By Keith Jordan
The first days of 2012 begun with above average temperatures – enough for some plants to start growing if this continues. Already the small, but highly-scented flowers of winter flowering honeysuckle are in bloom and the catkins of hazel bushes will be lengthening in the next few weeks, depositing their pollen into the wind. However every year is a ‘natural lottery’ when it comes to the weather and as gardeners we have to prepare for every eventuality. It could remain mild for most of the remaining winter or turn wintry with sub-zero conditions.
Make sure you install water butts to capture any rainwater run-off as spring droughts seem to be a quite common now. Be prepared to protect any tender plants from severe frost with fleece of other materials. In very cold weather rabbits can eat the lower bark of fruit trees, so protect the first 20cm with netting. In mild, drier periods it’s an ideal time to time to plant fruit trees and bushes. This gives time for the roots to establish before they start to develop leaves and demand water.
Mulching (with home-made compost or well-rotted manure) around fruit bushes later this month will help increase yields and drought resistance. Just lay this on the surface and the worms and rain will transport the water-holding materials and nutrients to where the roots are developing. If you have a spent Christmas tree in the ‘rapid leaf fall’ stage of the festive season make use of the needles to mulch around your shrubs that like acid conditions – blueberries, rhododendrons or hydrangeas. I cut up the stems and distribute around plants. The chalky, alkaline soil of my Cambridge allotment also stresses out raspberries and strawberries (the signs are yellowing between the leaf veins in summer), so pine needles can help in a small way neutralise the pH.