Gardening Jobs of the Week, January 1, 2011

It may have thawed out a little lately, but rest assured that January has a lot to throw at us yet, with cold winds and more snow to come. Check that protection you have put round plants to protect them from the worst of the winter's icy blasts is still in place and in a suitable condition. Ensure that greenhouse heaters are working correctly and that thermostats are set high enough to cope with the temperature lift required on very cold nights. Ensure you keep off the grass when it is frozen.

•In my garden this year many of the herbaceous perennials have only just died back and so now is the time to go out and trim off any excess of dead growth. This also extends to climbers such as the golden hop, Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'. This has been a picture this year. The vibrant yellow gold in summer is great, but the dead mass of stems now is not so attractive even with the frost on them. This is a good period to check and repair trelliswork, particularly timber structures that may have rotted. If you get a dry period why not treat the timber with a preservative or coloured finish?

•While we are talking of climbers one that is quite definitely not dormant at the moment is the Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles'. This is a very good winter-flowering clematis which in full flower now, with bell-shaped creamy white blooms with reddish spots inside. This is one of a range of winter-flowering clematis that can add some cheer to a bare wall or fence.

•Tree stakes are one of the things I often write about and how you need to check that the tree is not holding the stake up and that the tie is neither loose nor tight.

When the strong winter winds blow it is better for an established tree to have no stake than one that is badly attached or not attached at all. The general rule is after one or two years all trees can – and should – have the stake removed. This allows the tree to grow up strongly with a good root system able to cope with gale-force winds.


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•Some of the best houseplants are the moth orchids, Phalaenopsis. They flower for months with huge spectacular flowers that look a little like a giant pansy flower. Orchids are plants that like to grow in good light but not direct sunlight so a bright north-facing windowsill is ideal. They're reliable bloomers too, sending up a new flower spike at least twice a year, sometimes two at a time. For best results do not repot until it is desperate, as the plants only flower when they are constricted and they will be happy for five or more years in the same pot. Minimal water is also the trick. They prefer rainwater but tap water left to stand is fine for essential watering, and also allow the compost to dry between waterings. The weight of the compost will often help you to know if it is dry or wet. During the summer months apply a very dilute liquid houseplant feed once a week.

•With all the snow and cold weather we have had lately please don't forget the birds. In the winter, birds can find it difficult to find food and so it is important to keep putting nutrients out for them. The better bird food mixtures have been formulated to satisfy the appetites and nutritional needs of a wide range of birds. These can be expensive to supply the birds all winter, but you can use seed from your own garden saved earlier in the year. Why not grow your own sunflowers and poppy seed for them in 2011? Water is essential for the birds so try and ensure a constant un-frozen supply.

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•Remember to keep some horticultural fleece handy to cover tender plants in case of more frost and snow. Keep the snow off conifers and hedges to prevent branches being pushed down and broken off.

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