my garden chores: january 2011

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Another garden year begins as seed-catalog season revs up in earnest now that the holidays are past. Treat yourself to some new catalogs (or their online counterparts), and maybe a new garden notebook or journal, too? There’s more to do, some of it even involving leaving the house for the out-of-doors. True! Ready?

IF THE PERFECT COMBINATION OF not-too-deep snow (or none) but still-frozen soil occurs on a sunny day, get out and prune. Fruit trees, like my old apples, benefit from a late-winter cleanup; here’s how. Are all your cutting tools sharp, blades cleaned, moving parts oiled?

BUT DON’T RUSH: Keep feet on mulch, stone or gravel paths—off the lawns and out of beds—if the January thaws prove warm enough to soften the ground. Mucking around in mud wrecks the soil.

INVENTORY LEFTOVER SEEDS and even do your germination testing to see what’s still viable. Store keepers in a cool, dry place. A friend stashes his in the fridge, first sealing in zipper bags with the air squeezed out, then placing the bags in a sealed plastic box rather than have strays get lost among the yogurt and mayonnaise.

TOSS THOSE SEEDS more than a few years old and make a list of what you’ll need. Not that any act of self-control stops me from ordering yet another gourd or pumpkin variety, or some oddity I simply must have or perish. My list of favorite sources is on my Resource Links page.

WHAT SEED-STARTING GEAR and lights will you use? You’ve got time, but best to get the equipment in order—or built. In 1989, I had this proper rig built (lights and all) but last year I got a miniature version with new-fangled grow bulbs that I love. All my seed-related posts are here, lest you need them now.

TAKE THE TIME TO READ UP ON the seed-shopping rules we live by here at A Way to Garden, then position you comfiest chair for seed-shopping (and naps) to point out the window, where there are still perhaps some visual garden riches: berries, bark, new birds.

FEEDING BIRDS THIS WINTER? Why not feed them all year-round with a bird-friendly garden? Make the plans now for a habitat garden in the New Year. More winter beauty for you, too.

MOLE PATROL CONTINUES, in perpetuity: I am still setting out mousetraps under boxes, buckets or cans in the gardens where I see any activity, to rid them from my beds and borders.


KEEP AN EYE OUT for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects. If tackled before they get out of hand, nonchemical methods are usually successful: a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray (as directed on label) or with the most tenacious (like mealybugs) sometimes an alcohol swab and Q-tip. Overwatering is the biggest risk to houseplants in winter…go easy.

START A POT OF PAPERWHITES in potting soil or pebbles and water, or better yet a water-booze mix, and stagger forcing of another batch every couple of weeks for a winterlong display.

WAKE UP WELL-RESTED amaryllis bulbs by watering once, placing in a bright spot, and waiting for them to respond. If no dice in a couple of weeks, water again…but don’t repeatedly water an unresponsive bulb or it may rot. It will tell you when it’s ready for action.


CONIFER RESEARCH: Take note in your local travels (or in books), of conifers that look good to you, and think about adding a few to the garden come spring. Some of my favorite conifers.

SCOUT FOR VIBURNUM BEETLE egg cases on bare viburnum twigs now through April. Remove cases by pruning off affected wood to reduce larvae and beetle issues. The bump-like cases are usually on the underside of youngest twigs. (I also watch in May for larvae hatch and rub the twigs then to squash the emerging pests I missed.)

DID YOU CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents? Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well.

ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. This is especially important in winter, with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.

NOTE: All based on my Zone 5B Berkshires MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly.

  1. Terryk says:

    Hi Margaret,

    It has been so long since I did a veggie garden, can you (or have you) a list of the vegetable seeds that you start in late winter/early spring for the spring garden. For example, I know you grow lettuce/greens, beets,radish and probably broccoli, but do you start brussel sprouts for the spring garden or is this something that you plant only for the fall garden?


  2. Terryk says:

    Ah the light bulb went off this morning (over the coffee of the beginning of the day!) CHECK THE MONTHLY CHORES! And there are the answers in black and white. I guess I have to take my brother in law’s advise to his sons-“figure it out!”.

  3. Margaret Fusco says:

    I just found an easy reference chart for seed starting on the Johnny’s website that allows you to plug in your last frost date and hit GO. The chart then shows dates for starting indoors and planting outdoors for a wide variety of veggies.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Margaret: You are too clever, Margaret…and that’s why they named you Margaret. :) It’s a great tool! Thank you.

  4. Let the chores begin! I enjoyed my rest from the garden after tucking her into bed ages ago, but my curiosity is stirring and now I can’t wait to resume gardening business again. Thank you for the kick I needed to get going.

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