Thoughts of gardening may still seem like a distant dream in the middle of winter. But on bright days, you could get ahead if you clean the greenhouse, clear away empty pots and cut back or tie plants which are overhanging the lawn.
If it’s just too cold or wet to venture outdoors, go through seed and summer bulb catalogues and place your orders now. It’ll give you one less job to do during the busy spring period and you’re likely to have more choice of seeds and bulbs before stocks run out.
Planning a new bed or border? Get a sketchpad and work out the shape you want, choose the size and requirements of the plants you want to include and work out how much maintenance you will need to give them – and how much time you actually have to spare – before you start.
There’s plenty to be done here – and you can always put the greenhouse heater on if it’s too chilly to work in there otherwise. If you have a heated propagator which can maintain a temperature of 16-18C (61-65F) during germination, start sowing seeds towards the end of the month.
Pot up lily bulbs now if you want to force lilies to produce early flowers.
Get seed trays and pots ready by washing and disinfecting them, or invest in a few new ones and buy some potting and seed compost at the same time for the forthcoming months.
Clean greenhouse windows inside and out, and, on fine days, cure any stubborn leaks around the edge of panes by covering glazing bars with mastic tape.
Clean out debris and leaves from the guttering and check that brackets are sound and firmly attached.
If your greenhouse staging is looking tatty, rub down bare wood with steel wool, then paint with a preservative to keep it in good condition.
Continue to bring forced bulbs in bowls and pots into the warmth and light for indoor flowering as they become ready and apply a half-strength liquid feed such as tomato fertiliser every three weeks until they have finished flowering. Deadhead the bulbs as the flowers fade and continue to water regularly.
Check that tender and half-hardy fuchsias which remain leafless and dormant in their pots don’t become completely dry. Spray any early growth with tepid water, but do so sparingly as the inactive roots can’t cope with heavy watering.
If you planted heathers last autumn, remove weeds around them and gently firm into place any plants partially lifted by frost.
Keep tender conservatory and houseplants out of cold, draughty spots and don’t overwater them.
Remove tender plants from cold windowsills at night, but keep them near a window during the day so they get as much light as possible. Keep foliage away from direct heat and avoid the hot, dry air of centrally heated homes.
If you have overwatered a plant, tip it out of its pot, let it drain and then wrap its rootball in several layers of kitchen roll for a day or two, changing the paper when it is saturated. When the compost has dried out slightly, replace the plant in its pot.
Only feed house plants if they are growing strongly or are in flower.
If you have a real Christmas tree, make sure it’s recycled. Many local authorities will do this for you, so you need to check their collection dates. Alternatively take it to your nearest dump where you can dispose of it. If you have a robust shredder, you could cut off some of the branches with secateurs and shred them, using them as a mulch on beds and borders, leaving only the main trunk to dispose of.
Keep flowering Christmas plants in a cool room and deadhead azaleas and primulas regularly to extend their flowering period.
Poinsettias can last for some time after Christmas. After flowering, cut back their stems to 15cm (6in) from the base. Keep the compost almost dry and place the pot in a shady position. In May, water and repot the plant, replacing some of the old compost, feed regularly and shoots should soon appear. From the end of September, careful light control is needed, where the plant has to be kept in total darkness for 14 hours a day for eight weeks, then treat normally.