my january garden chores

shoes-trowel2HERE WE GO AGAIN: Another garden year begins as seed-catalog season gets going in earnest now that the holidays are past. If you didn’t get to it yet, 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 in the right-hand sidebar of every page here; more to come in posts soon.

POSITION YOUR CHAIR for seed-shopping (and naps) to point out the window, where there are still perhaps some riches: berries, bark, new birds.

READY FOR SEED STARTING? You’ve got some time, but not if you don’t have a proper rig built (lights and all) or know the seed-shopping rules we live by here.

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.

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.

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.

Categorieschores by month
  1. dianne dolan says:

    I must be dense, but I can’t find your seed catalogue list!!!! I have heard that Johnny’s is a good source for a Maine garden. My garden is close to the water, but a shorter season than my old garden in MA. I’m having trouble w tomatoes, no matter when I start, they r ready in Oct., and it’s a race w the frost.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Dianne: Look on any page on the blog in the right-hand column (the farthest right of the two narrow columns) and down toward the bottom. There are quite a lot of seed companies under “SOURCES,” the last entry in that column. I will be posting a big new list shortly as well. And yes, Johnny’s is wonderful. You may want to look for some shorter-season tomatoes, or some with Siberian heritage (ones that ripen in shorter, cooler seasons). Territorial Seed is another that has listings of many extra-early, ultra-early and early tomatoes (another way to express what you are looking for).

  2. Anne says:

    I loved the slide show! Just enjoyed it while sitting in front of the fire in our old farmhouse sitting room, looking at snow covered tree branches outside and dreaming of summer, with seed catalogues stacked at the ready next to me. Thank you very much for your wonderful blog, which I’ve been learning so much from over the past few months… it’s a source of much pleasure! I’m just getting started after spending two years mainly cleaning up our two acres (junk, deadwood, buckthorn and invasive weeds). Looking forward to really getting going in the garden this year!
    Vis-a-vis damaged trees, I’m wondering what to do for a crabapple which was badly attacked by some kind of borer on the main trunk about 8 inches off the ground… I noticed too late this fall that there were multiple sort of slot shaped holes and bark die off surrounding them. Some branches didn’t leaf out this year and I wonder if it’s too late or is there something I can do for this well liked tree, either now or in the spring?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Anne. Oh, dear, bark borers of some kind. This old post shows my experience with them on crabapples and has some links I believe. Sounds like you will lose the tree (but what you also want to do is lose the borer!). Thanks for your kind words, and so sorry on the tree front.

  3. Sally says:

    Margaret, your article on mulching, referencing Ruth Stout, a few days (or weeks?) ago has gotten me convinced to try the mulch route in my garden this year. So last week I dug up my compost piles and spread them on my garden. I’ve read about mulching before but never wanted to try it because it always has sort of a messy look. BUT the five-foot-tall weeds that end up in my garden by August look even messier, due to my desire to go and play AND have a vegetable garden; somehow the two just don’t seem to mesh. It will be an interesting experiment, but I’m all for anything that produces results and lessens work!

    1. Margaret says:

      @Sally: I will confess I do not use the Stout method in my ornamental beds (as you say: too messy), but there I use a few inches of a tidier mulch than hay, a composted stable bedding fine-textured wood chip/shaving that has been well-aged after animals used it). In the vegetables, though, the hay (or better yet oat straw, a real favorite of mine is the longtime trusty companion. Hope to see you soon again.

  4. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Now that the Christmas season is over, and the New Year is here, I am AGAIN thinking spring. I am not a house plant person, BUT love signs of spring in my kitchen and bathrooms. To me, when it is cold and dreary outside, there is nothing more visually exciting than a WINTER GARDEN on the kitchen window sill. At this time of year, the super markets now start offering pots of pre-chilled crocus, hyacinth, and tulips bulbs. Every few weeks I add a new pot, as another fades. The garden here, at Whimsey Hill House, has quite a collection of spring flowering bulbs that I FIRST enjoyed on cold winter days. If a person is not into flowering bulbs, bright colored carnations, and other LONG LIVED cut flowers are especially welcome, when there is nothing colorful blooming outside. I have always placed flowers in the kitchen and bathrooms, because those two rooms, really get the most traffic daily. At the middle end of this month, I will start picking forsythia branches, and forcing them, they makes quite a sunny display.

    1. Margaret says:

      Happy New Year, Fred. I like to buy orchid plants at this time of year, since they are so long-blooming and will get me through till March at least. You are right, it makes all the difference. Nice to “see” you.

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