Winter frost, but shoots can be seen

Pot up strawberries for early fruits. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Pot up strawberries for early fruits. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

January has flown by and it’s time to take stock of progress made in the greenhouse and garden, if any.

Don’t worry if you find yourself playing catch-up already, we’re all in the same boat and there is time.

Despite all the reports of daffodils blooming, and I have seen some small groups locally, there are none out in this garden yet. But a patch of hyemalis, or winter aconite, is flowering right on time and we have had some decent frosts recently so perhaps winter is starting to offer a semblance of normality.

Friend Ian tells me his rhubarb plants have stalks 30cm tall without any attempt to force them. Ours is showing no sign of growth yet, but there are crowns visible and it is in an exposed position. It just goes to show how two gardens, under half a mile apart, have areas that can vary so much in terms of growth.

Soft and top fruits here, along with an asparagus bed, enjoy a more sheltered, south-facing aspect and prosper, reiterating that different microclimates can exist in the same garden.

Rhubarb is frost-hardy and will even stand being lifted from the soil and exposed to winter elements before re-planting and blanching of stems. We use two very large pots, and they’re stuffed with straw, then inverted over plump crowns that will soon respond by sprouting in the dark. This can also be achieved by planting into a container or large plastic bag, half-filled with spent compost or garden soil. Very basic, but it will work for anyone without garden space.

This is an ideal time to coax strawberry plants into growth and early fruiting, but they do need the protection of a cold greenhouse, frame, or conservatory. Lift a few of last year’s rooted runners from the bed with decent root ball attached, pot them and water well. Keep them in full light and check regularly for aphids, which rapidly develop a colony at the hint of warmth.

Shoots are beginning to appear on the saved stools of early chrysanthemum in the cold greenhouse. With February just days away, we’ll be ready to take the first stem cuttings in a couple of weeks and pop them into the propagating frame. It has a soil-warming cable that’s not been in use since last autumn as a cost-saving exercise. However, early seed sowings and cuttings demand a little warmth so switch-on is in two weeks.

We can’t get enough of the warm feeling plants bring into our lives right now. It might be a potted specimen or bouquet of flowers indoors, or a favourite scented shrub blooming in the garden. As I nurse a three-year-old potted specimen of Bhut Jolokia, a scorchingly hot chilli pepper, through winter, the thought of its next crop engenders excitement.