January Is Supposedly A Quiet Month In The Garden. So Why Am I So Busy Preparing For Spring?

 

I actually love the early part of the year because it’s when I start to cut down the workload for the rest of the year. It’s the time when, if we spend a bit of time thinking and preparing, we can save a lot of hard work later in the year. 

 

Here’s My January Gardening Checklist

Planning for the new season

If it’s cold and/or wet then I start with a bit of planning. I reflect on what did well in the last few years, new plants and varieties I would like to try, what failed and why. Then I draw up a list of crops to sow or plant each month.

After that, I check through my seed store, I keep my seeds in an old shoebox in a cool cupboard. I ditch all the old stuff and check what I have in stock.

Then its seed ordering time.

It’s best to do this in January, if you haven’t already done so, so you have a whole years supply of seed in stock and don’t run out. Of course, I always deviate from my plan and end up buying something else .. but you get the idea. Here’s my Seed Sowing List For January

Seed potatoes can also be ordered now.

 

Preparing Seed and Composts 

Next, its time to think about composts, fertilisers, pots, modules and other bits and pieces I may need. I don’t like to carry too much at any one time as things like compost are best bought and used within a few months. They don’t go stale as such but can become a bit compressed if stacked too long.

I already have enough Tomorite for my toms, cues, peppers and chillis. I bought it last autumn when the garden centres were selling it off cheap to clear space for Christmas stock! Liquid feeds don’t go off so buying early is fine.

Likewise granulated and powder fertilisers, they are unlikely to go off in any way unless they get damp, so buying early is no problem. Because I’m now largely No-Dig I need very few fertilisers so that is one expense saved.

 

The next job is to tidy up the greenhouse. In my case, it is still full of winter crops so reasonably tidy. But I noted a few panes of glass were growing algae a few days ago so cleaning them is a priority. Good light is essential early in the season so ensuring the glass is clean is a priority. Pulling out any stray weeds and tidying seed trays etc is also something I have time for now.

Condensation on Greenhouse glass
Condensation on Greenhouse glass leads to poor light transmission and fungal diseases

Greenhouse ventilation is also important at this time of year. Excess condensation reduces light levels which are already low and it encourages fungal diseases such as botrytis.

Finally, I check my water butts and tanks are all full .. they ought to be with the rain we’ve had by now. Whilst about it I clean the gutters of autumn leaves and other debris.

Now the greenhouse is ready for sowing the first batches of seed for the year can be sown. Of course I’ve also been sowing seed all winter for the crops I grow overwinter

 

Chitting Potatoes in January?

Well chitted potatoes lead to wonderful potato flowers earlier than would have happened
Well chitted potatoes lead to wonderful potato flowers earlier than would have happened

 Some people start chitting potatoes in January. Unless you are in a very mild part of the country I always think its too early. Gardening isn’t a race. You don’t have to compete with others. There’s chitting advice on the RHS site. 

 

  Garden Jobs In January: Work In the January Garden

 Once the weather is dry enough I move into the garden itself. There’s no rush in January but once the soil is dry enough it’s possibly time to dig and plant.

As a No-Dig enthusiast, I can watch others do their backs in digging their plots. My job is much easier. It’s to spread a bit of compost on all the beds. It doesn’t matter if you use home-produced compost from your own bins, buy in manure or bagged compost, the main rule is to ensure the ground is frost-free before you spread the compost.  Otherwise, you just trap the cold below the compost and it takes ages for the soil to warm up.

 

To Sheet Or Not to Sheet? 

Some people sheet their plots down for the winter in the belief it means the soil is warmer and they will get an earlier start. Maybe they will (though I see little evidence of it) but the soil is also prevented from getting frosted which is something that does it good. The frost breaks down the soil and makes it more manageable. If gardening traditionally (ie digging) I like to let nature do this for me rather than have to work hard doing it myself.

The other thing that a sheet does, is to prevent birds from picking over the soil and removing pests. Nature provides this free service and it seems courteous to avail ourselves of it.

If you want to put a sheet over your beds later in the spring then do so by all means. It might help a bit. But let nature do its work first. Personally I’m not in favour of sheeting done soil. I’d rather be growing something in it as then the soil benefits. Soil certainly doesn’t need “resting”, that’s another gardening myth.  If you don’t want to grow a crop then grow some green manure or cover crops. This encourages soil microbes and makes for a healthier soil. 

