January is traditionally the month when we decide to make changes in our lives, take up a new sport, change unhealthy habits, get motivated (eek).  This is all a bit high energy for me.  So my blog this month is, instead, about things in the garden that you can stop doing – and cross off your to-do list at least temporarily!

Keep your Christmas tree.   Lots of us have bought a potted Christmas tree this year; so what should we do with it now Epiphany is here?  Don’t put it straight out into the garden as the shock will probably kill it – at least if you live in Yorkshire as we do, or further north.  Instead, just pop it in the garage or other frost-free place for a week or two.  When you do plant it, do so during a mild spell and not when the weather is frosty.

If you intend to bring your tree in again next year, don’t bother to take it out of its inner pot (the one with holes in the base) when you plant it, just dig a hole deep enough to contain the pot and plant it firmly into the ground.

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Leave seedheads as long as possible.  They look amazing with frost sparkling on them!  And many garden birds – such as the beautiful goldfinches with their tinkling cries – feast on the seeds within.  They especially enjoy teasel seeds but also like some of our taller grasses such as miscanthus; the fluffy heads of late summer clematis; even late-flowering sunflowers may still have some palatable seeds.  You will generally find that by late winter the gales have done this job for you!

Be kind to your houseplants.  Don’t feed them in winter and only water sparingly.  Most houseplants benefit from a rest period in winter, when light levels are low.  And the consequence of over-feeding flowering plants is that they will grow luxuriant foliage but, sadly, very few flowers.  So check the soil at the base of the plant and add water but no feed to its saucer, and only when the soil is almost dry.  Foliage plants do, however, appreciate extra spritzing of their leaves with a water spray in our centrally-heated UK houses.

Also avoid large fluctuations in room temperature as this can make many houseplants suffer- ensure they’re not next to a radiator or on a windowsill behind a curtain.

Photo by AJ West, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Don’t be so tidy!  It’s tempting to start on a good garden tidy-up, especially if your garden style is quite minimalist.  But January is much too early to do this – you are clearing away the winter shelter for over-wintering insects; some, such as ladybirds, will go on in spring to be voracious predators of aphids which would otherwise affect our plants.  Others will be welcome winter food for birds such as our garden blackbirds and thrushes.   So leave it til the weather is warmer in March or even April. 

A better way of keeping the garden looking smarter is to trim non-berrying hedges, and clean decking and flagging, in later autumn – giving a neat and orderly feel to the space without deterring wildlife.

Ditch the garden chemicals.  Resist the hard sell from these companies, who start ramping up their advertising at this time of year, and keep your money in your pocket.  Improving the habitats and ecosystem in your garden is a longer-term strategy but will also mean less intervention from you – so more time to enjoy your garden. 

Do you want to see more birds and hedgehogs in your garden?  Then remember they need you to leave them a few slugs and snails in your borders, a few leatherjackets in the lawn. 

Do we use chemicals at North Leeds Garden Design?  Occasionally, and only as a last resort, we may use a systemic weedkiller on a once-only basis to clean up ground of difficult weeds.  After that the focus is always on improving soil health and encouraging a balanced ecology to develop.

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Take a break!  Get your coat on, grab a coffee and spend a few minutes enjoying the quiet stillness of your dormant garden.  Notice the warmth around your fingers gripping the mug, the soft noises of birds scuffling in the hedge, the clouds along the skyline.  Now you’re getting the hang of that other New Years’ resolution about practising mindfulness, too…………

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