender growth on clematis, roses and herbaceous plants…….and it’s the first week of 2016!

On the plus side the colour, sounds, sights and smells have been very much appreciated.  The fuel bills are much lower at the moment BUT the Squirrels aren’t fat for no reason, they know that the weather is going to turn cold even very cold! They have stuffed themselves silly on the glut of food available from the ‘mast’ year of autumn 2015. They pile on the fat to semi hibernate when it turns cold.

I’m stocking up on logs, food for the birds…. snow tyres?

Chubby Squirrel!

Chubby Squirrel!

So what can be done to combat the change in the weather to come?

I’m afraid not a huge amount. It’s impossible to fleece the entire garden, covering flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees.

You can fleece Camellias, Magnolias, Rhododendrons, Peaches, Plums, Damsons if not too big and in bud or flower to protect from frost, otherwise just accept what nature throws at us.

Mulching is protective for bulbs and herbaceous plants, only do if you can work off scaffold boards.

Pack plant pots together, less chance of the roots and pots freezing.

I’ve got spring bulbs still to plant! So I’m going to plant them in pots with my favourite compost mix of John Innes No 2 and multipurpose compost, then as the flowers come I can place the pots where I want them, either plunging them in the ground or knocking out of the pots and planting in the final position.

For those of you living up north you will wonder what all the fuss is about! I apologise! You can carry on when the weather allows……


Machinery – perfect time to book in your mower, strimmer, hedge cutter, blower for servicing. You should get a winter discount for most machinery servicing, normally 10% discount – haggle!

Tools in the Shed – Rub down spades, forks, hoes etc with a wire brush, remove all the caked on soil/rust off the metal. Oil them, even using old engine oil on a rag and wipe over the metal. Also, check the tool handles for wood-worm, small pin like holes and treat with wood preservative/wood-worm killer. A job very well worth doing and very satisfying to see your tools all clean and ready for the coming season.

Garden Tools

Time to clean your tools!

Other Indoor jobs – Re-use plant labels by cleaning them, a scouring pad seems to work well, cleaning fluid, a rubber erasure for pencils. Wash old seed trays and pots with hot soapy water or a pressure washer. Check any indoor plants for bugs and beasties lurking and treat. Check stored vegetables, fruit, bulbs and tubers.

Shopping – Armchair – Most seed catalogues are available on-line or by phone request now, so check out the latest stock for the coming season.

Outdoors – Clear gutters and drains of leaves, and also check sheds, greenhouses and garages for any leaks?

Damage caused by the recent storms – Loosened shrubs from wind rock need cutting back or firming in with your boots. Cut back shrub, hybrid T and floribunda Roses if not tackled already by 50 %. Stake and tie trees and shrubs loosened or fallen, cut back damaged branches, torn branches need cutting back below the break to help them back into health. Climbers pulled away from trellis, walls and fences tie back in or cut back if badly damaged. Check all tree ties and wires holding up plants to structures that they are not too tight, I have found wire strangling roses, wisteria and fruit trees on many occasions!

Try to keep off the lawned areas of the garden as much as possible, I know this is difficult with fences down and repair work to do, but it will benefit long-term.

Shopping at Garden Centres and Nurseries – Seed potatoes, shallots, onions, garlic are also arriving in stock now, and many of them will have sales on. If you do buy any plants in pots, don’t plant now, leave them outside in a sheltered corner all together and plant out in March/April time. Summer bulbs, corms and tubers will also be arriving like Dahlias and Gladiolis, keep an eye out!

Planning for the Season to come – You may want to create some raised beds for vegetables and flowers, work out which vegetables did well last year, consider trying something new. Talk and discuss with your friends and share ideas?


Winter Honeysuckle

Winter Honeysuckle

Think about Scent in the Garden – It might seem obvious but the best place for scented plants are near the doors and windows to the house, also by a seating area, patio, bench, pergola, walk-way and paths. There are plenty of choices even in winter, Daphnes, Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus), Christmas Box (Sarcococca), Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera Winter Beauty)… to name a few. Its not too late to order in Sweet Pea seeds and a must have are Roses for scent – the Nations favourite plant. Roses can be ordered now bare-root (no soil around roots and not in a pot). They generally arrive in a plastic bag or damp hessian, plant into pots if the ground is too wet and plant out into their final position in the Spring.

Nest boxes – Wearing gloves empty out the old nests from last year, you may even find a friendly mouse. Birds are actively looking for a nesting site now, when putting up a nest box put it where cats can’t reach, and not facing south as it cooks in the sun, not too close to a feeding station and out of the prevailing winds.  You will find your garden will be home to many more birds.

Blue Tit bathing

Blue Tit bathing

Bird Feeders and Bird Baths – Most at this time of year are pretty foul after all this rain, clean out and throw away all wet food. Ideally, take the feeders apart and wash thoroughly in hot soapy water and allow to dry, remembering to wash your own hands thoroughly afterwards.

Any Other Jobs – Final job is to empty saucers of water from all outdoor pots, and put feet or tiles under pots where possible. If you can manage them, move all the planted pots together without saucers, into a more sheltered corner for frost protection.

Take time-out and go for a walk or even spend time in your own garden. Stand still, stop, look and listen. Take a deep breath and use those senses, including smell. You will be amazed at what you can see in a few minutes even at this time of year, enjoy!

That’s enough from me, happy gardening despite the weather and enjoy the catalogues, my last tip, check the insulation in the greenhouses, heaters are working and the fleece is to hand, cold weather is on the way!!

P.S  I am happy to answer any of your gardening questions too, so feel free to leave them below and I will do my best to reply! 

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Peter Mills

I love everything to do with natural history, wildlife, biodiversity and of course horticulture - basically the big outdoors. I grew up with very good teachers namely my parents and my French grandfather who was a superb grower of vegetables. At Hadlow College I studied a three year OND in Horticulture. I had a market stall selling plants. Went onto wholesaling house plants to florists and garden centres across southern England. In 1986 I joined Clandon Park Garden Centre as manager. Whilst there I started my career as a gardening radio presenter with the BBC Southern Counties Radio. This continued for 15 years, building up valuable contacts with the RHS Wisley, live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows etc. Since 1998 I have been self-employed, working as a Head Gardener and in private gardens . Through the RHS Advisory Department at Wisley I advise on horticultural problems in members gardens, including pest & disease problems, lawn-care advice, pruning of wisterias, fruit trees, roses, wildlife gardening, growing fruit & vegetables, creating wildflower meadows, identifying plants and control of pernicious weeds. I am an extremely lucky guy who loves what I do and the trade called Horticulture!

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Peter Mills
8th Jan 2016
Thanks for voting!
Hi Marley,
I would pack the flower spike loosely with straw or bracken, then carefully pull up leaves around and tie in a loose bunch. Chicken wire can be used. Wear gauntlet gloves, old clothes and eye protection! Yuccas have serrated and sharp pointed leaves. Fingers crossed you will be able to enjoy your flowers, they smell lovely!
Kind regards
8th Jan 2016
Thanks for voting!
Our big Yucca plant in the garden has got a flower stem/head right in the middle of it!!! I am guessing that is a few months premature?? What should I do Peter?
7th Jan 2016
Thanks for voting!
Lovely post and some good tips here. The one I like best is just taking a few minutes in the garden to look around. I did that today. We have some daffs coming up already and the birds are going crazy eating the peanuts we put out for them. Probably gouging ready for a cold snap!
Peter Mills
7th Jan 2016
Thanks for voting!
Thanks Wilf. I try to please!
Keep warm....
Kind regards Peter

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