Plants and birds feel the effects of frost too by Andrew Trott

There is not much to do in the gardens at this time of the year so preparing the fruit trees for spring will be one of the main tasks this month. Pruning is the first thing to do, so start by cutting out any dead or diseased wood. Clear out any excess branches or twigs that are growing inward towards the middle of the tree, so as to open up the tree into a vase shape. This will allow more sunlight into the middle of the tree and create a better airflow. Trim the tree down to a reasonable height for your section, and to allow easier picking of the fruit. Some of the larger branches that have been cut back may require a dab of sealing paste on the cut face to prevent infection or pests from entering the wound. After pruning, and when there are a couple of fine days forecast, spray the fruit trees with Condy’s Crystals. Mix one teaspoon of Condy’s Crystals in 5 litres of water and give the trees a good soaking. Spray the ground around the base of the trees too as this will help to kill off nasties that may be over-wintering in the soil.

A couple of weeks later spray the fruit trees again, but this time with a mix of copper oxychloride and spraying oil. You can also add a wetting agent to this mixture to help fix the spray to the fruit trees and to prevent it being washed off in the first shower. Then spray with this mix every three weeks until bud-burst.

Protect the lemon tree from frost damage by either draping it with a frost cloth or by spraying it with an organic wax-based liquid frost cloth. This spray should be applied every 3 or 4 weeks, until the danger of frosts has passed. I find the liquid spray to be much easier to use than frost cloth. It is an awkward operation to get frost cloth over the lemon tree and when it is in place the corners should be weighted down or the frost cloth can be blown off.

Over winter the wild birds struggle to find enough food to keep them going. We have a birdfeeder that attracts lots of sparrows whenever we put out a few handfuls of birdseed. Over winter I also make “dripping & birdseed cakes” for the waxeyes and hang them in onion bags in the fruit trees. The waxeyes just love these cakes. You can make your own cakes by melting a tub of dripping in a saucepan then pouring the melted dripping into two empty dripping tubs, half in each. Or you can use empty honey tubs. Let the two tubs cool a little and pour in a tablespoon of birdseed. As the mixture starts cooling add a couple of tablespoons of birdseed to try to layer the birdseed up through the cake. Let the tubs cool overnight, put the lids on and store them in the fridge until needed. When needed, just run a knife around the edge of the tub, pop the cake out, put it into a small onion sack and tie it up in a tree. If you cannot find any onion sacks then just put the cake onto a flat feeding surface that is safely out of reach of cats.