January is a time for reflection on the garden, making lists and planning for the new year ahead.
At this time of the year, we generally perhaps do not get out into the garden as much as we would like. Christmas preparations and festivities have been to the fore over the last few weeks.
The weather at this time of the year may also not be very conducive to making progress in the garden. We have had lots of rain over the last few weeks and working with the soil when it is saturated can do more harm than good.
For now, we may need to be content with making some lists and checking them twice!
One job that needs to be undertaken early in the new year is annual maintenance and feeding of fruit bushes like gooseberries, raspberries and loganberries and blueberries.
The pruning for each is different and they all need to be kept in check annually to ensure that a good crop is produced during the summer months.
Gooseberries, for example, fruit on older wood so pruning takes this into account, and dead wood is pruned out and any overcrowding branches congesting the centre as well, as reducing by one quarter the length of branch tips and pruning side shoots.
As can be seen from the image above, removing a few canes can improve air flow and light into the centre of the fruit bush, which will improve fruit formation and access to fruit when ripe. It will also help with pest and disease control, improving the overall health of the plant.
The timing of pruning varies for different fruits so do check before making an attack with the secateurs!
Any of the Prunus genus, for example nectarines, peaches, plum, and cherry, and should not be pruned during the winter months as they are prone to a fungal infection called silver leaf, which commonly enters plants through pruning cuts made during the cold winter months.
The RHS website, www.rhs.org.uk, is a wonderful online resource and goes into detail for all the different types of fruits and the timing of when to prune to achieve best success.
Feeding is also undertaken in late winter and early spring and with fruit it is important not to overfeed with nitrogen as this will encourage leafy growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.
There are three major nutrients that plants require for overall good growth and health — N, P and K: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
The role of each of these nutrients is complex within the whole plant system, with the main function of nitrogen concerned with fuelling green leafy growth in the plant; phosphorus being essential for root development and seed production; and potassium closely aligned with flower and fruit formation.
A good source of all three of these nutrients is homemade garden compost. Farmyard manure would be considered higher in nitrogen, making it a great addition to the vegetable garden, and wood ash is high in potassium, for example, making it ideal for the application to fruit trees and bushes.
Time now to get compost heaps and manure sourced and sorted for late winter and spring application.
There is lots of opportunity to create your own nutrient source, but space is needed in the garden and it does require a degree of management and sorting throughout the year, although it is nothing that cannot be integrated into the garden routine.
The leaves have just about finished falling but there may still be some to be collected to create some useful leaf mould for mulching beds and borders.
Now is a good time to consider collecting a few bags of washed up seaweed appearing along the coastline for application to vegetable beds or in the polytunnel. It is a great soil conditioner, melting into the soil and improving structure and fertility over the winter months.
If you do not grow fruit in your garden and would like to start, then now is an ideal time to source and plant fruit trees and bushes.
Planting during the dormant season will mean that bare root plants can be purchased and planted before growth begins in spring.
Future Forests stock a good range of fruit, as do English’s fruit nursery in Wexford. Good, free- draining soil and an open sunny site with shelter from the prevailing wind will produce the best fruit.
If you are considering growing a lot of bush fruits then it will be a good idea to plan a fruit cage so that the birds do not harvest most of the crop for you! Happy planning.
Plant of the week
At this time of the year, the evergreens come into their own and shine in the winter sunlight.
It is when collecting greenery for wreaths and candle arrangements to bring indoors that I begin to appreciate what stands out and brightens up the winter days.
One shrub that deserves a place in the winter garden is Eleagnus x submacrophylla ‘Limelight’ with its green leaves splashed with gold at the center.
It gets big, and quite fast, so bear this in mind when choosing a spot, reaching heights of over three metres, with a similar spread, but it can be kept pruned to the height required and its foliage is very useful year round for use with cut flowers.
A good coastal plant, it will tolerate harsh winds and shallow soils, but grows best in free-draining soils in full sun or partial shade.
Watch out for reversion to green on these plants and cut out any as it appears to maintain the bright golden foliage.
Olive writes a weekly column in The Echo every Saturday.