By Ruth Hayes published
New year, new you, new resolutions – and a whole new set of January gardening jobs! In much of the northern hemisphere, the weather outside is frightful, which makes it even harder to get out into the garden and crack on with New Year tasks.
But wherever you are, there’s still a lot you can be getting on with for your winter jobs in the garden to get it ready for the coming season.
Recycling is a key task for this month, as is making resolutions for a greener, more sustainable gardening year ahead. Then there are containers to maintain, trees and shrubs to move and plant and perennials to divide, all as long as the soil is workable and not frozen solid or saturated and a quagmire.
Put these January gardening jobs on your to-do list
Get your garden in shape during the colder months and start to prep for the warmer weather ahead with our top 10 January gardening jobs.
1. Make your gardening resolutions for 2022
We all know that New Year resolutions are easier to make than keep, so just make a few and they should be easier to stick to.
For a start, don’t keep putting off essential maintenance work, even if it looks minor and you think it can wait. Get it sorted before larger problems develop.
An organised shed saves you time and money looking for and replacing ‘lost’ things, so get your shed storage in order. Store chemicals safely and make sure wooden and metal structures are well maintained. Wash pots instead of throwing them away, and do the same with gardening gloves to extend their lifetime and make them more comfortable to wear.
Don’t overlook the smaller tasks either, such as weeding, feeding, pest control, deadheading and watering. They may feel like a faff, but carried out regularly, they will keep your garden flourishing and tidy.
Collecting seeds from flowers is another task to add to your January gardening jobs, or buy and sow your own to reduce ‘plant miles’. Use local garden centers and reuse old compost bags to warm the soil and keep tools sharp and clean to prolong their life and prevent diseases spreading.
You can save more money by following our advice on how to take cuttings from plants so you can propagate plants and nurture them through winter in a greenhouse, mini greenhouse or light windowsill indoors.
Top tip: Don’t start the year all guns blazing; pace yourself otherwise you will run out of steam and enthusiasm.
2. Recycling Christmas rubbish in the garden
I love the festive season, but I’m also driven to despair by the piles of packaging and discarded wrapping paper that accumulate afterwards.
Luckily the garden is an excellent facility for using and reusing the commercial detritus that is part and parcel of the modern-day Christmas and Thanksgiving. Give these simple ideas a go for your January gardening jobs:
- Cardboard boxes and black plastic can be flattened out and spread on soil to suppress weeds and start warming the ground in advance of early sowing and planting.
- Break up polystyrene to use as crocks in the bottom of garden planters. It’s much lighter than pottery.
- Use large strips of bubble wrap as an extra layer of insulation in the greenhouse or mini greenhouse. Smaller strips can be used to wrap containers in frosty weather.
- Put wreaths with berries in the garden for the birds to eat and use pine needles as an ericaceous mulch.
Top tip: Some edible Christmas leftovers are suitable for garden birds. Stale Christmas cake and mince pies and grated cheese are nutritious and high in energy. Don't give them salted nuts, chocolate and cooking fat though.
3. Prepare soil for sowing and planting
It will soon be the season to plant, so prepare the soil by feeding, mulching and weeding it, so you are all ready to go when the moment arrives.
It is not too late to add a layer of well-rotted compost and farmyard manure to your soil. Either fork it in or let it sit on the top as a mulch and be broken down and incorporated by winter weather and the beneficial work of earthworms.
Do this as long as the ground isn’t frozen, as mulching will trap the coldness on the soil and digging will damage its structure. Don't mulch dry soil either, as it will act as a waterproof cap, keeping rain off parched soil below.
Mulching when the weather is damp and mild, will help warm the soil, suppress weeds and make any that subsequently germinate easier to remove.
You can warm the soil by a few degrees now by covering it with a tunnel cloche or reusing old compost bags, which will also help kill off weeds.
If you have grown green manures through winter, chop them back and dig them in now so they have plenty of time to die back and re-fuel the soil before planting and sowing.
Another option is to dig in generous handfuls of chicken manure pellets. An organic soil improver, the pellets are also rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to aid healthy plant growth.
Top tip: When adding mulch to your garden borders, keep it away from the trunks of trees and shrubs. If damp mulch comes into contact with them it can soften their bark, leaving it vulnerable to rotting and pests.
