The festive season is behind us and we’ve enjoyed the warmest New Year’s day on record. Although the days are slowly getting longer, they can still seem gloomy and dark. If your garden looks a bit neglected, grab your hat and gloves, it’s time to head outside and beat the January blues!
Here’s a list of what to do in the garden in January:
1. Tidy up
Clear leaves from paths and decking. Leaves can be added to your compost bin or bagged up to create leaf mould. Make a few holes to allow some air to circulate and leave Mother Nature to do the work for you. When you pot up new plants early in the summer, add some of this organic leaf mould to the soil. It should be crumbly in texture and well-rotted.
Decking can be scrubbed to get rid of moss and algae and check pots for moss and weeds to get them spring-ready too.
Prune back any leggy plants and branches overhanging paths. Prune roses, remove old brown stems and leaves and compost them. Annuals can be completely removed to make space for this year’s plants. One word of caution; do not cut back hydrangea heads as the flowers offer some protection against frost. Prune these later in the spring when the frost risk is over.
Protect delicate plants if the weather forecast is really harsh. Use fleece, bubble wrap or even old tablecloths if snow is predicted. These will provide enough warmth to protect plants temporarily. Remove protection after the snow has melted or the frost has retreated.
Wash plant pots. Plant pots can be rinsed thoroughly in preparation for your spring seedlings. Allow them to dry and then stack them up tidily in time for planting.
Paint garden furniture and sheds. On a dry day, you can paint furniture and varnish (or treat) wooden tables, benches and sheds to prevent rot and cracking.
Clean and oil tools. Shears, pruners, saws, secateurs, trowels, forks and spades will all benefit from a thorough cleaning. Oil tools with moving parts to keep them in good condition. Sharpen any cutting surfaces, give them a few drops of oil and make sure to check the hosepipe and automatic watering system for any leaks.
Give your lawn some TLC. Don’t cut the grass until it starts growing again is the first golden rule. Rake up fallen leaves to allow the grass to have full access to light, and then pack them into leaf mould bags. Dig out any moss as soon as you spot it. You can also tidy up the edges using a sharp edging tool.
2. Re-design, move plants and order seeds
Now it all looks neat and tidy, think about what worked well last year and which areas could do with a re-think. If you keep a gardening diary, have a look at the photos from last year and then choose seeds for summer. If you don’t keep a diary of the garden, I thoroughly recommend this as a new year’s resolution.
You can write notes about areas that worked well and add pictures. On a wet January day, this provides me with a visual memory of last year and brings back the warmth of summer. It’s well worth recording ideas about companion plants, which plants the butterflies liked or effective planting combinations.
3. Fertilise fruit trees and flower beds
Get composting. After a long, wet December, my compost bin is full! It contains fallen leaves, vegetable peelings and leftovers; a treasure trove of goodness ready to spread on the garden. Fruit trees will really benefit from a layer of compost now, helping them grow well through the next fruiting season. Apple, pear, plum, cherry and apricot trees all need a layer of compost about 2 inches thick spread around their roots. They will reward you later in the year with luscious fruit.
Frost protection. A top layer of compost will also protect your delicate plants from really cold weather. Dahlias will survive in the ground provided there is a thick layer of mulch over the top. As well as providing insulation in cold weather, compost will enrich your soil year on year, adding nutrients (and worms) and building fertility and natural balance.
Strawberry beds can be weeded, then spread a layer of compost over these too. It’s a great time to pot up strawberry runners as well. These are the tiny seedlings that develop on long stems away from the mother plant. Just place a small pot of compost next to the main plant and pot the runner into it. It helps if you weigh down the stem with a stone to keep the roots in the pot. When roots develop, you can cut this plant away from its mother and re-plant into its permanent position in spring.
4. Get the greenhouse ready!
There’s nothing like a good clean of the greenhouse to make you feel that spring is just around the corner. Remove old tomatoes and cucumbers and any other plant remains from last year. Ensure any moss is removed too and clean the windows.
As well as making you feel good, cleaning helps to remove disease, not forgetting any lurking slugs and snails who like the warmer temperature indoors. Remove the lot to your compost heap.
More on this: 13 Ideas for Growing Greenhouse Winter Vegetables
5. Protect your trees
Wrap your fruit trees with sticky bands to trap any climbing bugs and generally protect them from pests. Prune any overhanging branches so that storm damage is limited.
If it snows, remove snow from branches that look likely to break. Keep delicate trees (like citrus and olive) indoors until there is no danger of frost damage.
