January in the garden
It's nice to start the new year in the garden and you'll find there's plenty to be done in early January, from herb sowing to tidying and mending. Let’s get started straight away to transform your garden for this year.
the cutting garden
sowing & growing
- If you haven't already sown your sweet peas, you can do this now under cover. Sown now, they'll give you earlier flowers in greater numbers and a longer season. All legumes, these included, thrive with a long root run, so deep pots or rootrainers are ideal. Water the compost and then push a pair of seeds in to about an inch below the surface. Cover with newspaper to keep moisture and warmth in and light out. Some heat will speed up germination, but is not essential. They'll germinate in about 10 days. Watch out for mice, they love them!
- Other flowers to sow now are Iceland poppies, cobaeas and cleomes. Cleomes are tricky for beginners, so follow the instructions carefully – and be patient, as they can take a long time to germinate.
- Start sowing hardy annuals, eg cerinthe, calendulas and nigella.
- Certain plants, such as antirrhinums, are grown as half-hardy annuals, but strictly speaking are tender perennials. They have a long growing season and can take up to 20 weeks from seed to flower. Get going soon with single coloured varieties such as 'Liberty Classic Crimson' or 'Giant White'. Seeds sown now should flower from June onwards. They germinate best in moist compost at around 21°C (70°F), so use a propagator or heated mat.
- By late January, growth is slowly starting so apply a slow release organic fertiliser.
- Take and root cuttings from perennials, eg phlox, oriental poppies and delphiniums.
bulbs & tubers
- Check forced bulbs for growth.
- Plant out bulbs forced for indoor flowering once they have finished flowering. Remove the spent flower heads to prevent seed production and feed them with a high potash fertiliser to help build up next year’s flower buds. Continue feeding regularly until the foliage has died back.
- Check your stored dahlias periodically for signs of disease or rot. Any that show signs should be removed from the rest to prevent it spreading. Any individual tubers infected can be cut from the main crown of the plant and the cut area dusted with flowers of sulphur.
Lovely things to pick and arrange from your garden in January:
- Bulbs: first snowdrops, aconites
- Perennials: Helleborus niger (Christmas rose)
- Shrubs and trees: Prunus autumnalis, early camellias, first hamamelis, sarcoccoca, pussy willow, hazel and alder catkins.
perennials, shrubs & trees
pruning & tidying
- Take a look outside. If you've had any recent snow, then it may have left everything looking a bit mucky and dishevelled. So, if it’s not too cold, go outside and have a good tidy up.
- Deadhead winter bedding (violas, pansies, polyanthus) to prolong flowering.
- Cut down old top-growth on your perennials and clear away any leaves that are resting on top of plants. Add these to your compost.
- Clear away dead growth from your old annual climbers, like sweet peas, cobaea and morning glory, but leave their roots in the ground.
- Prune your shrubs and trees. If you’re not sure how to do this, here are a few pointers, but do use a good gardening book to help you too:
- a) Use a good sharp pair of secateurs
- b) Cut just above a bud
- c) Cut out any crossing or rubbing stems
- d) Hard prune weak-looking stems and only lightly prune strong stems
- e) Cut out dead stubs or shoots, and remove them completely to their base.
- Keep on top of winter-germinating weeds. Early weeds such as bittercress and groundsel will germinate and grow fast in mild spells over the next few weeks. Tackle these as they appear with a hoe or rake.
- Remove tatty or large leaves from hellebores to make the flowers more visible.
- Cut back the old foliage from ornamental grasses before growth starts.
- Prune wisteria. Once wisteria become established, they can romp away if not kept in check. Prune in two stages – at this time of year, shoots are shortened to two or three buds along the lateral stems. In summer the long whippy growth is shortened. This way, you’ll contain the plant and get fantastic flowering.
- Prune roses while they are dormant. Cut back to just above an outward facing bud and remove any crossing or dead/diseased branches.
- Spread a layer of compost around shrubs and along the base of hedges.
- Be ready to knock snow from any plants bending under the weight, as it may snap or damage fragile branches.
the kitchen garden
Start thinking about all the veg you'd like to grow this year. Start making the must-have list of the things that you know taste better home grown and that you will look forward to eating. Try not to be unrealistic about what you can manage, or what you’ll actually get around to eating. Read our article on what veg to grow for more advice. You can then plan how and where you’re going to grow it all.
- Cover ground to keep out the wet.
- Sow Swiss chard under cover. You won’t regret it; once you get used to having this in your garden, you’ll wonder how you survived without it. You can use the stalks and the leaves, and it's brilliant for risotto, gratins, stir fries and soups.
- Place netting over brassicas to protect them from pigeons.
- Pick off yellowing leaves from the stems of Brussels sprouts.
- Sow leeks, onions, broad beans, hardy peas, spinach and carrots under cover.
- Sow greenhouse tomatoes for early crop.
- Use cloches or clear plastic to warm the soil for early sowings.