4. Look after winter containers
The middle of winter is a tough time for plants in general, but it is extra hard for those growing as part of your container gardening ideas.
Even hardy varieties growing in pots can fall prey to wintry conditions, but there are plenty of rescue remedies you can use to keep them looking good.
Most containers are sold as frost-proof, but they may still crack if damp compost freezes and expands. Give protection by swaddling them in fleece or bubblewrap, making sure drainage holes aren’t blocked.
Compost in containers is more likely to freeze solid than soil in the ground, damaging and killing roots and therefore the plant. If not provided with adequate drainage, the compost can also become waterlogged, which forces the air out of the compost so in effect the roots ‘drown’ and the plants die.
Confusingly, the signs of waterlogging are the same as those for under-watering: leaves turn yellow and the plants start to droop. If containers become waterlogged, empty them out if possible, and repot the plant or plants with fresh, dry compost and raise the pots on feet so water can drain away easily.
If complete replanting isn’t possible, remove the top layer of compost then aerate the rest by digging into it and opening it up with a hand fork. Topdress with fresh, dry compost and stand the pot on feet.
Top tip: Keep deadheading flowers that are continuing to flower and feed them fortnightly with a liquid fertilizer to keep them looking good. Trim straggly plants to keep them neat.
5. Move a tree or shrub to a better place
Winter, when the skeleton of the garden is laid bare, is an ideal time to look at the overall landscape and decide if anything needs relocating.
Between now and the end of February when trees and shrubs start back into growth is also the best time for moving any that you think might look better elsewhere.
However, it pays to remember that relocation is more likely to be successful if your tree or shrub has been in the ground for less than five years. Any longer and it is less likely to settle well into a new spot and you risk losing it.
Sun and wind can dry out roots during the move, so check the forecast and choose a cool, dull, still day if possible.
When it comes to how to move a tree, speed is key, so prepare the planting hole before moving and once you have lifted the plant, wrap the rootball in plastic (a bin liner is fine) for transportation.
Make sure you return the tree or shrub to the ground at the same depth as it was in the soil before, gaging the depth using a cane laid horizontally across the hole.
Firm the soil down well afterwards and check it after heavy frosts, which can crack and lift the ground and destabilise any planting. Water the site generously to settle the soil and drench the roots. Don't let it dry out while your plant gets established.
Top tip: Make life easier for yourself by tying in loose, low-hanging branches before moving, so you are less likely to get one in the eye!
6. Protect your garden from storm-force winds
If you haven’t already weather-proofed your plot, your January gardening jobs are a good time to do so. High winds can cause an immense amount of damage and the safest way to reduce its impact is via diffusion rather than complete blockage.
A solid boundary such as a garden wall or fence will simply force wind over the top and create damaging eddies on the other side.
The ideal solution is a filtering barrier such as a deciduous hedge or a wooden hurdle made from pliable willow or hazel. These will diffuse the wind, reducing its strength and damaging potential and also make an attractive addition to the garden.
Young and newly planted trees should be staked and tied, and while you are in a tying and supporting frame of mind, have a look at vines and wall climbers and secure any limbs that are waving around. This will prevent them being damaged (and causing damage) in high winds and, as we discovered the hard way, stop them tripping motion-sensor security lights through the night.
Top tip: Make sure containers are secure if they are raised up on feet or they may blow over and crack or smash. If possible move them to a sheltered spot.
7. Prune your climbing roses
Make learning how to prune roses properly one of your January gardening jobs. All roses flower their best if they are pruned each year, and winter, when they are dormant, is usually the time to do this.
A job at this time of the year is tackling your climbing roses. In contrast, rambling roses are given their trim in the summer once their single flush of flowers has been and gone.
Last year seemed to be a good year for roses and the ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ climbing up the front of our house gave us two wonderful periods of flowering. She now needs a trim and as she suffered from some late-season black spot I need to clear any fallen infected leaves from the soil around her stems. This is an important rose care tip as the leaves contain the disease spores and they will live on in the soil if not collected.
Start by cutting out, right down to the ground, old woody stems. This is especially important for old, neglected climbing roses that have become congested and tangled. Ideally you want to leave around six robust stems to grow and cover the area where they are growing.
Then remove dead, damaged and decaying wood and cutting out any stems that are spindly or crossing, cluttering up the centre of the plant.