On the question of sheeting down. The one thing I abhor is the idea of sheeting down soil with layers of plastic in autumn and leaving it the whole winter. The idea that nature needs tucking in for the winter is ludicrous. Only humans do this. Nature certainly doesn’t. 

 

Shrubs & Trees

A general-purpose fertiliser can be sprinkled along the base of hedges and established trees and shrubs this month. Alternatively use well-rotted manure or compost.

Trim back climbers this season. For example, my wisteria will get a light trim. It’s a good time to do the same to ivy, Virginia creeper etc. I like to do it before the birds start nesting.

Plants for the flower garden are something I’m now thinking about. This month I’ll probably start sowing hardy annuals such as cornflowers, Cerinthe, sweet peas etc plus some less hardy annuals such as dahlias, delphiniums, dianthus, lobelia,  nicotiana and foxglove. Some of these sowings need a bit more warmth and protection than others so read the seed packet for more info.

 

Winter Propagation

January is a good month to take root cutting of perennials such as phlox and Japanese anemones. It’s also a good time to take buddleia cuttings as well as from fruit such as blackberries, blueberries, kiwi.  You can also take cuttings of Acanthus, Buxus, Bay, primula denticulata, camellias, laurels, Verbascum, oriental poppies etc. Choose root or hardwood cuttings as appropriate to the species. 

 

January Pruning

January is a good time to do a bit of tree pruning. The basic rule is to remove dead, dying, diseased and crossing branches to give a tree that has an open centre that lets light and air in. Apples and pears benefit fro a prune this time of year.

You can also prune gooseberries and redcurrants now.  I  follow the same rules as above and also cut the side shoots back to about three buds from the base.

Blackcurrants can also be pruned. I take out about a quarter of the old wood each year.

 

Coppicing Hazel for Pea Sticks and Bean Poles 

Coppiced hazel was used for bean poles and bean sticks
Hazel makes ideal bean and pea sticks

Related to pruning is the gathering of bean poles and pea sticks. My father would always harvest pea sticks on a frosty January morning. The bushy, twiggy tops of the sticks were used as pea sticks and the main poles as bean poles. Bean poles were at least the height of my father (1.75m) (depending on the type of mean being grown) and pea sticks were anything from a metre to two metres depending on the variety of pea being grown. 

This is still good practice if you have access and permission to coppice hazel. 

 

Pest Protection in January

Pigeons can consume a lot of brassicas in a few hours. When I farmed we used bird scarers but in small gardens, this isn’t feasible. So netting is something to consider. But use a frame rather than just drape it over the crop. Otherwise, the pigeon will sit on top and eat the crop through the net. And when eating they also leave certain depots behind them! All over your crops. 

Another form of crop protection is to cover rhubarb with an upturned bucket or similar .. the bigger the better. This encourages the rhubarb to grow early for an early harvest.  Forced rhubarb is worth having for that early dessert! But beware, it weakens the plant and it doesn’t crop so heavily later. So choose a well established plant if you decide to do this. 

 

Planting in the January Garden

It’s not too late to plant bare root trees this month. I’d prefer it done in autumn but it’s still possible.  Ditto bare root fruit bushes and fruit canes such as raspberries and similar crops. Just ensure the soil is frost-free and the soil is enriched with manure, compost or fertiliser as appropriate.

Broad beans can also be sown this month. If conditions allow you can direct drill them into the soil. But if it’s too cold or wet put them into pots and start them in a cold greenhouse or frame, to plant when conditions allow.

 

Garden Jobs In January For Birds and Beasts

Robin on a branch
Robins remind me of spring as they sing in the January Garden

We are keeping the bird feeders topped up and ensuring there is water available for birds and smaller visitors such as mice and voles.

It’s also a good time to put up new bird boxes ready for spring nesting. Some birds will start nesting quite soon! Avoid cleaning out existing boxes as they may be home to roosting birds such as wrens.. we have a wren roost that sees 15 or so birds each night. They roost in community roosts to maintain temperature. It’s important when you are this small.

 

So these are my Garden Jobs In January. What would you add to this list? 

 

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