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January garden jobs: what to plant and do

29 December 2020

The cold winter months are an ideal time to stay indoors and plan for spring, but there are still plenty of quick gardening jobs to do in January.

Forcing rhubarb in January
You can force rhubarb for a sweeter, more tender crop, but be aware that this exhausts the plant

What to plant in January

Flowers to plant

If you don’t already have a scented shrub that flowers now do think about ordering one so that you have something to cheer up the dark days. Witch hazels bring much needed colour while daphnes and winter box are perfect near the house or path where you’ll catch their fragrance.

Recycle forced bulbs. If you grew or were given some indoor bulbs such as hyacinths or daffodils over Christmas these may well have gone over now. Rather than throw them away plant them in the garden. The hyacinths won’t come back as big as they were but this actually looks better in most gardens. Daffodils come back very well.

Cut off the spent flowers and feed the bulbs to help them build up strength. Keep giving a high potash feed until the leaves are withered.

Sweet peas can be sown under cover. They’ll take about ten days to germinate and are happiest planted into long pots or Rootrainers which allow the roots space to grow. Or you can use old cardboard inners from loo rolls. Sow two seeds to a pot for safety, cover with newspaper to keep them dark and put them somewhere safe from mice.

Bare root plants can be planted now or next month, so think about ordering trees and shrubs now. Bareroot shrubs and trees are much cheaper and will soon catch up with larger container bought shrubs. Bareroot trees and shrubs can be planted now, as long as the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. If you can’t plant straight away keep roots damp or make a slit in the soil, insert the roots and firm with your heel. They will stay happy a few days.

Fruit and vegetables to plant

While bare root plants are easily available it's worth thinking about fruit trees and bushes you might want. Apples, pears, plums, and raspberry canes can all be planted now, as long as the ground isn't frozen.

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Garden jobs for January

Clean your pots and trays

A bucket of soapy water, a duster and a wet cloth is all you need. Dust off the worst of the dirt and then it’s into the warm soapy water. If the weather’s kind, don the winter woollies and get outside and absorb some much-needed Vitamin D. If not, find a spot under cover. Then you’ll be ready for your seed sowing in a few weeks. Larger plastic pots can be placed outside before heavy rain.

Order your seeds

January is the time to order seeds, if you haven't already. Popular varieties can sell out quickly.

In particular, make sure you order seed potatoes, onions sets and garlic bulbs. Go for reliable, disease free varieties with AGM and F1 status. With potatoes it is well worth picking blight free varieties like Sarpo. Sarpo Miro is an excellent all rounder, a maincrop potato with nice taste, good texture and exceptional blight resistance. Once your seed potatoes have arrived they can be put in a light, cool, dry spot to chit. Large egg trays are a good way of cupping the potatoes so that they stand with the leaf buds top most without touching one another.

Put up outdoor lights

An indoor/outdoor job: If you have a potting shed or barn that’s badly lit consider buying an automatic LED light. These are cheap to buy, can be stuck or hung on a wall (ie no DIY hassle or other expense involved) and they are triggered by movement so the light goes on when you walk in. You can buy solar powered lights, but if you want light in an area that doesn't get any sunlight and you don't want to have a wired light there are plenty of battery powered motion lights on the market.

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

Cut plant supports

Coppice some hazel if you have a friendly source near by. The straight and sturdy stems can be used to make bean supports and wigwams. The frilled fingers or branches are perfect for making flower supports. Stick three to five stems above the plant now, before growth gets going. Place these in a circle facing inwards and weave the pliable ends into each other to create a firm structure for the emerging plant to grow through. It will not only look attractive providing welcome structure now but will disappear once the foliage grows.

Start forcing rhubarb

Have a look at your rhubarb and if there are signs of growth you can cover the crowns with terracotta forcers to speed up the growth of tender early pink stems. Alternatively use sturdy black plastic tubs. A little straw inside will help with insulation. Forcing rhubarb produces small, tender stems but it does wear out the plants and should be allowed to grow naturally for the next two to three years to recover.

Do a stock take in your shed

Garden centres are full of everything the gardener needs once the New Year arrives, so brave the shed and make a list of all the things you’re short of. Labels, string, canes, bendy soft tie, gloves, watering cans, seed trays, kneeling pads, hose attachments and replacement tools are all at their most available now. Stock up on the seeds you need as well, but only buy compost if it’s been stored under cover - otherwise it’ll be a soggy mess.

Trim hellebores

New flowers on hellebores are often hidden by scruffy foliage so cut these off and allow the blooms to gleam in the low winter light.

Feed the birds

Check bird feeders are clean before topping up with fresh high energy feed.

Water pots

In long dry spells outdoor pots may need watering especially if planted with spring bulbs.

Find out how to care for pots during winter

Warm the soil

Warm soil with layers of plastic sheeting or cloches to prepare for early sowing.


Winter pruning needs to be done in clement weather. It consists of shortening the leading stems of certain dormant woody plants to encourage lateral growth. It also gives you the opportunity of removing the 3Ds - dead, diseased and dying wood. Use sharp secateurs, such as Felcos no 2s and long loppers, and reduce the upright stems of apples and pears by one third. This will produces plump fruit buds on nobbly spurs. Pears are more lightly pruned than apples. Aim to create an airy shape, but if you remove an entire branch leave a stump so that it can callous over. You can also reduce the leaders on gooseberries and redcurrants now. Stone fruits are given a lighter pruning in early summer, once the sap’s running, as silver leaf disease can enter cut made in winter.

Roses can also be pruned now. Remove the 3Ds and aim for an airy shape. ybrid teas can be reduced to 9 inches (22cm), floribundas to 18 inches (45cm) and English and shrub roses by a third. If there’s lots of woody material at the base, be brave and saw it away with a Felco pruning saw. New stems will appear in spring.

Take long growth off wisterias, cutting the stems back to 2 to 3 buds.

Brush off heavy snow

And, remember, if its snows heavily you might need to brush heavily laden boughs, fences, netting to prevent damage.

Read more tips for caring for a winter garden, including choosing fragrant winter shrubs and choosing the best winter bedding plants.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.