December was, for the most part, mild and wet (in the south) with a few days of freezing conditions. January started unseasonably mild but temperatures began dropping also bringing much colder nights.
It should be possible to plant trees or shrubs during January, but this cannot be done during freezing or very wet weather, so get them into the ground as soon as conditions become favourable.
Don’t forget the birds – even if the weather remains mild they often struggle to find enough food at this time. Ensure feeders are washed regularly and scrub bird tables (using hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly). Clean out baths and water containers. If this is not done regularly birds can pick up fatal diseases from the detritus and green slime which builds up. Hang fat balls in trees and shrubs (away from predators); keep feeders topped up with a good quality seed mix – this will help the sparrows, blue-tits and robins through winter – especially during extreme weather.
As the weather has been largely mild – so far – some salad crops such as lettuce, winter land cress, purslane, and corn salad are still growing, cover with fleece when temperatures fall and there is a chance of night-time frosts.
During milder weather prune climbing roses – cut away diseased or damaged growth, tying in new shoots to their trellis support. Prune older flowered side shoots back by about two thirds of their length. Remove the fallen leaves around the base of rose bushes which suffered disease attack such as black spot or rust last summer; dispose off-site to reduce the chance of reintroducing infection next year.
Winter flowering plants provide a welcome splash of colour during the grey and overcast winter days; Mahonia, a tall shrub with larger spikey leaves is covered in pale yellow perfumed flowers, later in the season it produces blue-black berries. Winter Jasmine is a non-descript shrub but its bare arching stems are usually smothered in flowers from December onwards.
One of my favourite tree/shrubs starts flowering in January (sometimes December) – the stunning Witch hazel; the spidery blooms are perfumed and have a vibrant colour range from pale yellow – to gold and orange (depending on the variety). The Witch hazel is a must for all gardens – they are small with a neat and compact habit, providing year round interest; flowers during winter months, beautiful shaped leaves follow in spring which turn butter yellow in autumn, and sometimes the Witch hazel produces curiously shaped seed pods. My plant of the month!
And if you are quick – there is still time to plant tulip bulbs either in the ground or in pots and window boxes that should flower late spring.