The first month of the year can be difficult for gardeners. It is likely to be cold, wet and maybe even snowy, but there are some very productive and enjoyable tasks that can sit atop your list of gardening jobs for January. I will be doing many of these tasks over the next few weeks and recommend other gardeners to do the same, if they haven’t already.
Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.
Surely one of the most exciting things you can do in January is get on with planning for the year ahead in your garden or allotment. Take this time to look back on what worked last year and what didn’t, and try to start getting the inspiration as to what you want this coming year. If you are anything like me, you’ll have some keenness this month to plan ahead so make preparation for the plot for 2021 one of your January gardening tasks.
Grab a pen and paper and start drawing out your beds and borders, then you can look at magazines, websites or social media to get some more inspiration. In a garden you are likely to know that one spot that isn’t working, so take this time to research what could do better in that troublesome space. For the allotment now is the time to check and plan that rotation for this coming year and start putting together the framework for filling your beds.
Take this time to really prepare and make a wish-list of plants or crops for the coming year, then you will be organised and hopefully more efficient going forward. I am certainly a big fan of putting together planting and sowing plans – I do love a spreadsheet – ideally with a cup of tea close by.
Why not try growing something a little different this year? For inspiration on one unusual crop why not check out my post on my experience with Oca.
Following on from the planning comes the shopping. After going through the plant catalogues or websites now comes the need to order those desired seeds. This seems especially important this year as already a few suppliers have halted orders due to such demand for seed packets. More than ever, it seems vital to get those orders in early to not miss out, and then relax knowing you have what you want for a great year ahead.
Most gardeners, me included, are likely to have countless old seed packets from the last few years, or even longer. If they have been stored in a cool and dark place then seeds can stay viable for a few years or even longer, but their viability will start to drop. It is reckoned that the likes of carrots and peas can be good for up to six years. However, ones like parsnips tend to not be hugely viable after the first year (in my experience you can grow parsnips from older seed but the success rate is pretty low compared to fresh seed).
There is no harm in trying old seeds, especially if you are unable to get new packets, but you might have to sow a few more just to be on the safe side. You can simply check the viability of seeds by sitting them on damp kitchen towel to see if they do sprout.
Once you get your seed potatoes then it’s a good idea to chit them ready for planting in March or April. Simply stand them in trays in a cool and light place to encourage them to start sprouting. So, start saving those egg boxes and get ready for windowsills lined with lovely seed potatoes.
As long as the ground isn’t too wet, then a great gardening task for January is to renovate and spruce up your beds. If conditions allow it then giving beds a good weed and a good mulch will reap the rewards later down the line. A decent inch-thick layer of good organic matter will feed the organisms in the soil, supress weeds, and give some much-needed nutrients for the plants to come this year. There is no denying a good mulch does make a bed look so much neater and smarter.
Some allotment holders will dig over the soil and mix in compost as they go, while those using the no-dig approach will simply cover the soil with a thick layer of mulch. The no-dig movement is led by Charles Dowding and I will link to his website here if you want to find inspiration about going that route. I am a fan of the no-dig method and ultimately would like the whole allotment to work that way.
See my article on giving permanent beds in an allotment or kitchen garden a service, to get them in the best condition for the coming season.
Winter pruning of fruit bushes or apple trees is always an enjoyable task and January is an ideal time to complete this gardening job as they are still dormant.
Fruit bushes such as blackcurrants or redcurrants will need their annual pruning in order to ensure a bumper crop this year. Blackcurrants get pruned during these winter months and it is all about making a goblet-shaped framework by removing one-third of the oldest wood at the base.
For the redcurrants you want to remove older stems (those older than 3 years) to avoid the centre of the bush getting too congested, then any growth that is two years old gets pruned back to two buds. This might sound a bit more complicated than blackcurrants so I would recommend reading up before starting if you are unsure.
If you are pruning apple or pear trees then the main focus should be to remove dead, diseased or damaged wood, then concentrate on branches that are either crossing (and will rub, causing the opportunity for disease to get in) or congested.
Have you had envy looking at other people’s gardens or allotments on Instagram and fancy yourself as a bit of a practical person? Then you could take the opportunity for a transformation project in January. Whether it is building raised beds, turning some pallets into a compost bay or bench, or making yourself a really useful cold frame, there are many simple DIY projects out there that could spruce up your space.
There are many more gardening tasks for January that I could have listed, as there is always plenty of jobs to do despite the winter weather. I shall be doing many of the tasks above over the coming weeks and will make sure to feature them on my Perennial Nerd Instagram page.