January Jobs in the Garden

Grab the New Year by both gardening gloves! Melcourt’s technical director Catherine Dawson shows you how to plant a tree, take root cuttings and get mulching

January. A new year with all the hope and promise that it brings – this year more than ever.

Many of us were thankful for the sanctuary of our gardens throughout 2020. Our vegetables patches and patio gardens were a place where the world hadn’t turned upside-down and the seasons came and went as normal. The routine gardening jobs still needed doing, the weeds kept emerging and the lawn still needed mowing. Thank heaven for gardening normality!

We start the year with renewed vigour, raring to get sowing and growing. But with cold weather and short days, what can we do?


Melcourt blog Jan young birch tree (1)


Plant a tree

Winter is the ideal time to plant fruit and deciduous ornamental trees. Bare root versions are a great choice. They are easier to establish and will flourish come spring. You can find a lovely selection of bare root trees at Frank P Matthews Tree Shop.

Potted trees will also be easier to establish if planted in the winter, as long as your soil isn’t soaking wet or frozen. Spend time researching varieties suitable for your local climate, soil type and available space. This is a long term project and time spent now will repay huge dividends over the years.

A few tips on tree planting:

  • Ensure the roots are well-hydrated before planting. If in doubt, place the root ball in a bucket of water for half-an-hour before planting.
  • My top tip for planting anything in the garden is prepare the planting hole well. Dig a hole at least twice the width of the root ball, but no deeper than the depth of the roots. Take care not to smear the sides or base of the hole. Clay soils can be susceptible to this, and it can impede water movement and potentially discourage root growth beyond the hole.
  • Think about a gradual integration with the garden soil with no sudden changes from one medium to the next. Adding compost is not always necessary but on my very dry, light soil, I like to add some organic matter which helps the soil stay moist and resist drought. SylvaGrow Organic is ideal, with its slowly available nutrients and added seaweed meal. One-part compost blended with four-parts soil is all that’s required.
  • Fill around the tree roots to the same level on the stem as the previous soil. Firm but don’t compact, and add a short stake if necessary.
  • Keep bare root trees well-watered – those bought in containers are particularly susceptible to drought in their first year. Help retain moisture by finishing off with a mulch such as SylvaBark Pine Bark Flakes.



Take root cuttings

Everyone seems to have learnt a new language or taken up an instrument during lockdown. Don’t be disheartened! How about learning a valuable gardening skill?

Root cuttings are a brilliant way to fill up the gaps in your borders – for free. Plants that naturally sucker do well from root cuttings. But many herbaceous perennials, such as phlox and Japanese Anemone – those with large fleshy roots – are suitable for this method and even some woody plants. I’m going to take cuttings of my Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa) this winter.

Here’s how I like to take root cuttings:

  • Either lift the plant or excavate the soil around the roots. Choose pencil thick roots and cut them into 5-10cm lengths. The sections closest to the plant will be best. Leave plenty of roots on the mother plant and replant as soon as possible.
  • Remove any side roots, then lay the root horizontally on the surface of a seed tray filled with SylvaGrow Multi-Purpose.
  • Cover with a couple of centimetres of compost or some Melcourt Potting Grit. Water well, then place in a sheltered spot out of direct sunlight – a cold frame is ideal.



Apply organic matter to your borders and raised beds

Our newly reformulated SylvaGrow Farmyard is a lovely material to add to your soil. A by-product of renewable energy production, it’s made from maize and rye crops which are specifically grown for energy.

It works just like farmyard manure, adding slow-release nutrients and essential organic matter, enriching the soil and enhancing its performance. Fully-approved by the Soil Association as an ‘organic input’, it is also suitable for use by vegan gardeners. So get spreading! Used as a mulch or dug in, it will  bring immense benefits to your soil’s fertility.


Finally if you missed our recent video from our last post, you’ll learn about planting Amaryllis and it’s another great job you can do in the Garden this January.