Give your garden a head start – 7 January jobs you can’t ignore

January isn’t a time to put your feet up if you want to get ahead in your garden – we’ve got seven tasks that must be done this month.

While many might see January as a month for snuggling indoors, for gardeners, it’s a time of hidden potential. Beneath the frosted ground and bare branches, the promise of spring stirs, waiting to be coaxed awake.

“This period is not just about enduring the frosty weather; it’s an active phase for safeguarding plants, preparing for spring, and finding joy in the serene beauty that winter landscapes offer,” says Craig Wilson, co-founder, director and in-house gardening expert at Gardeners Dream.

So, cast off your winter slumber and grab your gardening gloves, because these simple gardening tasks can transform your dormant patch into a blooming lovely outside space come spring.

Someone pruning a tree in the garden, one of the January gardening jobs -Credit: Shutterstock/Lia_Russy
Pruning is one of the many jobs you can tackle in January in the garden

1. Get pruning

Winter is the perfect time to prune

“It might sound crazy, but winter is actually the perfect time to prune your deciduous trees and shrubs,” says Wilson.

“Without the leaves, it’s much easier to see the structure of the plants and make thoughtful cuts that won’t be detrimental to your plants. Pruning in winter can encourage new growth in spring and prevent the spread of disease.”

Just make sure you have the best secateurs for the job. And don’t forget to clean them either – dirty secateurs can cause damage to your plants.

Lucy Hall, Saga Magazine’s gardening writer, says that if you’re lucky enough to have wisteria, one of your vital January garden jobs is to prune it.

“Wisteria is a showstopper in full flower but can be unruly if left to grow unchecked,” she says. “Now is the time for its twice-yearly cut back, in tandem with summer pruning, to encourage flowers over leafy growth.”

  • Trace long wisteria stems back to two or three buds from the main trunk and remove the rest of the stem, cutting at a 45-degree angle beyond the chosen bud.
  • Tie into wall supports and water well.
  • Only feed the plant now if it grew weakly last year, because this hard winter pruning is enough to stimulate strong growth on a healthy plant.

2. Give tender plants some extra TLC

Protect from the frost

Wilson says that some plants need a bit of extra care in the winter. These include Cordylines, Passiflora caerulea and olive trees, which need protecting as they’re particularly sensitive to frost. Leaving these at the peril of the British weather, means they may not survive into spring.

“For potted plants, I’d suggest moving them to more sheltered spots in your garden, or, if you can, move them into a greenhouse with working heaters,” says Wilson.

“For those in the ground, you can wrap them in fleece as a temporary measure when weather forecasts are looking cold and frosty. Thankfully, temperatures don’t tend to drop too far below freezing in the UK, so standard 17g fleece should be suitable.”

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3. Repair fences, gates and trellises

Time for a little DIY

You might not associate the colder winter months with fixing and repairing broken fences or trellises, but Wilson says this can help prevent problems down the line.

“If you have damaged fences, gates or trellises that come spring/summer will be covered in climbers, now is the best time to fix them up,” advises Wilson.

“While your plants are dormant, making these repairs will be less likely to cause any damage.”

4. Mulch around your plants

Improve the health of your soil

“Now is a good time to apply a thick layer of mulch to your plants,” says Wilson.

“Not only will this insulate the soil, but it will also provide your plants with nutrients to keep them going throughout the winter.”

Wilson says the more hardy plants will be fine without mulch, however, perennial plants that are more sensitive to colder temperatures will definitely feel the benefits of a little mulching in January.

5. Clear up debris

Have a good old tidy

While you may not like the idea of doing an outdoor tidy in January, it’s a good way of keeping active in the colder months.

Getting outside can also help boost your mood, and is particularly useful if you suffer from SAD. And as well as all this, it’s going to benefit your garden when the nicer weather comes.

“Fallen leaves and dead plant material can harbour pests and diseases which could ruin a garden before you even get a chance to enjoy it in the summer, so ensuring that any debris is cleared swiftly, will stand your garden in good stead for the warmer months,” says Wilson.

6. Set up bird feeders

Don’t forget about our feathered friends

“Winter can be tough for wildlife, and birds in particular benefit from extra food when the temperatures drop,” says Wilson.

Across Europe, a staggering 600 million breeding pairs of birds have vanished since 1980. The culprits? Habitat destruction and declining insect populations, leaving a once vibrant symphony of wings eerily silent. Helping them find food is one simple way to help them.

“I’d recommend setting up bird feeders in your garden and keeping them stocked with seeds and nuts,” says Wilson.

“Not only will this help the birds, but it will also bring some life back to your garden, during the dullness of winter.”

If you’re lucky, you may also be able to get some great bird photographs. Just make sure you don’t make any bird feeding mistakes, such as forgetting to provide water (including making sure it’s not iced-over) or putting feeds in the wrong place.

Help scientists track work out what’s happening to the bird population by joining the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. It happens between 26-28 January, so make sure you replenish feeders and water baths to be sure the birds drop by.

7. Recycle your Christmas tree

Create new life from old

Hall says now is a great time to recyle your real Christmas tree. You can take these to be recycled by your local council, however, you could also use it to improve your own garden.

“If you grow acid-soil-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas or blueberries, stack the tree outside to dry, and use the fresh, fallen needles as a 3-5cm weed-suppressant mulch,” advises Hall.

“Put the smaller branches through a shredder to create wood chips for a path, and cut the trunk into logs to stack under a hedge to create a habitat for wildlife.”

For more tips on maintaining your garden in January, check out the latest issue of Saga Magazine.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 24 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars. A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

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