How different can one year be? This time last year we were ready to finally bust out of winter’s grasp. Cold weather had not been a gardener’s friend. This year however has been a total 180. We have had record highs all winter. It’s only been the last couple of weeks that temperatures have plummeted back to where they should be. All of the warm weather has helped us get a head start on our January garden chores.
With such warm weather in the south, it may be really tempting to start planting seeds, but hold off a bit longer for most of your vegetables. Now is the time to prepare everything you need for a great year of gardening. January is a time of planning and a little dreaming. Make your resolutions for the garden now to make sure your seasons are full of delicious harvests and beautiful flowers.
We have an endless list of things that we already have planned for our little homestead. Our gardens are all going to see a huge overhaul this month with the help of a few new tools and some willing hands. We have dozens of new plants being shipped here as we speak. It’s going to be a great year on this homestead and these January garden chores are going to set it off right.
Note: Our organic gardens are in a milder climate sitting on the border of 7b and 8a. Your planting dates and some garden chore dates will differ based on your climate. Adjust dates as necessary.
Plan ahead and get your orders in
Start by looking back
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?
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, but always leave room in the garden for a few little splurges.
Keep some notes
Start writing down what, when, and where you are planting at the beginning of the year. Add notes through the season about what is thriving and what might not be. Whether you are digital or analog, a few notes can be valuable for years down the road (this blog is doing wonders for us). Here’s a little of what we had going on last year:
Plan your gardens
Measure out your existing garden beds. Use stakes and string to mark proposed beds and measure them as well. Sketch out your garden plan on paper and make notes on what you want to grow in what beds. 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 seeds and plants
Break out all of those plant and seed catalogs. If you aren’t already on the mailing list, start signing up to get your free catalogs now. Many companies are now making digital copies available to save paper. Most seed companies and plant nurseries send out their latest catalog in December or January. Take some time and dive in to pick out those seeds. (We have a guide to buying GMO-free seeds here.) Now is the time to put in your orders so you don’t miss out on the more popular varieties that you may want to try. Here’s a few of our favorite seed companies:
Build and install any structures
With a garden plan in hand, you should know what structures you will 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.
Keep your eye on the garden
Keep watching the weather
Even during this warm winter in Atlanta, we have seen temperatures suddenly plunge to below freezing. Pay attention for freezing weather that might hit and protect your frost sensitive plants with frost cloth or plastic. I always hear those stories of devastating late frosts, so be vigilant.
Add a little 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 gain solar heat, it will help warm the soil aiding in 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 and 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 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. We broke out our new broadfork last week and are already singing its praises.
Plant trees and shrubs
Now is the time to plant trees, shrubs, and even perennials while they are still dormant. It allows the plants to acclimate easier and develop their root systems better before the spring. They will be tougher and 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 to help them comfortably make it through the winter season.
Get your tools ready
Rehab your tools
Last year was as hard on your tools as it was on your back. Give them a sprucing up by giving them a good cleaning. Clean off any dirt with soap and water. Give them a good oiling before storing them away until the spring rolls in. This is a good tutorial for cleaning your tools.
Don’t neglect those pruners, machetes, and other blades. Take the time to sharpen and give them a great cleaning as well. Check out our tutorial on how to sharpen pruners.
If you are anything like me, the madness of the growing season can leave you a little 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 be sure you have everything you need to get started. Check out the condition of any trays or pots that you are reusing. (Don’t forget to disinfect them too!) Here’s some great guides for starting seeds:
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. We are trying out all kinds of new things in our gardens this year. Fingers crossed that it’s the most delicious bounty yet.