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HOME FRONT: The greenhouse effect; Gardening advice with Roy Treherne Horticultural Consultant for Wyevale Garden Centres; Think January's a quiet month? Think again...

Byline: Roy Treherne

CONTRARY to popular opinion January is a busy month. While the weather can be severe, there are still plenty of jobs to be done and winterflowering plants to enjoy.

Q I want to start growing some vegetables and salads this year. Is January too early to start?

ANSWER: It rather depends on what equipment you have! By which I mean that it is perfectly possible to start off some vegetables now providing you have some means of warming the soil. Vegetables such as broad beans, potatoes and lettuce can be started now if you have a greenhouse as they will benefit from the warmth, shelter and light. However if your garden is not big enough for a greenhouse you can still get growing.

Invest in some cloches. Cloches can either be plastic or glass and the glass ones are now more shatter resistant. If your budget won't stretch to glass then plastic tent cloches are perfectly adequate or try Haxnicks easy poly tunnel from Wyevale,it is perfect for the job and costs just pounds 16.99.

Cover your ground several weeks before you plan to plant to give the soil beneath time to warm up, so I would recommend getting that job done as soon as possible.

Sowing your seeds early in this way should give them a two-week head start over other crops. You can even plant several crops at fortnightly intervals to stagger your harvest and elongate your growing season.

Q What can I do to improve the appearance of the garden at this time of year?

ANSWER Well the first and most basic thing to suggest is to go around and clear up any remaining autumn leaves. These can look very untidy particularly in January when the rotting process is more advanced.

Once you have cleared the leaves, tackle the weeds. Check over all soil dug over last autumn and pull out any weeds that are poking through. If the soil is not too frozen it may also be worth giving your border or bed another dig over. This will expose weeds and also pests such as wireworms and cutworms to hungry birds.

Lightly hoe over the patch and finally cover with a layer of mulch such as bark chippings or coconut fibre. This not only improves the appearance of theborder but will also help to suppress weeds and keep some warmth in the soil.

Q I have a bare patch and would like to plant a winter-interest shrub.

Do you have any suggestions?

ANSWER One of my favourite shrubs at this time of year is the Garrya elliptica, or ``Silk-tassel bush'' as it is sometimes known. This graceful shrub produces long silver-grey catkins which drip elegantly from its branches and bring a real touch of style to the January garden. If you enjoy mild winters, it can be put in virtually any position. Elsewhere however it should be limited to a wall shrub so that it receives some protection.

Another overlooked winter interest shrub is Skimmia japonica. This tough evergreen shrub likes the shade and produces a beautiful display of red berries on female plants providing that male plants are grown nearby. It has glossy, deep green, leathery leaves and will tolerate almost any conditions including coastal areas and acid soils. Try Skimmia japonica Reevesiana which is a hermaphrodite form and will set up its own berries.

So don't make the mistake of believing that the garden is sleeping during January, there is plenty of preparation and protecting to be done at this time.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 4, 2003
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