AND AWAY WE GO: Admittedly, January may be one of the quietest outdoor gardening months of all here in the North, and perhaps in most every part of the country. It’s prime time to assess the winter garden and plan additions, and with the influx of catalogs and fruit-tree-pruning season coming into view, I’ll manage to stay busy. The current chores list follows—in print or in podcast.
Prefer the Podcast?
The January Garden Chores are covered in my weekly podcast with WHDD Radio in nearby Sharon, Connecticut—the nation’s smallest NPR affiliate. Stream it now while you read, or subscribe free on iTunes.
NOW THAT THE HOLIDAYS are past, start the new garden year off right by treating yourself to some new catalogs (or their online counterparts), and maybe a new garden notebook or journal, too? When those catalogs arrive, read them. I know, that sounds obvious–but I mean really read them, like they were magazines. So much to learn: growing tips, research and breeding developments, and sometimes just lots of fun trivia.
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? (Remember to keep your shears off spring-flowering ornamentals whose buds are already set or risk having a no-show of flowers this year. This is no time to reshape lilacs, for instance.)
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 by assessing their viability (this chart and accompanying links will help) and even do your germination testing to see what’s still good. 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.
CONSIDER ORGANIC SEEDS this time, another way to vote with your pocketbook for less chemical usage, in this case in seed production—which is very chemical heavy. Here’s why. I don’t order from companies that knowingly deal in genetically modified seeds, more precisely knows as transgenic seeds, either. The background on my GMO thoughts.
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.
TREES & SHRUBS
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.