Gardening in January – 2. Garden Work

Gardening in January – 2. Garden Work

Gardening in January – Garden Work in January

There is not much gardening in January, but planning, buying, and starting the greenhouse season are all pleasant tasks to undertake now. And they all satisfy the urge to be doing something constructive for the gardening year ahead.

We answered how plants survive frost and snow in the last part of the guide and will be focusing on planting and plant care in the next one. This part of the “Gardening in January” – Guide will be about garden maintenance and garden work. Some of the garden work you need to do in January includes the following tasks:

  • Order seeds to be sown in January or February – you may have to wait some weeks for delivery.
  • Protect vulnerable plants from frost and wind damage.
  • Firm in any autumn-planted shrubs and border plants lifted by frost.
  • Knock snow off branches, especially on conifers and hedges, if they are bending underweight.
  • Check stakes and ties on newly planted trees; make sure they are secure and not rubbing.
  • Keep an area of water ice-free if you have fish in the pond.
  • Check on bulbs being forced for indoor display every week so that you don’t miss flowering.

Work indoors

Gardening in January - Work indoor

There will be many days when the weather is too unpleasant to work outdoors; however, you are keen to progress gardening work in January. Fortunately, you can do many things in the comfort of your sitting room or kitchen, and even more gardening activities if you have a heated greenhouse to work indoors.

Go through the seed and summer bulb catalogs and place your orders now. You will have one less job to do during the busy spring period, and ordering in seeds in January, means you are more likely to receive your preferred choice of seeds and bulbs before stocks run out. January is also an excellent time to order plants and seedlings by post. They probably won’t be delivered until spring, but the closing date for orders is much earlier.

Getting seed trays and pots ready (wash and disinfect old ones or buy new ones) and purchasing the potting and seed compost all give a much-needed psychological boost, acting as a reminder that the growing season is about to start. It may be too soon to sow seeds in January, but at least you can write the labels in anticipation. That will also ease the pressure later if you want to plant and transplant many seeds and seedlings.

Don’t start sowing too early, especially if you only have a couple of windowsills to raise the plants. Seeds sown in January may suffer from a lack of light as well as space. However, if you have a warm greenhouse, several seeds – such as fibrous-rooted begonias and pelargoniums – can be sown, and cuttings – such as chrysanthemums – can be taken.

Now is also the time to think about how to improve your garden in the year ahead. If you don’t already keep a garden notebook, the beginning of the new year is an excellent time to start. Use it to write down your ideas and work out detailed plans. You can then take it along on buying trips. A garden notebook or diary is also invaluable for recording details of plants purchased, any special care required, and the position you have planted them in the garden.

Providing winter protectionGardening in January - Winter Protection

Shrubs that are not hardy are more likely to be killed by a combination of low temperatures and cold winds than by shallow temperatures on their own. This effect is known as wind-chill, and it can be particularly devastating for evergreens. Winter protection, in the form of a windbreak, is an excellent idea.

All types of winter protection should have been put in place in late autumn or early winter, but you have not done this. You do have vulnerable shrubs, and it is still worth taking the trouble to wrap them up if severe weather is forecast. Hessian, perhaps with straw packed inside, will be enough to protect most shrubs. Alternatively, you can make a frame from canes and create a ‘tent’ using several layers of environmental netting or horticultural fleece, or bubble plastic. Make sure air can circulate, and ensure that light can penetrate if the plant is an evergreen.

While thinking about protection, do not overlook those tough enough plants to flower this early in the year but whose bloom is sometimes damaged by a very heavy frost. The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) and Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis) are likely to bloom in many parts of the country. The flowers on both these plants are delightful and look lovely in flower arrangements. If you want fresh blooms to bring indoors, put a cloche over them, or protect them with a supported pane of glass.

Clean and tidy

Most gardens look rather drab at this time of the year, even if several plants, such as laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) and wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), are being grown for winter flowers and scent. A visually unexciting garden in January may be unavoidable, but the garden will look much better if kept tidy.

An untidy garden is more visible in the middle of winter because, when the leaves have fallen from shrubs and trees and herbaceous plants have died down, some previously hidden garden eyesores will be exposed. Going around the garden and tidy anything up is a big part of the garden work in January: repair broken fences and trellis; cut or tie back plants that are overhanging paths or the lawn; remove canes and other supports left standing in beds, clear away containers and windowboxes standing empty or full of dead plants.

Choose a dry day and hoe the soil to loosen the surface compacted by winter rains; this will give the garden an exquisite look and make an enormous difference to its appearance. Gardening in January is something you may need to get used to because it’s cold, but this job is physical enough to keep you warm!

Mulches also improve bare soil appearance, although you should apply them for the first time in spring when the soil has warmed up – but is still moist. Existing mulches that have worn thin, or become disturbed by animals and birds rummaging for food, can be raked over and topped up if necessary. Wait until there is a mild day – don’t mulch over frozen soil.

