Tips and advice on garden care in January
A new month and a new year, January is the time to make a fresh start. A time to take stock and plan ahead for another year.
There’s always something to do in January and because now is the only bit of slack in the gardening year, make the most of it and carry out some maintenance and do any clearing up around the shed, and garden so that things are shipshape by the time the serious gardening season starts again.
Recycle your real Christmas tree
A great way to start the year off on the right foot is to shred your real Christmas tree and use it as a mulch to the top layer of your soil. This helps to reduce weed growth and preserve the soil’s moisture later on in the season. It also saves a trip to the local dump.
January focus: Plan your veg patch
If you’ve already done your winter digging (that’s digging or forking over bare patches of ground, mixing in compost and organic matter as you go), and if you’re in a mild location with well-drained soil, you can cover the soil with black polythene or old carpet to warm it up ready for sowing early vegetables and salads in spring. If you haven’t done any winter digging, do it this month or next.
Plan out your vegetable patch on paper before working out what seed to buy so you don’t over or under buy too much of the same plant.
Think about the four main crop groups - root veg, brassicas, legumes (that’s peas and beans) and leafy salads.
Plan to plant vegetables from each of the groups in their own patch and then rotate them each year. This is the best way to avoid lots of root pests and disease build up.
Get a head start for a new growing year by finding out more with our guide: How to ready the garden to grow vegetables, fruit & herbs.
Keep canes strong
Give garden canes and wooden plant stakes a coat of preservative. Half fill a metal bucket or old tin can with wood preservative and stand the canes up in them overnight so they soak up as much of the treatment as they can. Next day, turn them the other way around.
Garden jobs for January
General garden jobs
- Protect plants and containers from frost. Use horticultural fleece on tender plants in borders and wrap newspaper or bubble wrap around tubs, or move them into a porch, greenhouse or conservatory
- Keep paths clear of leaves and debris with a garden leaf blower or broom to prevent them from becoming slippery when wet and becoming a winter home for slugs and snails
- Clear out fallen leaves from greenhouse gutters
- If you’ve not done so already, insulate outdoor taps with a tap cover
- Clean, oil and sharpen the metal blades of garden tools; maintain mowers and other machinery, following the instructions in the user’s manual
- Grit paths when icy weather is forecast or sprinkle de-icing rock salt
- Give your lawn a winter boost. Spike it with a fork or hollow-tine lawn aerator and top dress with a thin layer of sharp sand and brush in with a broom. Do this for a couple of years and you’ll see a big improvement
Keep off the grass
It’s best to avoid walking on the lawn for as long as you can. Especially if you’re going to be walking the same route (such as going backwards and forward to the shed) over and over again. When grass is wet or frosty, it’s more likely to get damaged and it won’t be able to repair itself until spring. If it’s not easy to keep off your grass, dig in some stepping stones to make an attractive walkway. Pace them out so it’s easy for the smallest steps in the household to use.
Trees, shrubs and climbers
- If it’s been snowing, brush snow off conifers, large evergreens and hedges as quickly as possible to avoid the branches splaying or breaking
- Prune wisteria by removing half of last year’s growth, leaving just 2 or 3 buds per stem
- Plant early flowers like snowdrops to help attract early bees and pollinating insects – bulbs will already have been planted out, but you can buy potted snowdrops in store now that are ready to flower
- Deadhead winter bedding plants like pansies and violas to encourage more flowers
- Prune roses while they are dormant. Use sharp secateurs to cut back to just above an outward facing bud. Remove any dead or diseased branches and any which are crossing or rubbing
- If it’s not too wet or frozen, bare-rooted roses can be planted in borders. Read our guide on How to plant bare-root roses for more tips
Pots and container plants
- Add winter colour to pots and containers with winter bedding including cyclamen, primroses and pansies. Space the plants more closely together than you would with spring or summer bedding as they won’t grow as much in winter
- Wrap unglazed terracotta pots with horticultural fleece or bubble wrap to protect them from frost damage and cracking
- Pick off any yellowing leaves from Brussels sprouts
- Leeks can be left in the soil over winter and pulled out when required
- Place plant netting over cabbages, kale and sprouts to protect them from pigeons
- Feed spring cabbages with a high-nitrogen fertiliser
- Once you’ve given the greenhouse a clean and tidy, sow early crop tomatoes, leeks, broad beans, hardy peas, spinach and carrots
- Check your stored fruit and remove any that are showing signs of disease or rot
- Don’t be tempted to prune cherry or plum trees at this time of the year, wait until the summer
Prune standard apple and pear trees
Cut out any shoots that cross over each other, rub together in windy weather, are dead, diseased or dying or that point back into the middle of the tree instead of outwards. When cutting a shoot, go right back to the point where it grows out of a thicker branch and cut it very nearly flush. This will result in bigger, better-quality fruit that develops more flavour and colour.
- Before you fill your greenhouse with lots of lovely seedlings and new plants for spring, give your greenhouse a good clean up and tidy out. If it’s made of glass, clean down the panes with some glass cleaner, if it’s a polycarbonate, use warm water with an outdoor disinfectant – doing this will also let in more light
- Keep an eye on the greenhouse - brush off heavy snow, check the temperature regularly and adjust the heater thermostat, if necessary, to maintain frost-free conditions
- Water plants sparingly
- Wash pots and seed trays
- Harvest stored fruit and vegetables from the shed
- If your greenhouse is frost-free or heated, sow seeds of houseplants, tuberous begonias, pelargoniums, tender perennials and slow germinating greenhouse exotics
- A frozen pond is a beautiful sight, but if it freezes you will need to make a hole in the ice so that pond life can survive. Remember, don’t crack the ice with a hammer. Instead, try standing a saucepan of hot water on the ice until it melts its way through
- Don’t feed the fish until the weather warms up. As a general rule, goldfish and koi should only be fed when the water temperature rises reliably above 10 degrees
- Birds remain active and so it’s important to keep feeding and providing fresh water for them. If the weather is severe, feed the birds twice a day to give them a better chance of survival. Suet-based fat balls will help them maintain their fat reserves
- Check your bird boxes and remove any old nesting material. Clean the inside of the box with boiling hot water to kill parasites before reattaching securely back into position