January is a time to hunker down with a good seed catalogue and a never ending supply of tea - we're busy planning our sowing dates and creating planting plans for the year. We do get out on to the field when the mud allows and spend as much time in the polytunnel as possible on a sunny day. It's lovely to be 'outside' and able to strip off down to only a few layers!
In the garden: we are tidying up, covering soil for new flower beds to be planted in the summer, building protective covers for early spring plantings and cutting back hellebore leaves to help prevent the spread of blackspot. We also are cutting back perennials but being selective about doing this. We are always careful not to cut back plants likely to be protecting over-wintering creatures. Planting bare-root trees and shrubs can be done at any time. We would also plant bareroot perennials in the slightly warmer weeks.
In the polytunnel/greenhouse: keep an eye on plants in pots - these can easily dry out with the winter wind and sun. We have been planting hardy annuals into the beds to give them a head start and cutting back chrysanthemums. For plants to sow, see below. Now is a good time to do a good clean and tidy, and make sure that you regularly open doors and windows to boost ventilation and help keep disease at bay.
Propagation: Although it's early we are already turning our minds to what we can sow now to get a jump on the season. There are a few flowers which take a while to be large enough to flower so sowing early can really help extend their season of blooming.
Sweet peas: Preferring to flower in the cooler periods, we sow sweet peas in October and January. The jury seems to be out on whether it's worth pre-soaking or scoring the seeds - we do neither, just sow into an open compost about 2cm deep. We use 9cm pots or root trainers to give them a decent root run. The main thing to watch out for is damage from mice and voles who seem to love nothing more than munching on all your newly germinated babies. We sow and hang from the bars in our tunnel to deter mice. Do not over-water.
Cobaea scandens (Cup and Saucer Plant): This vigorous annual climber is very quick to grow but struggles if sown too late or not moved on quickly enough out of small pots. It makes a very pretty and unusual cut flower. We start this in February on a heated mat and under lights. It will then be moved into the polytunnel and protected with fleece if frost threatens. We'll keep potting it up until it's big enough to go outside. This year we are also trying it in the polytunnel as we've known them to still be flowering well into November in a protected space.
Dahlias: Don't forget to order your dahlias now - some of the popular varieties have already sold out. Tubers are usually dispatched in February but you can get any you already have onto a heated mat - or a windowsill in the house above a radiator - to start sprouting to take cuttings from.
Snapdragons: These take quite a while to reach flowering point so we recommend starting in February. They will need heat to get going and watch that the compost isn't too wet (or too dry!)
Hardwood cuttings can be taken now of roses and shrubs.