What to do in the garden in January

What to do in the garden in January

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

83 guides

January is one of the coldest months of the year meaning most of your plants will be dormant. While it's important to keep an eye on your frost protection, it's time for you to take a break, too! That said, as long as the ground isn't frozen you can still plant out some shrubs and treat your fruit trees.

Important features

  • Growing in polytunnels
  • Harvesting cold-season veggies
  • Treating trees
  • Replanting Christmas trees
  • Planting hedges
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Sowing and planting over the winter

In winter, sowing and planting – even indoors – can only really be done in warmer climates meaning your vegetable garden will be taking a well-earned break! If you live in the south, however, you might want to try your luck at sowing some late leek, carrot, turnip or spring lettuce seeds under polytunnels.

Garlic, yellow onions and grey shallots can go in the ground, as long as they are covered with horticultural fleece that can be removed on sunny or warmer days.

What to harvest in winter

If you're lucky to still have some vegetables growing, you can continue to harvest them as you need them. This might include things like Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, salsify or parsnips. You can harvest your Brussels sprouts once they measure over 2 cm in diameter. Start with those at the bottom of the plant as they will be the largest. Brussels sprouts are rare in that they are actually tastier after a light frost!

What to do with leftover seeds and root vegetables

Root vegetables that you have harvested and put into storage in a basement, garage or cold room should be monitored. Get rid of any rotten vegetables that might end up contaminating the others and remove any sprouts from potatoes. It'd be a shame to lose your whole crop now after putting so much care into growing them!

Make the most of the quiet period to sort through your seeds. Throw away any that have expired bearing in mind that seeds can last anything from 1 to 10 years. Finally, make a list of any new varieties you want to buy. Some of the more unique vegetable varieties can be hard to find in the average garden shop. Sourcing good providers is a great excuse for a spot of armchair gardening!

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Seeds

Planting trees in winter

As long as weather conditions allow it – meaning when there isn't too much rain or frost – you can continue to plant bare root fruit trees. Small fruit bushes, such as gooseberry and blackcurrants should do okay, too. If you already planted some trees at the start of winter, be sure to inspect them to ensure they are coping well.

What to prune in winter

If you have espalier or cordon apple or pear trees, you can start your winter prune. Check any fruit that you have put into storage and remove any with rotten spots. You can add some compost or another type of organic fertiliser to the soil beneath your trees. You can also sprinkle on a handful or two of wood ash from your chimney or wood burner to each tree. It's also possible to trim hedges made up of cold-hardy plants such as bay, cypress, photinia, and so on.

How to care for your trees in winter

Gently brush down your tree trunks to remove any moss or lichen from the bark as this may host parasites or harmful fungi. Treat your fruit trees using a Bordeaux mixture to protect them from disease. If your tree has been hit by mealy bugs, spray on some white oil (a biodegradable product) or a black soap and rapeseed oil solution (2 tablespoons of each product in one litre of water).

You can also whitewash your tree trunks to protect them from winter damage. This will help to remove moss, lichen and microscopic fungi from the tree as well as any insects and larvae that have chosen to spend the winter in the tree bark. These types of treatments will prevent you from having to use more aggressive pesticides against bugs like mealy bugs and aphids and fungal diseases like brown rot. This advice applies particularly to older trees that have cracks or crevices in their bark. Please note, however, that this treatment should only be used in more extreme cases as the product will also destroy auxiliary insects and predatory mites living in the bark.

Just like in the vegetable garden, there's not a great deal of planting to be done. However, after Christmas is over you can plant your potted Christmas tree in the ground. Use this time to check on your frost protection.

It may be still possible to plant a hedge using bare root shrubs and to put certain types of climbing plants, such as clematis, honeysuckle and wisteria, in the ground. But avoid walking on your lawn too much when it is frozen or if the soil is waterlogged.

Water potted plants only when necessary and leave the soil to dry out between waterings. Do not add any fertiliser to the soil during this time. Similarly, leave succulents to their own business in winter: they won't need any watering.

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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 83 guides

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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