What to do in January

Planning, pruning, rhubarb, sweet peas

By Bridgette Saunders

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'What to do in January' page

January is a great month for mending broken things, felt on the shed roof, broken fences etc – try and team up with a fellow allotment holder and write a list of jobs that need doing on each allotment so that you can help each other – it makes the job much more pleasurable!  While you have got out your wood preserver give your garden canes and plant stakes a quick coat, it is worth doing the ends that go in the ground to prevent them from rotting. You can just leave them in a bucket overnight to soak up the preservative.

I store my garden canes in old downpipes, you can often find these in skips, cut them into three or four pieces at varying lengths and fix them to the side of your shed, put different lengths of cane in each pipe and then you will find it easy to find your canes when you need them.

Get out and throw away all the broken pots and old seed trays that you don’t need – it will pay dividends in a couple of months.

Watering

Take care when watering as fungal diseases thrive in cool damp conditions found in poly tunnels, cold frames or glass houses in winter.  Avoid getting water on leaves as this can lead to rots and moulds forming, as well as fungal diseases.  Keep any over wintering plants on the dry side and this should prevent stem rot and grey mould.

Planning for the next year

Plan out your vegetable plots on paper before working out what seed you want to order from the catalogues, so you don’t over order or end up with two much of  the same things. Think about crop rotation while doing this.

Other tasks for January

If you have grass paths on your allotment now is a good time to fork them over as they will be harbouring pests such as wire worms, this will bring the worms to the surface and the birds will come and eat them.  This is really important if you are making new beds for vegetables as these are very susceptible to root pests.

Keep a bag of gritty sand handy in case the big freeze comes, it is much better than salt which, once the thaw comes, the salt runs onto the beds or gets in your pond and does lots of damage.  Besides sand is cheaper than salt!

Pruning Apple Trees

Just when you thought there wasn’t much to do – it’s pruning time for apples and pears, that is the traditional tree shaped sort, not the cordons and espaliers which need summer pruning.  You don’t have to prune them but just try and remove any crossing branches, or dead or diseased parts as you will be rewarded with better fruit quality if there is lighter getting to the developing fruit.

If you have a really old tree that has canker, (large thick, warty looking lumps), you can cut these out, although it doesn’t make that much difference, as with an old tree canker would be expected, so just forget about it and see it as part of the trees character.

Frost protection of pots

Remember to keep any pots next to your shed or anywhere that will provide them with a bit of shelter should there be a sharp frost – and don’t forget the horticultural fleece or bubble wrap if frost is forecast.  Keep an eye on the weather – the met office app is great if you have a smart phone. 

Rhubarb

You can force rhubarb now – that means you will produce those beautiful, tender and delicious pink stems that you buy from the supermarket or greengrocer yourself.  The best way to do this is to have three rhubarb plants and then you can force them in rotation – if you force the plant too often it will weaken it.

Try to force a root that is at least two years, new plants won’t have enough oomph to do anything.  You can use a special rhubarb forcer but a large flowerpot or dustbin will do fine, as long as it excludes the light.  Put a couple of bricks on top to stop it blowing over.  Last year my rhubarb grew so strongly that it pushed the dustbin with two bricks on top off the plant – amazing!  About six weeks later the tender young sticks should be ready for pulling.

Sow sweet peas

If you didn’t get round to sowing your sweet peas in the autumn have a go now.  You can wait until March but sow two in an empty loo roll and put it in a cold frame

If you have space in a heated propagator at home why not try and sow some hardy perennials, such as geraniums for your allotment. Sown now you may get a few to flower this year.

This page was added by Melanie Matthews on 21/01/2012.