January is unpredictable and so work in the garden is generally opportunistic. If the ground is not frozen or waterlogged, then planting shrubs, trees and last-minute bulbs is possible but of course the weather conditions can change quickly, so be wise in your planting decisions.
Sowing and Planting
Plant Azaleas and Rhododendrons and Camellias. These are shrubs that like a moist, acid soil.
This is also the optimum time for planting hedges whilst bare-root whips are dormant.
You can start chitting early potatoes now.
Pruning and plant management
Some shrubs and trees can be selectively pruned particularly those with a very natural growth habit. You are looking to cut out only the dead and diseased wood and any criss-crossing branches that spoil the natural shape of your shrub. If a shrub has got out of control this is also a good time for some renovative pruning.
Fruit trees may be pruned, apart from Plums and Cherries, which are vulnerable to Silver Leaf disease.
Prune summer-flowering clematis down to a bud low down on each stem.
Prune Wisteria side shoots to 5cm ensuring a couple of buds at the base of each shoot to encourage flowering. Other climbers can also be tidied up now. Tie new growth into supports.
Remove old leaves of Hellebores if unsightly.
If you have shrubs that need moving, now is the time because the plant is dormant.
Emerging Rhubarb can be forced by placing large pots over the crowns.
Maintenance and Planning
Compost can be added into compacted borders or any bare patches, being careful not to damage tender new shoots.
This is also a time to tidy up the garden if conditions allow. You can snip off any old faded flower heads that are not of visual interest and remove rotting, slimy vegetation.
I am not averse to leaving fallen leaves on some borders as the leaf mold, which is produced as they decay, is a fantastic organic addition to the soil and also acts as a mulch protecting the developing shoots beneath. However – this is not everyone’s cup of tea and many people prefer to clear the leaves and then apply mulch around specific plants.
Consider hanging onto any plant structures that show winter interest – seed heads, architectural perennials, grasses. In snow and frosty conditions or at low light they can look fantastic. However, it is also a good time to cut these down if they are looking unsightly.
Take hard-wood cuttings from roses and shrubs.
This is the time to order seeds and summer flowering bulbs.