January’s Garden

winter beesA new year, a new growing season.

Yep, it’s time to seriously start thinking about what you’re going to do out there.


For these days of January…and perhaps for a further few in February, I’d like to add another element to This Month’s Garden – the DON’T list. These are those things that we should NOT, under any circumstance, think of doing.

Sometimes you can do more damage doing than not doing. And not doing sounds  good when the high this month will do well to break 20F.

Still, there are many things you can work on this month to prepare your garden for a glorious 2018, and you can find those right under that nice long DON’T list.

And, if you’re having a hard time visualizing what ‘glorious’ could possibly mean to that space you’ve got outside the front door – I encourage you to pick up a copy of Big Dreams, Small Garden for a bit of winter inspiration.



Outside Tasks:

DON’T beat the ice off of shrubs and trees in your yard when storms come and create popsicle sticks. Brittle leaves and branches will break. Dry snow can be shaken off.

DON’T use a sunny day for evil – pruning the branches (and buds) of spring flowering shrubs like quince, lilac, rhododendron, Daphne, forsythia, deutzia, and spirea. Wait until after they have bloomed or you will lose your spring bloom.

DON’T fool around with soupy, freeze/thawed soil. You will ruin the soil structure, tick off the worms and generally do terrible things out there. Patience.

DON’T cut back the stalks of last year’s perennials. If you’ve left them this long you might as well benefit from the physical reminder of where they are come spring. The birds will benefit from the seeds too.

DON’T touch your roses.  Just. Don’t.

DON’T forget to look outside and appreciate the stark beauty of winter. Rocky hillsides are exposed, fields are frosty, bark is colorful and textured, bird life is abundant. The world is just a different kind of beautiful.

DO Bundle up and take advantage of the fact that many unwanted trees and invasive shrubs are at their most vulnerable and naked.  This is the time to do some clearing if you need to.

DO Cut back the foliage of large grasses that have sprawled beyond your comfort level.  Some will stay upright for months, but a hard storm can flatten them.  If they’re no longer adding value to the landscape, you can shear them now and take a job off your March calendar. (Tie them into a bundle with twine and then cut that cleanly with shears or a hedge trimmer.)

DO Check your overwintering (supposed to be dormant) tropical plants such as cannas or bananas in garages or basements.  If they have started to develop leaves, adjust the temperature down and give them a little water to balance the that growth (which takes energy and resources).  With the colder temps they will probably cut it out.

DO Check any outside pots that are in a rain shadow under a roof eave.  Make sure they have a bit of moisture – especially the evergreen plants that are very susceptible to cold winds burning dry leaves.

Fun, creative things to do – Get a bird feeder going. Make a dried arrangement entirely with what you can find outside (tell any one who asks that it’s ‘Winter Art’). Sprout some alfalfa seeds inside for sandwiches. If you’ve still got a Christmas tree up, turn it into a Wildlife Tree. Peruse a seed catalog with a Sharpie.  Keep a record of high low temps in your journal.  Start looking for emerging hellebore blooms. Take this time for a bit of winter reading of garden books, blogs and magazines. Join the American Horticultural Association  – not just cause it’s the right thing to do as an American gardener, but because it’s a wonderful organization with an excellent, informative magazine and many other member benefits.

Inside Tasks:

DON’T start clearing out refugees. If you took a division from a friend back in the fall and brought it inside to coddle then forgot about it, you may be seeing new growth now. Whether or not you’ve got room for something ungainly that belongs in the garden, you are now stuck with it. DON’T under any circumstances put it outside with the overwintering perennials or the shock will kill it.  Even a cold garage may be too cold. Spring has come for your little division. It’ll be spring before you can off -load it.

DON’T excessively water plants overwintering in cold barns and garages, particularly succulents. Cold wet soil is deadly. Better too dry than to die.

DON’T succumb to windowsill grow kits.  Windowsills very rarely provide enough light to grow strong seedlings. Unless of course you have genuine, large, true south facing windows – then you’ll have to provide them with sunglasses.

DON’T ignore scale, mealy bug and aphids on your houseplants, hoping it will get better.  It won’t.  Horticultural oil (neem) is one of your best defenses – especially against scale.

DO have patience with your indoor plants.  April will be here sooner than you think.


“Then came old January wrappéd well
In many weeds to keep the cold away.
Yet did he quake and quiver like to quell
And Blewe his nayles to warm them if he may;

– Edmund Spenser
– From “Faerie Queen”




About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.