Peter’s Gardening tips for January

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This is the month of winter vagaries, when the thermometer is a gymnast, up it goes on warm days down it comes with biting frosts!

Bite, frost, bite!

You roll up away from light

The blue wood-louse, the plump dormouse

And the bees are still’d and the flies are hill’d

And you bite for into the heart of the house

But not into mine! -Tennyson


Bulbs are poking up from the earth, Daffodils already in flower in the West Country and Guildford. This is the month the Gallanthophiles have been waiting for almost a year – The first Snowdrops! The gardens after several days of hard frost are now back to their bare bones of stems, trunks, structure and evergreens. It makes you look at any garden in a completely different light. Look for the stem colours on shrubs and trees, the texture of tree bark, mosses and lichens, grasses wafting back and forth with the breeze, frost on leaves and old flower stems, seed heads of herbaceous plants. Much maligned conifers and heathers come into their own too, giving structure, shelter, form, shape and colour.

If the ground allows use a Springtine rack to flick out detritus – old debris from in between plants. The robin and blackbirds will follow you around the garden.

Take a moment out to visit your nearest garden open to the public in January. I popped into RHS Wisley Gardens this week to walk for a couple of hours with my camera – here are some of my photos.

Model veg area Wisley

Model veg area Wisley

Dog Wood

Witch Hazel and Red stemmed Cornus


Lichen on evergreen Azalea

Lichen on evergreen Azalea

As you can see you can find a lot to look at – take your time, explore different parts of a garden you visit regularly or walk it in reverse order. Don’t forget to use your ears, listen to the birds, have a good sniff or anything in flower, step back and listen as I have mentioned many times before.

Garden centres and nurseries have their sales on, many take the chance to have a clear out – Herbaceous plants at half the price and selected trees and shrubs. So some real bargains to be had for the discerning gardener!

Onions & Garlic

Onions & Garlic

Seed potatoes, shallots, onions, garlic are turning up in the garden centres, sure enough the signs of another gardening season to come.

Seed Potatoes

Seed Potatoes

 “The gardening season officially begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st!!” Anon


Prune Grape vines, Apples & Pears, refer to last months article.

Winter wash Apples and Pears, spray thoroughly now whilst the trees are completely dormant, Dec – Feb. This is to destroy any over-wintering eggs of aphids – Greenfly. Products to use are either Vitax Winter Tree wash or Growing Success Winter Tree Wash.

Clean tools, oil, sharpen, repair or replace broken tools.

Service mowers, strimmers, hedgecutters, blowers for the coming season. Drain out old petrol from engines.

Check any stored fruit or vegetables, dahlias and bulbs. Mice and voles can cause havoc in a greenhouse or shed with anything stored, seeds and seedlings.

More severe storms are forecast for this month, so check ties for climbers, trees, stakes etc.

Snow on evergreen shrubs needs knocking off with a broom.

Frost on lawns – Keep Off! Walking on a frosty lawn kills grass!

Armchair gardening is the order of the month when the weather is poor. Go through photos create lists of things to grow or not. Look at seed catalogues or go on-line. Above all take the opportunity to plan as best as one can with the vagaries of the weather for the coming growing season.

Forcing Rhubarb or Seakale, mulch around the crowns of the plants with straw, manure, leaves and compost. Place a forcing jar/terracotta pot/black bucket up turned over your selected plants. Don’t force all your plants, you should only force 1 in 3 years!! Commercially forced rhubarb plants are thrown away as they become ‘Spent’. They are dug up, frosted and then brought into forcing sheds where you can hear them pop and crack as the rhubarb grows, candles are only used for lighting!! Check out the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire, The High Priestess of Rhubarb, and Janet Oldroyd Hulme at E.Oldroyd & Sons.


All my hurts my garden spade can heal!

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Only dig over any cleared veg patch if the ground conditions allow – not squelchy. Cover with black plastic this will warm up the soil and also dry out the ground.


Please keep feeding the birds and fresh water for them to drink/ bathe in.

A variety of foods will encourage a wider selection of species. Most of the berries have been stripped off except cotoneasters. Old apples, grapes, biscuits, cake, raisins, sunflower hearts, nyger seed.

Nest boxes – Birds are house hunting already! Think about putting one or more up – not all the same sized hole entrance either -25mm,32mm, 50mms.

Just to sign off…

The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies!

  • Gertrude Jekyll

Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…..

A seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.

  • Barbara Winkler

Keep your gardening/wildlife questions coming in and any topics you would like me to cover in the Horticultural Year to come.  Leave any questions below and I will be happy to answer them for you …

Happy Gardening,

Kind Regards Peter

If you live in the South-East of England, check out my website,

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Peter Mills

I love everything to do with natural history, wildlife, biodiversity and of course horticulture - basically the big outdoors. I grew up with very good teachers namely my parents and my French grandfather who was a superb grower of vegetables. At Hadlow College I studied a three year OND in Horticulture. I had a market stall selling plants. Went onto wholesaling house plants to florists and garden centres across southern England. In 1986 I joined Clandon Park Garden Centre as manager. Whilst there I started my career as a gardening radio presenter with the BBC Southern Counties Radio. This continued for 15 years, building up valuable contacts with the RHS Wisley, live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows etc. Since 1998 I have been self-employed, working as a Head Gardener and in private gardens . Through the RHS Advisory Department at Wisley I advise on horticultural problems in members gardens, including pest & disease problems, lawn-care advice, pruning of wisterias, fruit trees, roses, wildlife gardening, growing fruit & vegetables, creating wildflower meadows, identifying plants and control of pernicious weeds. Autumn 2016 finds me at the Autumn Flower Show 6-8 of September at RHS Wisley and Taste of Autumn Sunday 23rd of October. Sunday 11th of September I am cycling from London to Brighton for Perennial ( Gardeners Benevolent Fund) who helped me when I broke my leg badly in 2014. Had the plate removed in February this year. My Just Giving page is Perennial is a Fabulous Charity who help anyone working in horticulture. I didn't think I would need their help at the age of 52! They were brilliant and helped us as a family. It's my turn to repay their help and others too! John Ambrose and I have raised over £ 2000.00 thank you all. I am an extremely lucky guy who loves what I do and the trade called Horticulture!

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25th Jan 2015
Thanks for voting!
Hi Peter, I have a house on the Algarve with a bouganvillea that we call the triffid.. We only have to leave it unattended for a few weeks and the darned theing has closed the back entrance and shot up to the roof. How can we control it please?
Peter Mills
28th Jan 2015
Thanks for voting!
Hi Sue, Bougainvilleas i'm afraid are rampant climbing plants in the right conditions,very vigorous 25- 40ft! Some are very prickly too with curved thorns! I write with experience of cutting them back in Lanszarote at a friend's apartments. You need a large pergola for it to climb on. If you can't cope remove it and plant something less painful! Jasmine, Mandavilla, Trachelospernum. Thanks for your question. Peter

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