Gardeners’ Blog – January 2017

Happy New Year from the gardeners at Birmingham Botanical Gardens!

Now that Christmas is over, we will start to see what needs doing as the Magical Lantern display is removed. The Festival was a new venture for us, so we really have no idea what the grounds will look like once the displays have been dismantled!

As much of a big job as it may seem now, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve already aerated some of the lawn by plunging a garden fork into the ground repeatedly at close quarters to allow water and air back into the sod. This will hopefully help the grass recover – if not we will be reseeding later in the year, but no long-lasting damage to worry about.

During January, the indoor team will be busy doing the annual pruning of the canopy in the Tropical House. We do this for several reasons:

  1. Removing the growth produced during last spring in summer gives us more light during the winter for the plants (bearing in mind they are used to having 12 hours of daylight every day of the year in the wild!).
  2. It also helps with heating bills, as the sun can warm the glasshouse by solar gain.
  3. It removes dead growth and leaves from the autumn and makes the glasshouse look tidier.
  4. It encourages new flowering growth for next spring and summer.
  5. It enables people to walk through the glasshouse with ease.

If you’re planning your visit to the Gardens in January, you’re in for a real treat. Snowdrops should be starting to flower, and the viburnums, lonicera and hamamelis will be covering the Gardens with beautiful colour and scent. Some of the scents are quite subtle, unless you get really close – so be brave and put your nose right in amongst the flowers – there’s no danger of being stung by a bee at this time of year!

If your New Year’s resolution is to spend more time in the garden but you don’t know where to start, we’ve come up with a few of our top jobs for January:

January Gardening Tips

Time to pot your Christmas Amaryllis

If you have received any Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) for Christmas, now is the time to pot them up. It is better to soak them in tepid water for 24 hours before potting in a compost consisting of John Innes No.2, leaf mould and silver sand in equal parts. This is a porous mix and is important for good root development. When putting the compost mix in the pot, place it in a cone shape and sit the bulb on top and spread the roots outwards and downwards. This technique will ensure that once you have added compost on top of the roots, about half of the bulb is exposed to prevent rotting. Warm compost and roots (18C / 64F) initiates growth, so a place on a mantelpiece or coffee table is ideal. Once the flower buds have appeared, move to a sunny windowsill and water occasionally with tepid water.

Cut off your hellebore leaves

If you haven’t cut them off already, do so now so that the new flowers will be seen and reduce the chance of getting black spot. It is also the time to cut back any vines you may have, before the sap starts rising – as cutting back when the sap is rising can have devastating effects.

Apply compost

If the weather is mild we will be applying homemade compost to our shrub beds and borders. This will protect the soil from freezing, add nutrients back into the soil that may have been leached out over the winter and helps keep down weeds. We will also be checking our winter protection around our precious plants.

Protect your prize plants!

Forgotten to protect something important? If the weather is not freezing you can still put horticultural fleece or bubble wrap around and over the shrubs. Pots can be moved closer to walls and grouped together to gain protection. The whole group can then be fleeced or bubble wrapped. Don’t pack too closely or densely as water needs to drain out, you don’t want to create conditions were the plants can become mouldy. If the weather is freezing you would be wise not to cover the plant as you would be trapping the frost in the insulating material, wait for a thaw before doing anything.

And if you think it’s too late…

If you think you may have lost a plant to the cold, don’t be in a rush to cut it back or take it out. Plants can be very resilient and it may grow back from buds further down the stem – just wait and see. If the plant does reshoot, cut the dead off back to the new growth when there is no chance of any more frosts. Some plants can take the best part of a year to show signs of growth.

Check your tree stakes

If you’ve planted any shrubs or trees in the autumn, now would be a good time to check that tree stakes and ties are still doing their job and that the soil has not heaved in the frost. If the soil has moved carefully re-compact it with the heel of your foot.

Remember: snow can put an unnecessary strain on your shrubs

And finally, if it snows make a point of going around your shrubs, trees and hedges, knocking the snow off so that the weight does not damage the plant. A layer of snow on flowerbeds and borders is however a good thing as it is a perfect insulator keeping your soil slightly warmer than the air.


That’s it from us this month. Next month, we’ll be looking at how to care for your garden throughout February.