What to do in the garden in January


  January is another quiet month in the garden with not much to do in the garden. On mild days it's a chance to do a bit of weeding; after the rain and frost the ground seems to yield the weeds more easily. I seem to spend a lot of time in January clearing up the borders from autumn removing debris and mountains of leaves.

It is cold and frosty for the birds as well, so it's a good time to look after wildlife. In addition to putting out food, birdbaths can easily freeze over which deprives the birds of a much-needed source of water. Shrubs with berries are important for the birds, but by this time of year often the birds have all but eaten the available berries. This means a regular top up of the bird feeders essential to the survival of as many birds as possible through the winter months.  

   I think gardening in January is best done in doors in the warm. On bad weather days, of which there are always plenty in January, its armchair gardening time with the seed catalogues planning for the spring and deciding which new veg to try.

January in the Garden

winter damage to grass

Lawn care in cold weather

In winter it is important to protect lawns because it's true that walking on the frost frozen grass really does damage the lawn. When frozen, the blades of grass become brittle, and do not yield to pressure. This means they will snap and break when trodden on in frosty conditions. The image left shows where the grass has been walked on and it will not recover easily. There will be brown marks left on the grass where it was damaged, which will look unsightly in the spring. In addition, the damage will make that patch more susceptible to disease.

Given how hard it is to create a decent lawn its worth resisting walking on it during the very cold weather. Advice on lawn Care

hellebore with black spot

If you have black spot on Hellebores,  as shown above,  it's  best to remove the diseased leaves. 

It may seem dramatic but you really can remove many if not most of the leaves from the Hellebore without it suffering at all. Some professional growers routinely remove the leaves to better display the flowers.

More about Growing Hellebores and black spot.

Winter weeding

sedum cut back

Many perennials can but cut back to clear off dead top growth and tidy up the borders, if you are a tidy garden person. Equally perennials can be left unpruned until the spring, it's a matter of gardening preference.

What is interesting is the garden doesn't sleep in winter. When you cut back a Sedum, the new shoots are revealed, already growing. Sedums are great garden plant about growing Sedums.

Other January Jobs

 It's a good time to weed and continue the garden clear up ready for the spring. Many plants have died back and cutting these back makes it easier to see the perennial weeds. I am perennially disappointed to see, as I cut back last year's growth on plants, just how many weeds are hiding under their leaves. Winter is a good time to weed, there is less risk of standing on other plants or new shoots which makes it easier. 

A mild spell  January is a suitable time to cut back Rosa Rugosa pruning close to the ground and take out any weak spindly stems

Before the worst of the weather arrives protect tender plants, bringing them under cover. Plants such as tender evergreen Agapanthus, Zantedeschia (Calla lily) and Canna need either a good mulch, or moving into a greenhouse. If you live in a mild part of the country it may be enough to wrap the containers and/or mulch. The problem is our winters are less predictable and the beast from the east struck nationwide last year.

If prolonged cold temperatures are forecast, it is worth draining water butts, take a look a winter gardening tips  to see what can (and did) happen in a long cold spell.

January in the veg plot

sweet peas on heated mat

Sowing Early Seeds

It is possible to start some early sowings in January. Tempting though this is you there can be problems.  Early in the year the young plants cannot go outside, potentially for several months which means space is needed to grow the seedlings under glass to protect them. Everything which you sow now/or buy from the garden centre as a plug plant, will have to be grown under glass until frost is over.  If space is short it's best to wait until later in the year.  

It is also still cold and to germinate seeds need warmth, such as a heated propagator and then transfer under glass. Once established the seedlings should be OK in the greenhouse, unless it is very cold, when cover with a fleece.

A heated propagator mat is good if you want to get seedlings going early. The average conservatory/greenhouse is too cold to germinate seeds, and this heated aluminium mat (illustrated left the propagator trays stand on it,) is ideal to start germination. More Advice on how to germinate from seed and a short video looking at growing veg from seed. 

One of the main problems growing seedlings at this time of year is not just the cold, but also low light levels. This can cause seedlings to be spindly and leggy. Often light is from one side only, and the seedlings become leggy growing towards the single source of light. 


chitting potatoes

January is time to buy seed potatoes and later in the month start Chitting the first earlies. This is particularly the case if you garden in a sheltered or milder area of the country which enables you to start planting earlier in the year. If your garden is cold, wet or exposed you may wish to move your gardening calendar forward a few weeks. The best way to start chitting potatoes is to place the potatoes on paper or in egg boxes in a cool place and leave for the shoots to appear. There is debate about whether Chitting makes any actual difference in the potato yield. 

If you are buying Potatoes given the varied nature of our summers,  it is worth looking at the blight resistant varieties of potato. Blight loves warm wet weather which is common in our summers.

For detailed advice, information about blight resistant potatoes and Tips.

Dealing Botrytis Grey Mold

overwintering plants

 If you are over wintering plants or starting off new seedlings in the greenhouse, mildew and mould can be a problem. To reduce the risk of Botrytis increase air flow. On mild days ventilate the greenhouse by opening all the doors and vents. Also, raise pots off the ground to aid air flow and to reduce frost damage as illustrated. 

In the event of signs of disease on a plant and it is best moved out of the greenhouse to prevent spread.  

 Botrytis shows on the plant as soft grey mould and when you touch the plant, the mould showers off and the plant crumbles; move it away from other plants to reduce infection.  

For plants being overwintered it is important to reduce watering to a minimum, keeping the plant quite dry over the winter.