Winter Digging

Gardening in January - Winter Digging

Whether you are preparing a new bed or border for spring, clearing land for a new garden, or getting your vegetable plot ready:

Digging is an ideal job if you want some warming physical exercise on a cold winter’s day – provided the soil is not waterlogged or frozen.

If the ground is very wet or is frozen hard, digging will not only be a dauntingly heavy task, and it may also do more harm than good. It will disturb the coldest top layer of soil and lower the ground on the frozen earth. The surface will warm up more quickly if you leave it undisturbed.

You need to prepare your garden for the spring, and digging takes up a big part of your garden work in January, but if it’s freezing outside, you may also work indoors and get other important jobs done.

Garden maintenance

Tool maintenance

To save time in the busy spring period, use the winter months to maintain your garden tools. The blades of cutting tools should be wiped with an oily rag after each use, but once a year, use wire wool to remove any rust or dried sap, then oil them lightly. Tighten the blade tension of garden shears to improve their cutting. Remove and sharpen the blades of other pruning tools, or replace them if damaged. Service mowers and cultivators and check electrical equipment as many plugs, sockets, and leads deteriorate with use in the garden. Replace damaged leads rather than repairing them with tape and ensure that all the connections and fittings are suitable for outdoor use.

Disposing of unwanted chemicals

Dispose of old chemicals, particularly those for which the instructions have been lost. Dilute dregs and pour them away on the new ground; never down drains. Wrap solid chemicals or empty containers in newspaper and put them in the dustbin. If you are in any doubt or have large amounts of chemicals to dispose of, take them to a local authority waste disposal site where staff can safely dispose of them.

Repairing fences and trellis

Check fences, trellis, pergolas, and arches and make any necessary repairs while the plants are still dormant.

Greenhouses and frames

Gardening in January - Greenhouse
Checking insulation and heating

Insulation benefits both greenhouses and frames and can be done simply with plastic bubble wrap. If not already done, make time to do it now. Check the heaters.


Water the plants only when the soil in the pots shows signs of drying out. Avoid overwatering annuals in pots and any other young plants in the greenhouse or the roots may be damaged. Take care not to splash the flowers or leave water lodging in the crowns of the plants. Try to water as early in the day as possible, especially in a cold or cool greenhouse, so that surfaces dry before nightfall.

Controlling pests and diseases

Remove any leaves showing signs of grey mold (botrytis), and discard any cuttings which have diseased stems. Check for pests such as vine weevil and take action if necessary. Where possible, use dust rather than sprays in winter to avoid increasing the humidity in the greenhouse.

Sowing seeds

If you have a heated propagator available to maintain a temperature of 16-18 C (61-65 F) during germination, you can start sowing seeds towards the end of the month. Without the extra boost of a heated propagator, delay sowing for another month.

Sow greenhouse plants, such as:

  • Begonias
  • gloxinias
  • streptocarpus
  • pelargoniums
  • half-hardy annuals
  • lilies perennials
  • sweet peas
Lilies for forcing

If you want to force lilies to produce early flowers, pot up the bulbs now.


Complete the pruning of vines in the greenhouse while they are completely dormant. Peel or rub loose bark from the stems of mature vines as this can harbor pests over the winter, but do not pull off so much bark that green shows underneath.

LawnsGardening in January - Lawnmover

The grass will not be growing at this time of the year, and the best treatment is to stay off it. Take special care to damage the grass by walking on it when the ground is frozen or waterlogged. Any areas of rough grass, such as an orchard or wild-flower meadow, can be mown if the weather is dry and fine.

Lawnmower maintenance

Service your lawnmower either by using the manufacturer’s service manual or take it to a service agent. Get several quotes if you can, as prices vary greatly. Check blades, cables, and all connections on electrical mowers and lawn tools.

Water plants and pools

Creating ice-free areas

Continue to keep an area of water free of ice to release noxious gases. Use a pool heater or place a saucepan full of hot water on the ice and allow it to melt through. Do not break thick ice in the pool because of possible harm to the fish. Rubber balls, or large logs, floating on the water’s surface, will absorb the pressure of ice in any concrete pool, such as an ornamental pond, which can otherwise expand so much that it can crack the perimeter.

Pumps in winter

Pumps not removed in the autumn can usually be operated throughout the winter. They must be positioned well below the ice line to avoid mixing the colder, upper layer of water with the lower, relatively warmer zone.

This may mean raising the pump intake and the return flow to a higher level than usual, but take care that the pump is still below the likely depth of any ice. Check if you have a hard frost.

Gardening in January – Other Parts

Gardening in January – 1. Frost and Snow
Gardening in January – 1. Frost and Snow
Gardening in January is much more important than one might think. You want to make sure your Plants survive Frost and Snow. You have to do some Dirty Work to Prepare your Garden and start Planting in January. The First of the Three Parts will explain How Plants survive Frost and other Winter conditions.
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Gardening in January – 3. Planting
Gardening in January – 3. Planting
In the third part of the Guide to gardening in January - we will focus on planting and plant care in January. Some Flowers can be planted already and need special attention. You can sow Seeds in January like Pelargoniums or Sweat Peas.
Read More