In January, the day starts to grow longer and warmer. Now is the time to tidy up your garden and plan for the next spring. Championing a systematic approach, our plant team thinks that January is best for clearing the ground, aerating the soil, pruning and further frost protection.
Clear your ground
Set aside fallen leaves and branches for a new compost heap, and churn the old heaps. Add more compost maker and make sure that it is moist throughout the whole pile. Shred Christmas wrapping paper and other packaging and mix it into your compost heap. Compile a new heap every year helps maintain a cycle of readily available fertilisers.
Aerate the soil
Aerating the soil throughout the year is important, as it prevents the soil from water-logging. January is a good time for aerating the soil as the garden is less busy. Use an aerator or a digging fork, or turning the soil over. Fork your borders over between established plants but keep off if the soil is wet. Incorporate fertiliser, well-rotted compost, or chipped bark into the borders to keep the weeds down. While you are at it, dig up the bulbs (e.g. daffodils), label them individually and store them in a cool place.
Joseph Bentley’s stainless steel soil rake, £22.99
Prune and sow seeds for selected plants
With dogwoods/cornus, cut them back in January right to the bottom so the new growth can start low and the plant comes out more vibrant. Herbaceous perennials such as Miscanthus, Sedum, Rudbeckia or Phlomis should have been cut back in December or before the first frost, but gardeners who like their grounds to look natural in the winter prefer not to do any trimming till January. With some prior planning, there can be poetry in an untended, withered winter garden - Piet Oudolf's Somerset project is a great example.
Apart from cutting back the perennials, January is also a good time for planting hedges (as long as they is no frost), and enjoying winter-blooming flowers such as Hellesbores, Viola and Viburnum. You can keep them potted but also plant them into the soil. Some vegetables such as sprouts and sweet peas can also be seeded in a cold frame. Dig a trench for runner beans and fill the bottom with well-rotted compost.
Hellebores Gold; £14.99
Further frost protection
Continue with frost protections such as blankets if night-time temperature goes into the minus. Beware especially of north winds as they tend to dry plants out the most. Side tip: Don't just water around the blanket, but wet the blanket too. When frozen wet blanket forms an igloo that provides additional insulation against the cold. Alternatively, cut the side branches off old Christmas trees and use them to cover tender plants in the garden. This will keep the worst of the frost off and yet allow the plant to breathe at the same time. Use bubble wrap to insulate plant containers against frost and wind damage.
A frost blanket is used to protect plants from the frigid Irish nights
In terms of gardening, January is generally regarded as the lowest of low season, but don't forget that planning, trimming and maintenance are best done during this downtime. Moreover, the best gardens are those that can maintain an interest throughout the year, be it flowers that bloom during different seasons (e.g. Hellebores) or bald branches with fantastic colour and shapes (e.g. Cornus). Blow away the post-Christmas cobweb and treat your garden as a pick-me-up tonic for the new year!