- Chit Early seed potatoes.
salad & herbs
- Sow some delicious crunchy radishes, and you’ll have a salad feast within 6-8 weeks. We grow all this sort of thing in gutter pipes. It is the best way, especially if you don’t have lots of room in your garden, and keeps everything easy to look after and under control. Radishes can be picked straight from the gutter – they don’t need to see any garden!
- You can sow some herbs under cover now too – really hardy annuals and biennials such as chervil, parsley and coriander. Wash the parsley seeds in warm water the night before you want to sow them and then lay them out to dry on kitchen paper overnight. This washes off the germinator inhibitor in the seed coat and will give you a harvest in a shorter time.
- Dig up and pot up roots of mint to force early shoots.
- There are a few perennial herbs that you could start off now too – French sorrel, chives, lovage and leaf fennel. There’s no hurry on these, but with a little bottom heat, they will germinate fine and get you ahead.
- Cover rhubarb plants with forcers as soon as they show signs of growth. This will encourage early and very tender stems.
- If it's not too frosty, you can plant fruit bushes and trees now too.
- Prune grape vines now, before the sap starts to rise. Vines can bleed profusely if you leave pruning too late and this will eventually weaken the plant. All new growth should be reduced back to one (gives you bigger bunches), or two buds to each spur, with the spurs tied in firmly. Also, using a blunt knife, scrape all the loose bark from the main vine stems and around the spurs. This does two things – it gets rid of overwintering pests and allows new shoots to grow through more easily in the spring.
- Continue planting fruit trees and winter-pruning of apples and pears. Pruning varies according to the variety you are growing, but always start with the ‘three Ds’ – remove all dead, diseased or damaged wood. I was taught by a fruit farmer that you want to prune harder than your instinct tells you, to end up with an open basket with enough air for a pigeon to be able to fly easily, right through the middle.
- Cut down canes of autumn-fruiting raspberries to soil level.
- Bring potted strawberries under cover for an earlier crop.
- Established blackcurrants should be pruned now: take out a third of two year, or older, wood down to the base. Mature redcurrants and whitecurrants can have their side shoots shortened to one bud, and the tip of the main branch pruned.
- Gooseberries tend to become congested in the centre, so remove unproductive branches and keep the bush open.
Here's what you could be picking and eating this time next year or, if you're an old hand, already are:
- Brassicas: Brussels sprouts, red and green cabbages, cauliflower and kale
- Roots: Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and salsify
- Stems: leeks and celery
- Leafy greens: chard and perpetual spinach
- Salad: chicory, endive, lettuces, hardy lettuces, mizuna, salad rocket and mustards
- Herbs: parsley, chervil, coriander, winter savory, rosemary, sage and bay
- Sweep your paths of leaves and debris. This will keep them from being slippery and dangerous and will make sure it doesn’t provide a lovely home for slugs and snails.
- Make a chicken wire cage for the leaves – tucked out the way – so they rot down to fantastic leaf mould in about a year.
- Protect container plants from freezing spells and insulate outside taps.
- Water plants and bulbs in containers if they are sheltered from the rain by their position.
- Now's a good time to have a look at your fences and structures – do they need a bit of TLC? You can fix fences with bits of wire or if any of your trellises have been damaged by snow, knock in a few more nails to keep them sturdy and ready for new growth.
- Does your lawnmower need a service? Get it in now, before the rush.
- Protect plants that are vulnerable to wind and cold.
- Keep off the grass if it is frozen or frosted, as the damage from your feet may show up as yellow patches later in the spring.
- You may have a problem (later in spring/summer) with grass dying off on the edge of your lawn as rampant growth from the flower beds creeps ever outward. Now is a good time to add a path or hard edge to keep control and make mowing easier.
- Prepare stocks of seed compost, vermiculite, trays etc.
- Walk around your garden and plan to add plants for winter scent near a path you use every day. Lots of these plants such as daphnes, viburnums, sarcococca and winter sweet are shade tolerant and tend to get shoved out of the way, but then you'll miss them. If you have room for a 2m shrub, try Lonicera x purpusii with its magnificent scent of pepper, jasmine and stephanotis.
in the greenhouse
- Take care when watering – any spills could freeze and become slippery.
- Make sure your greenhouse or potting shed is mouse free. Mice love sweet peas and many other seeds, and even one mouse can do a lot of damage. Soak seeds in liquid seaweed fertiliser overnight to make them unpalatable, or soak a rag in paraffin and scrumple the seeds in that before you sow, but it's better to set a mousetrap or a humane trap baited with peanut butter – a mouse (and rat) favourite.
wildlife & pests
- The birds have been having a hard time, so make sure you fill your bird feeders and try and remember to defrost the bird bath – they need something to drink. Put up some bird boxes so that plenty of birds have somewhere to nest in your garden. It is best to put up bird boxes outside the breeding season so now is the perfect time. Also remove old nesting materials from inside old bird boxes so that they can be used again.
- If mild, check overwintering plants for signs of greenfly and other pests.
- Protect fruit trees from bird damage.