As we reach the end of January and the beginning of February one task stands clear above all others. It is pruning time which means making sure that your secateurs, loppers, saws and shears are all in tip top condition. It is certainly worth taking the time and trouble to do this as a ragged and untidy cut means that plants won’t heal well and are prone to disease and infection entering through open wounds.
To sharpen your tools well you will need some WD-40 or similar, some steel wool and some oil. Just as it is important to make a clean cut it is important to have a clean blade. Hygiene is vitally important as viral or fungal diseases can be transmitted by the gardener with dirty secateurs that are coated in sap. You can buy specialist products to remove stubborn sap but a little elbow grease when you have nothing better to do works just as well. Rub the blades (keeping the point away from you) with the wire wool and gradually they will come up clean. Sharpen the blades like you would a good kitchen knife and oil them to prevent rust and so that dirt won’t stick. I have a small stone that I keep in my pocket so that I can sharpen my secateurs as I use them.
Another area where cleanliness is important is in the greenhouse where any number of nasties can overwinter in nooks and crannies. Good light is vital to plant growth so the glass will need a good wash down inside and out. The next step is to insulate it if possible and provide some heat either with a propagator or heat mat if you are going to start seed sowing. Sweet peas can be sown now in long root trainers or in toilet roll tubes so long as the roots can go down. Push a couple of seeds into each one that you have filled with moist compost then cover to keep the warmth in. I use old panes of greenhouse glass rather than newspaper or polystyrene as it means the mice can’t get under them. Mice love sweet pea seeds so it is worth putting a trap or two down as added insurance. The good thing about sweet peas is that although heat will make them germinate faster it is not absolutely necessary.
Chitting early potatoes is one of the most exciting things to do. I save my egg boxes as they are perfect for holding the potatoes when they are placed inside with the most eyes facing upward. They will need a cool but frost free place such as a window or porch.
There is plenty in the garden to bring inside the house if you fancy a bit of colour. I brought a few shoots of Camellia ‘Bow Bells’ in to put on my kitchen table. This is a superb variety which is often one of the first to flower for me. It produces large single rose pink flowers with a prominent boss of yellow stamens in the centre. It is one of the toughest and the buds will prove remarkably weather resistant considering the papery quality of the petals.
The ‘Winter Sweet’ or Chimonanthus praecox is flowering now, the yellow flowers with reddish purple centres are strung along bare branches. They give off a powerful spicy fragrance that carries very well in the air outside or in a room where they look well with pussy willow, hazel or alder catkins and a little ‘Christmas box’.
Snowdrops and aconites are thrusting into life reminding us that we cannot outrun nature for much longer whilst parsnips, sprouts and brassicas can all be harvested now and chard provides a welcome bit of colour on the plate. It is a good time for chunky casseroles and warming stews with plenty of stodge. Enjoy!