January is the middle of the dormant season when bare rooted deciduous trees and shrubs can be planted. These plants have been dug up straight from nursery beds and have no soil around the roots, therefore they can usually be brought much more cheaply than their container grown counterparts, at this time of year. Using bare rooted stock is an ideal way of stocking-up a new garden, especially when planting deciduous hedges and fruit trees. However, they can only be planted during the winter months, when the plants are dormant.
Although more expensive, the advantage of container grown plants is that they can be planted at any time of the year, provided the ground is in an easily cultivated state, and not frozen or sodden.
Bare root roses and shrubs can be planted now, if the weather is mild. Don't try it if the ground is waterlogged or frozen; especially with roses, as they detest waterlogged soil. If conditions are bad heel the plants in until the weather improves or keep the plants in their original packaging, in a frost-free shed or garage. If roots arrive bare and not covered, wrap the roots in sacking or cover in dry compost.
For planting, choose a spot with well-drained soil, then dig in plenty of rotted garden compost or manure, and a small handful of bonemeal or granulated fertilizer. Give the plants a good soaking, by submerging in a bucket of water for about an hour or so, and cut off any damaged roots with sharp secateurs.
Dig the hole wide enough for the roots to be spread out horizontally. Position the plant so that the stem is just beneath the soil, about 2.5cm (1 in) down; using the old soil level mark on the stem as a guide. Shovel some soil into the hole, and give the plant a gentle shake to settle soil between the roots so that no air pockets remain. Add more soil, firming as you go, checking that the stem is still at the correct level.
Once planted, cut out any dead, weak or damaged wood from the plant. If you are planting a bush rose, prune the stems hard back to three or four buds from the base. Make the cut just above an outward pointing bud. Tall plants should be staked to ensure the roots are not rocked about in the wind.
If you buy or receive bare-rooted material or root-wrapped plants and the weather is poor or the soil conditions make it impossible to plant, simply dig out a trench in a sheltered spot and stand the plants in it. Then carefully replace the soil, treading it down firmly over the roots. This is called 'heeling in'. The plants can remain in this location for the rest of the winter, if need be.
If any trees or shrubs are showing signs of suffering from either the cold or severe winds, you must protect them now. The foliage of conifers and evergreens that have been damaged by the cold will go brown. In addition, strong winds can rock and lift the roots or even blow them over. This can be prevented by staking trees and tall shrubs. However, to avoid damaging the roots, the stake should be driven in at an angle, with the top pointing into the prevailing wind.
Bushy shrubs, young evergreens and small conifers are best protected by surrounding them with a net windbreak. Newly planted specimens are especially susceptible to chilling winds. Fine gauge netting, stretched round sturdy stakes, can be used to protect them from the worst effects of cold.
Any heavy snow that falls on trees and shrubs, especially evergreens and conifers, should be shaken off to stop it from pulling branches out of shape or even breaking them. However, light snowfalls are best left on all plants because the snow will act as a blanket against the cold.
For information on pruning fruit trees visit the January Fruit page.
Continue to protect any containerised plants in exposed positions from frost. Other shrubs, such as camellias and early-flowering rhododendrons, although perfectly hardy, after a mild spell the developing flowers are easily vulnerable to frosts at this time of year. If the shrubs are not too big, surround them with horticultural fleece, or a layer of newspaper or straw held in place with wire mesh.
Erica herbacea (E. carnea), are a reliable winter flowering heather that is available in a wide range of flower and foliage colours. Unlike many standard heathers it can tolerate slightly alkaline soils.
Winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) looks best tied to a support or grown up trellis rather than left to sprawl. It flowers throughout the winter months and is easy to grow in any soil.
Shrubby dogwoods can be grown to display their colourful stems, adding much needed winter structure and colour. Good choices include the red stemmed Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and the yellow-stemmed Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea'.
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Cornus alba Sibirica & Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' (dogwoods)
Daphne (mezereum, laureola, odora)
Erica and its many cultivars
Garrya elliptica (catkins)
Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus)
Viburnum (Farreri and Bondnantense)
Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima and purpusii)
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
Witch hazel (Hamamelis)
Common Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Winter colour augmented by conifers and evergreens with variegated foliage.
Winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)