What can you do in your container garden or vertical allotment in January?
Here’s the first in a new, monthly series (In future to be published on the first or second Friday of the month, not at the end of the month!).
And if you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed by information, skip to the end of this update for some tips on the most important things you need to know.
What to do in January
Here are some useful jobs to do this month. None are critical to do now – but the more you get done now, the readier you will be for spring.
1. Dreaming and scheming
January is a month where little is growing. It’s perfect for dreaming about what you want to grow, planning where you’ll grow them, browsing seed catalogues, ordering seeds (to beat the spring rush), and going to seed swaps if you can find one near you.
2. Last chance (until the autumn) to plant bare rooted fruit trees
Apple, raspberry, pears, plums and blackcurrants can be bought as bare rooted trees (ie not in pots) at this time of year. This is the cheapest way to buy them and they are usually available until the end of February (bare rooted trees can only be transported and planted while they are dormant over winter). You’ll need big pots and patience to grow fruit trees successfully in containers (most take several years to fruit productively) but once established they can be productive (and attractive) for many years. Get your plants from a knowledgeable and well stocked fruit nursery who can advise you on the best varieties and root stocks for pots and your space. In the UK, mail order nurseries worth a look include Cool Temperate, the Agro Forestry Research Trust and Ken Muir.
3. Preparing your space.
Dry January days are a good chance to get out and tidy up your space, getting things ship shape for the season. There is no urgency at this time though, as little will be going out into your pots until March and April. It’s a nice time to potter, observe, and think about how to rearrange things. Also to try and find and clear out any crevices where slugs may hide!
4. DIY projects
Now is also a good time to build any constructions you will want for the new season – shelves, ladders etc. If you’re feeling adventurous you might try these self watering containers (and more DIY instructions coming to these pages soon!). Or perhaps some new shelves or a water butt.
A wee note of caution: be wary about undertaking any significant construction projects until you know your space well. When I first started growing, I spent hours building a huge wooden box on my balcony – only to discover that I’d built it in the shadiest spot on the whole balcony! I’d have been better off starting with a few easily movable plastic containers to learn more about where the sun is and what I really needed.
5. Harvest and water winter crops sparingly
If you’re growing winter crops, harvest them sparingly so that the plant can put on new growth when warmer weather comes. You also need to check for watering, it’s amazing how pots can dry out in winter (although this may unlikely in some parts of the UK at the moment!). Be careful not to water just before a very cold spell (you don’t want the water to freeze in the soil).
Tips for New Growers
Most crops are much easier to start off once the weather gets warmer in March, and even easier in April and May. So you still have loads of time! If you haven’t got a copy, I do recommend getting my ‘Art of Growing in Small Spaces‘ as this has all the essential info you need to get started.
A useful activity to start now is observing your space. Look for the bits that get most sun. Remember, though, that this will change a LOT as the sun gets higher in the sky in the spring and early summer – usually to your advantage. So don’t lose hope if your space is hardly getting any sun at the moment.
You can also start collecting together some pots (keep an eye on skips if you plan to go down the DIY route!) and if you have a chance to get your hands on some bags of good quality compost, take it!
The most important thing later this year will be to START. Be kind to yourself and keep it simple. All you need is a few pots of the right size, some good quality compost, and a few seeds or baby plants of crops you love to eat and that your space has enough sun to grow. Focus mainly on easy crops to grow like salads and herbs – or, easiest of all, pea shoots - but don’t feel you need to shy away from experimenting with one or two other crops – maybe tomatoes, runner beans or potatoes – if you fancy.
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