Garden column: Audley End growing season preparations should just be starting

Rhubarb at Audley End

Rhubarb at Audley End - Credit: Archant

Happy New Year! January is a peaceful month and usually a fairly quiet time in the garden.

Make the most of this spell to continue with garden planning and prep ready for the start of the growing season.

There are of course still a selection of garden jobs that can be tackled if the conditions are suitable-

- Use this month to prune your freestanding apple or pear trees. Pruning ensures a good cycle of fruiting wood. Trees that are not pruned become less productive and congested with old branches. The aim is to create an open goblet shape with a framework of four to five main branches.

- Snails and Slugs will be hiding amongst leaf debris so clear and tidy any remaining fallen leaves from under shrubs and hedges.

- As long as your perennials still look good and are still standing then leave them alone. However, it is likely that following a number of recent frosts some will have faded and need some attention. Cut back to the ground and take this opportunity to cover with a mulch as this will give good winter protection.

- Start forcing rhubarb. This simple process provides an earlier harvest of sweeter stems that don’t need peeling. For forcing outdoors, cover plants with a container or large pot to exclude the light. Place the cover over the rhubarb as soon as it begins to show signs of growth.

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- Keep bird feeders topped up. At this time of year, put out food and water on a regular basis. In severe weather, feed twice daily if you can: in the morning and in the early afternoon. Birds require high energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights.

The garden and grounds at Audley End continue to be open at weekend so please do come along, stretch the legs and see what the garden team have been getting up to!