January in the garden

The New Year begins and it’s time to start planning your crops and getting the ground ready for a bountiful harvest. Take advantage of spells of fine, dry weather to get out and work off any festive over-indulgence. Ground can still be dug as long as it’s not frozen, leaf piles and compost heaps raked over and vacant beds spread with rotted manure or garden compost. When frost and snow bring outdoor work to a standstill, start sowing early seeds indoors or order your seeds from the catalogues or websites.

For experienced growers, why not try some new varieties this year or something novel or different in the veg garden? Oriental vegetable seeds such as Mizuna Kyoto, Red Pak Choi, mustard greens and Chinese broccoli make an interesting mix to my usual salad leaves and I can get organically grown seeds easily.

Don’t forget to look after the birds. Put out food and water for our feathered friends in your plot and you’ll be rewarded when they help with the control of slugs, snails, greenfly and other pests during the year.


Make sure all weeds are cleared from plots and cover selected areas with polythene sheets, horticultural fleece or cloches to start warming up the soil. Clean the greenhouse and cold frames if you have these, checking for over-wintering pests and diseases, and treat as needed. Old leaves, plant material and disused pots of compost often harbour pests so clear these out before you get really busy with seed sowing and raising young plants.

Prune established apple and pear trees, and also younger trees under three years old. Prune the latter to establish shape and encourage branching - ultimately creating an open ‘goblet’ shape in the centre of the plant. Gooseberries and currants can also be pruned, mainly removing branches that fruited last year but also, particularly for gooseberries, to create the open goblet shape as for the apple and pear trees. Remove canes of raspberries that fruited last year, too.

Remove any mummified fruit on trees as these will harbour pests and diseases. Check all stored fruit for any signs of brown rot and discard immediately as this can quickly spread to unblemished fruit. Bare-root trees and bushes are still available so take time to increase your stock.

Seed potatoes are also available now. Although I don’t start chitting these until next month, I always buy my seed potatoes in January as there is more choice available.


  • Tomato seeds can be started off indoors. I like to sow in individual modules so that the young plants transplant better. After sowing and covering with a thin layer of soil or vermiculite, pop the container into a heated propagator or in the airing cupboard, checking daily for emerging shoots, and then move into a light, mild frost-free place
  • Lettuce can be sown indoors, too, especially if you have a greenhouse or polytunnel in which to grow plants on after germinating
  • Garlic, shallots and onion sets can still be planted in milder areas. You can also grow onions from seed this month
  • Start broad bean seeds off in individual modules then plant out young plants in February
  • Leeks
  • Parsley


  • Purple and white sprouting broccoli is starting to crop now; carefully cut off the spears as you need them
  • Brussels sprouts, leeks and cabbages are ready for harvesting, and young cabbage plants can be used as spring greens
  • Root crops like carrots, parsnips, celeriac, turnips and swede should all be lifted now, storing in shallow trenches covered in straw or soil for frost protection if you can’t use all the crops straightaway

Philippa Pearson

Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay.