In frosty weather little can be done in the garden. The ground is too hard to dig or plant and the lawn should not be walked on. Although there is very little work to do, January ushers in the beginning of a new year that is full of promise in the garden.
Despite the low temperatures and short daylight hours, there some useful tasks that can be done. If the weather is mild, you can still plant roses and bare rooted shrubs and trees. At this is time of year a heated greenhouse has great appeal, especially when the weather is too cold and wet to work outside. The warmth of a heated cold-frame or greenhouse or even a sunny indoor window enables you to sow annuals that need a long growing season and start of those early vegetable crops. Roots of favourite herbs, can also be lifted and brought indoors, to provide fresh shoots and leaves for winter flavour.
Winter digging is necessary for beds and borders that need to be planted in early spring. The earlier this is done the better, allowing time for frosts to act and break down the soil. The longer any rough clods of soil are exposed to frost, the easier it will be to get a fine tilth in spring. While digging, it is a good idea to work in plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost at the same time, thus improving the soil's texture and richness.
If you have planted any trees or shrubs during the winter months, check that they haven't been lifted by frost. Once lifted, they can rock in the wind and their roots will be slower to get established. Re-firm the plants by pressing down on the surrounding soil with your feet. You may also need to stake any tall or exposed plants to prevent further wind rock.
If the surface of water features or a pond has frozen solid, and particularly if it contains fish, break the ice with care. If the ice is very thick, use a little boiling water rather than a hammer, to avoid shock waves which can kill the creatures beneath.
The long winter evenings provide plenty of time to browse through seed catalogues and plan new projects in the garden. Late January to early February is an ideal time to visit garden centres to buy seeds, tubers and bulbs for the coming season. If you are ordering products from a seed catalogue, or over the internet, it should be done as early as possible or they may arrive too late for their proper sowing or planting dates.
Make sure that mechanical equipment such as mowers, rotovators, edgers, strimmers and hedge trimmers are in good working order. If any need repairing or sharpening, take them in for servicing by a professional.
Any jobs that do not require cementing or painting, such as building or knocking down old sheds, putting up a fence, laying out gravel paths or a terrace or making a rock garden, are best carried out now, while the soil is workable and all the plants are dormant.
This is a good time to make a new rock garden or improve an old one. It is too early to add any plants yet, but the preparation and construction work can be done now. A good builders' merchant, nursery or garden centre specializing in garden construction materials should have a range of rocks and will be able to advise you on costs, and how many you are likely to need.
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UK gardens open in January include:
Large tropical glasshouses specialising in orchids, begonias and tree ferns. Attractive landscaped areas outside.
Wide range of attractions including a Palm House and Princess of Wales conservatory for winter interest. Many other plantings for year-round colour.
Location: Kew, Surrey
Superb ravine garden situated on the Helford river, originally planted in the 1850s. Includes a water garden with huge Gunneras. Also many rare and exotic trees and shrubs, including tree ferns.
Extensive formal gardens surround a nineteenth-century house, including a Japanese garden. Woodland gardens are best visited in spring/early summer.