6. Plant salads in the greenhouse and hardy seeds outside
Indoors: We still have a fair bit of winter to get through before we can plant outside but many salads planted now will germinate, provided the temperature is high enough. I planted mustard seeds in my greenhouse before Christmas and they are already growing. Lettuce and coriander will usually grow well this time of year, provided they are not planted outdoors in cold, wet soil.
Outdoors: You can plant onions, broad beans, peas and garlic now. All of these like rich, nutritious soil so weed well before planting and dig in some manure and compost to give them a good start.
7. Switch on your heated propagator
If you have a greenhouse, then start a heated propagator in there and get planting tomatoes, cucumbers and even aubergines towards the end of the month. Provided the frost is kept outside seeds will respond to heat.
A sunny windowsill will also give seeds a head start. Herbs like parsley and basil prefer warm weather to germinate, so extra heat may persuade them to germinate early. That way, these early herbs can be planted in your greenhouse by March and by April, you can have a good selection of spring greens.
8. Weed and plant spring bulbs
If you’ve already got spring bulbs planted, then weed the topsoil around them carefully. Hardy bulbs can be planted, provided the ground isn’t frozen so choose some bulbs in your local garden store and start planting snowdrops, daffodils and tulips. The first to appear will be snowdrops, then multi-coloured crocuses, followed by grape hyacinths. Before you know it, daffodils will poke their cautious shoots above ground and we can look forward to a dash of yellow.
What will grow in my fruit and vegetable garden in January?
Broad beans and peas are hardy and providing the soil is friable enough to plant seeds, they won’t mind a bit of cold weather.
Garlic needs cold weather! When I lived in Hungary, the first thing people asked me on my return to work after the festive season was “have you planted your garlic?”. They told me that frost and snow actually improve the flavour so get planting now. Just separate a garlic bulb into individual cloves and plant each one. By June, your cloves will have made a whole new bulb. Great for younger gardeners!
Brassicas and leeks: If you planted these last year, then now’s the time to weed any overwintering cabbages, cauliflower or winter sprouting broccoli and firm up the ground around them as brassicas like to be sturdy. Removing any weeds gives vegetables like leeks a better chance to produce thick stems. Sprouts and cabbages will continue to grow in this period.
How can gardeners help our natural world in January?
We all know the disastrous statistics about climate change but there are many ways gardeners can give Mother Nature a helping hand.
Plant a tree
Who hasn’t heard the advice about planting trees? Do your bit by planting one. Even if you only have containers, many trees will grow well. Bay trees are fabulous in pots as it restricts their size and you can pick bay leaves regularly. Hang them to dry before using them.
Fruit trees grafted onto rooting stock mean their height will be limited so a large pot will allow you to pick cherries or apples providing that you keep adding a top layer of compost each spring and autumn, to nourish the growth.
If you have garden space, then choose a tree that looks good in all seasons. Hazelnuts produce delightful catkins in spring, then abundant foliage followed by a colourful leaf show in autumn with a harvest of tasty nuts to pick.
- Compost waste. If you don’t compost your food waste, you’re missing out on a valuable resource. Buy yourself a compost bin or make your own.
- Save water – if you don’t have a water butt then buy one. Saving rainwater is fabulous for the garden and plants and it also saves you money. You can divert bathroom water to a water butt which really helps in summer when water is needed. Use washing-up water to keep the lawn green.
- Allow a wilder area so that wildflowers can find a space to grow. This will encourage pollinating insects and you can enjoy butterflies right through the growing season. Hedgehogs like wild places and will eat those slugs and snails that nibble your delicate plants so win, win!
- Plant a bee and butterfly garden. Pollinators adore tasty herbs, colourful blooms and powerfully scented plants. Add lavender, nasturtiums, bee balm, and scented herbs like thyme and rosemary. Mullein can double up as support for climbing beans and its flower spikes will be the envy of your neighbourhood. Nasturtiums are great (edible) companion plants to divert the pests away from your vegetables.
- Re-use plant pots and support systems or make your own. Children will love to help with these creative ideas:
- Make holes in yoghurt pots and use them to plant seeds.
- Paint peanut butter containers and repurpose old jars as waterproof plant holders.
- Use empty toilet roll holders to plant seeds with long roots (like sweetpeas, beans or sweetcorn).
- Don’t buy new canes – use tree cuttings or recycle an unused swing frame into a bean pole support.
- Stack old tyres and use them as plant pots.