Top tip: Cut back flowered shoots by two-thirds and tie them to their support in the direction you want them to grow, along with any new shoots developing off the main stems.
8. Divide perennials if the soil is workable
Herbaceous perennials are the stalwarts of the garden, reappearing each year to provide a framework to plan your annuals around.
We usually think of them as summer plants that die back when the colder weather comes, but there are many evergreen perennials that provide interest and structure to the garden through winter as well.
They sometimes run into trouble and out of steam after a few years, sprawling out of their allotted space and, despite their increased size, creating fewer flowers.
So instead of replacing them, save money by dividing them as part of your January gardening jobs. This creates several smaller, new plants and once the divisions quickly get established they should grow well with improved blooming.
Here's what to do:
- Dig fairly widely all around the plant to lessen damage to the roots and lift it with soil still attached.
- Place the plant on a sack or tarpaulin and start to divide the roots using a fork, two forks back-to-back or a sharp, clean knife. If the root mass is extremely congested you may need to use a pruning saw to divide it!
- Make sure that each division has healthy roots and shoots. Keep the strongest-looking ones and compost the rest.
- Re-plant the divisions at the same depth as previously in a hole that’s been enriched with well-rotted compost or manure.
- Water the replanted divisions well and don’t let them dry out while they get established. Mulch well and watch for pests.
9. Cut back late-fruiting raspberry canes
Cut back your fall-fruiting raspberries right to the ground, then cut up and compost the removed stems.
After cutting back, mulch your canes with a generous layer of well-rotted manure or compost, then feed with a general purpose fertilizer in early spring (March is ideal) and look forward to a glut of juicy, tasty red berries.
Blackcurrants also need a prune now as these zingy berries fruit best on new wood, so remove older branches to make room for new growth.
For the first four years of growth, concentrate on removing weak and spindly stems, retaining a structure of six to 10 robust branches. In year four, cut out a third of older wood at the base as well as weak and low-growing stems.
There's more tips on how to grow raspberries in our guide, too.
Top tip: When it comes to pruning raspberries, if you're not sure whether your raspberry canes are summer- or fall-fruiting, prune some back half-way and you may get earlier or later cropping than expected to extend the season.
10. Keep your greenhouse snug and healthy
Don’t let your greenhouse be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ this winter. They are likely to be full of tender plants and cuttings and these need checking over to keep them healthy. Furthermore, a greenhouse can be a cosy place to work when the weather is less than welcoming outside.
- Check tender plants and cuttings and remove dead and diseased leaves. Pinch out flower buds as they use up the plants’ vital energy.
- Clean the glass to let in maximum light and be constantly vigilant for pests as greenhouses offer shelter and food and there are fewer predators than out in the garden.
- Open doors and windows on mild days to let air circulate, helping prevent fungal diseases on leaves and algae on damp compost. Close them again in the evening when temperatures drop.
- If you are winterizing your container-grown citrus trees in a greenhouse, they will need watering when their compost feels dry and feeding as they may well be fruiting and flowering. You'll find more on the best fruit trees to grow in.pots in our guide.
Investing in the best mini greenhouse is an excellent solution when space is tight as hardy plants and seedlings can be overwintered inside. They are lightweight, so either tie them to a wall or fence in a sheltered spot or add some heft with blocks of wood.
During frosty periods, zip the front opening shut and cover mini greenhouses with a blanket for extra insulation. Unzip when temperatures rise.
Top tip: Cold frames are also useful for storing hardy plants in pots. Stand them on gravel or crocks to help drainage and deter slugs and open the lid on warm days.
Ruth is the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and spends her working days carrying out, writing about and photographing the tasks the readers should be carrying out each week, as well as testing many of the new products that arrive on the gardening market.
She is horticulturally trained, with a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society, and her work varies with the seasons and includes everything from sowing and planting, to pruning, taking cuttings, dealing with pests and diseases and keeping houseplants healthy. She covers ornamental plants and edible crops and everything she writes about and photographs is in her own garden, a mature plot that has been a work in progress since her family moved to their current house in 2012.
Her main interests are gardening for wildlife and organic gardening, as she firmly believes you don’t need to ‘nuke’ pests and problems with toxic chemicals, nor use peat composts to produce the garden of your dreams.
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