One of the tricks with gardening in January is to remember that it is the midwinter.
Yes, I did type that one correctly.
Although December has the Winter Solstice, and we often refer to this as Midwinter, December is the first of the winter months.
Meteorologically speaking, winter begins in December 1st and finishes on March 31st. Astronomically speaking, the season begins with the Winter Solstice. Either way, that makes January the middle month of winter.
This January gardening tasks and design ideas article is based on some of the topics we would cover in Plews Gardening Lessons. Particularly in the Year in Your Garden Course, where there is time to consider the reasons why certain things are done when they are. As well as learn and apply the practical tasks, of course.
Gardening in January – Digging
January is traditionally the digging month. But with the likely issues of sodden soil and soil rock hard with frost, you may be limited in how much digging you are able to do!
Instead, go round the garden and consider whether you need to dig as much of your flower borders and vegetable patch as you had first thought. It may be that planning an application of mulch next autumn would be better for your soil. For example, around permanent plantings of shrubs there is little need to dig.
If however, your garden soil and the weather are fit, digging can be a useful occupation.
Gardening in January – Pruning
Pruning of many trees, fruit trees and shrubs is a useful January gardening job. Not when its frosty all day of course. Then it would be damaging to the plant.
The trick is to know which trees and shrubs should be pruned in January.
- Most deciduous trees – unless they are not fully hardened off to the British climate. (wait another year)
- Apple and pear trees – not the trained cordon forms, but the ’usual’ bush form. Be sure you know if the tree bears fruit on the tips of branches or on spurs.
- Climbing shrubs –grape vines and wisteria benefit from a winter prune. They should be pruned when the plant is dormant or they ‘bleed’ sap.
Gardening in January – Plant Propagation
Hardwood cuttings from trees and shrubs can be taken this month. Perhaps this is one for the intermediate gardening lesson!
But anyone can sort through the boxful of seed packets. Go through the old packets, checking they’re still in date if unopened. If opened, you could check for viability. The method for this can be found on this seeds blog.
Organise your new seeds as they arrive, along with the old ones. Use dividers with dates to separate the packets and show when seeds should be sown.
Gardening in January – Winter Flowers and Flowering Shrubs
Do you have them? Are you enjoying them? Or would you like them?
Snowdrops, Galanthus. Look out for Snowdrop days end of January – beginning February. Known as milk flowers they do possess a delicate scent.
Winter aconite, Eranthus hyemalis is a snow hardy flower with yellow petals for a spark of sunshine. Hellebores, Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose, are another reliable winter flower.
These first two winter flowering shrubs have scented flowers. You could cut sprays and take them indoors and have rooms filled with perfume. Wintersweet, Chimonanthes praecox, and the winter flowering Honeysuckle, Lonicera purpusii are delightful. They’re also excellent at attracting and feeding winter pollinating insects.
For an acid soil, Witch hazel, Hamamelis adds a spice of orange to the garden. Then there are winter flowering Rhododendrons, for example, Christmas Cheer.
Need more planting inspiration for winter? Have a look at our suggestions for ten winter flowering shrubs.
Gardening in January – the Edible Garden
There’s a surprising amount of action happening in and around the edible garden.
For example, stored roots and fruit need to be checked regularly. They will only store for a certain amount of time after harvesting. Winter squash, pumpkins, are one of the longest to store, often right through till March.
Harvesting the crops still in the ground. If slugs are not a problem, you may still be lifting carrots, potatoes and so on when you need them. Chard, sprouts and perpetual spinach will all still be standing proud, for you to cut and harvest.
What else is there to do? Have you been forcing rhubarb so as to enjoy an early crumble? The young shoots should be checked.
Bare root fruit trees – Your garden soil may be too wet or frosted for you to plant your bare root rose bushes and fruit trees. You may not even be able to heel them in (temporarily plant). If so, keep the plants in a frost-free shed or garage, in the loosened packing material, till the ground defrosts or dries out sufficiently.
Chitting potatoes – or does this come under propagation? If space is limited choose heritage or unusual varieties. We particularly love the flavour of pink fir apple and salad blue.
Gardening in January – Garden Tools
Review your garden tools, both hand tools and power tools. You have the time this month!
Take your lawn mower for its service before the real rush starts. (All those gardeners who did this before Christmas may have an extra shortbread biscuit).
Oil and sharpen your hand tools – Nathan has written a helpful ‘how to’ blog on this topic.
Does your spade give you backache? Perhaps it’s too tall, too short or too heavy for you. Or perhaps you need a review of your digging technique…
Gardening in January – Wildlife in your Garden
Keeping garden birds fed is critical. Fat balls and seeds high in protein are the best winter warmers for our native winter birds. Remember to keep bird feeders topped up and provide a source of unfrozen water for the birds to drink.
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch occurs on the last weekend of January. This annual survey by members of the public provides a critical snapshot of birds and small animals in our parks and gardens. Why not join in? check out the RSPB website for details.
Hedgehogs tend to hibernate between November – March. As do many pollinating insects. But there are some winter hardy bees around. Bumble bees, particularly the buff-tailed bumblebee, will keep active over winter. Providing a food source in the form of winter flowering shrubs is a good idea.
Gardening in January – Greenhouses and Cold Frames
Disappearing to the greenhouse or garden shed can be a pleasant (and warm!) retreat for the gardener in January. Take the opportunity to check on your overwintering tender plants; sweep the floor and have a bit of a tidy up. Winter rain may have left dirt on the roof. Give the glass panes a clean with a gentle spray from a hose pipe to maximise the sunlight coming through.
You could bring in a potato grow bag and plant some salad potatoes. The extra warmth in the greenhouse will give the crop a boost and you should be able to harvest early earlies.
Did you put any spring flowering bulbs in the greenhouse? In their pots that is. This is another means of spreading your pleasure from the flowers. The extra warmth will encourage earlier flowering than those left outside in pots and borders.
Gardening in January
What else? Well, there are plenty of necessary chores and pleasant indulgences still to do and enjoy. If you would like more inspiration and help, perhaps gardening lessons may be the answer? Dropping us an email to ask doesn’t commit you to standing in a freezing cold garden just yet!
And there is always the option of sitting down with a cup of tea and reading Plews Winter Garden eBook or wending your way through Plews Potting Shed gardening blog archive. We suggest some below to get you started.
Enjoy your garden!
Related Gardening Blogs you may enjoy
Six New Year’s Resolutions for Your Garden
Garden Planning – Your New Year’s Resolution for Your Garden
So What Might a Plews Gardening Lesson Be Like?
Garden visits – Chartwell, Winter
Snowy Winter Gardens