As temperatures throughout the country plunge to record lows, it’s hard not to be counting the days until we break free of the shackles of winter. It may be torture looking outside at the bleak landscape, thinking about the lush green gardens just around the bend, but it’s actually time to take action now for the best gardens all year. Your garden begins in January, long before your gardens are filled with flowers and tasty treats. It is the time when you plan out the direction and extent of your gardens and set yourself up for success. While you may be setting out all of your new year’s resolutions, don’t forget that your gardens need them too!Keep in mind that we are in the fairly mild climate sitting on the border of 7b and 8a. We get some freezing weather but nothing compared to more northern climates.
start by looking back
The first and most important thing to do is look back on the last year. Look through your notes, journal, photos, or anything else that might help tell the story of your garden last year. Remind yourself what worked and what did not. What areas need more attention? What seasons need more interest? Know what you need for this upcoming growing season. Having a plan will help you shop smarter this year when tempted by all those cool plants at the nursery and when the seed catalog frenzy hits. Know what you need and know where you can fit a few little splurges.
jot down some notes
If you don’t keep a garden journal, I would highly recommend it. Whether you are digital or analog, somewhere to take a note or two and write down some planting dates can be very valuable for years down the road (this blog is doing wonders for us). It’s a wonderful tool to be able to look back at what you grew, what the weather was, and when you were picking what.
plan your gardens
Measure out your garden beds, both existing and proposed. Sketch out your plan on paper and be sure to look at the spacing each plant needs and what types grow well together. Use a tool like Mother Earth New’s Vegetable Garden Planner for a little help (plus it keeps a catalog of your work).
order those seeds
If you aren’t already on the mailing of every seed company under the sun, start signing up to get your free catalogs. Many are even now making digital copies available to save some paper. Most seed companies send out their latest catalog in December or January. Take a cold morning and dive in and pick out those seeds. Now is the time to put in your orders so you don’t miss out on the varieties you want to try.
build any structures
With a garden plan in hand, you will have a good idea of what sorts of structures you might need in the garden. Trellises, cages, and fences are all types of structures that you don’t want to be caught installing over the top of delicate seedlings. Build them early and install them before you set out your first plants.
hit the garden
keep watching the weather
Unfortunately, even in our warmer climates there is still lots of winter to be had. Pay attention for freezing weather that might hit and protect your frost sensitive plants with frost cloth or plastic. You always hear those stories of devastating last frosts, so be vigilant.
keep your plants watered
Cold weather is very deceiving when it comes to soil moisture. It’s easy to let your winter survivors dry out, so stay on top of it and check the soil frequently especially in longer stretches between rain or snow.
never a bad time for mulch
If you didn’t mulch in the fall (or even if you did), now is a great time to give your plants a little extra insulation. If you use a black mulch or compost, it will help warm the soil helping root and plant development.
go trimming crazy
Trim back ivy and clear out invasive plants before they start growing like crazy come spring. Cut back grasses before their spring flush out. Clean out the last of the dead plant debris from your gardens.
prepare and/or till gardens
If you are starting a new garden somewhere, you want to till up the garden well before you plant it to give the soil time to settle. If you have not prepared the ground by tilling or sheet mulching, now is the time. Once the ground thaws out and is able to be worked, get started.
plant trees and shrubs
Now is the time to plant trees and shrubs because they are still dormant. It allows the plants to acclimate and develop their root systems better before the spring making them more resilient all summer and fall.
give the indoor garden some love
The heat is up and the humidity is low. Light is limited and your plants are probably all clustered together vying for their share. It’s not the happiest of times for houseplants indoors during the winter. Check their leaves frequently this month for brown spots or any pests. Mist them frequently and add humidity trays underneath filled with pebbles.
In the shed
rehab your tools
Last year was as hard on your tools as it was you. Give them a sprucing up by cleaning them up well by removing dirt and rust and oiling them. This is a good tutorial for cleaning your tools.
If you are anything like me, as the season goes on longer it becomes easier all the time to get a little more cluttered in the shed. Take a warm day to go out and get everything organized. It will pay off huge for months to come.
pick up seed starting supplies
You will be planting seeds in just a few weeks, so make sure you have everything you need to get started. There are great guides everywhere on the web. One of my favorites is Chiot’s Run Seed Starting 101.
A little work in January can pay off for the rest of the year. Take on your January garden chores and reap the tasty and beautiful rewards. It can be tough to get outside, so use that little bit of motivation those sunnier (and hopefully warmer) days have a knock out a few things.