Yes, you CAN garden in January

We’re lucky here, despite the heat and humidity we complain about in July, to have such mild winters that we can actually work in the garden for most of January and February.  As long as the ground isn’t frozen, we can do all sorts of chores, and much more comfortably than in July.  (Me, I hate physical exertion in the heat, and limit my hot-weather gardening to watering.  For anything more strenuous than that, I’m up at the crack of dawn and done by 8 a.m.)

Here are just a few of the tasks you can accomplish this month.

Hardscaping of all Sorts

Need a retaining wall, path, patio or gazebo?  Whether you’re building it yourself or hiring out, when spring comes you’ll be SO glad it’s already done, and you can enjoy your new garden feature.   Last year I had to wait until summer to have a patio built (because of construction of my porch) and August was NOT the best time to start planting around it.  For jobs you’ll be hiring someone else to do FOR you (which I highly recommend for most hardscaping), the crews are available now, but probably won’t be two months from now.

Planting and Transplanting

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, which it was just last week.  But yesterday I moved a huge Nandina that a neighbor gave me, and before the month is up I intend to plant some trees.   During winter dormancy is a fine time to move plants because they have plenty of time to develop their root system before the much-more-stressful hot weather begins.

Keeping Records 

I recently created a new garden book to document my new garden, and it only took about an hour.  It’s no thing of great beauty but the 3-ring binder contains a page for each plant, on which I’ve taped the label and written the date of purchase and the name of the store.  (Until then, the labels and receipts had resided in a manilla envelope.)

This is all it takes to have such details at your fingertips:  Exactly what variety is that, now that I need to get one more?  Exactly how long has that plant been there? (Which tells me how fast it’s grown.)  And so on.  When guests are touring my garden I just grab the book, and I become a whiz at answering their questions.  Without it, not so much. 

Planning

Now’s the perfect time to assess the “bones” of your garden, especially whether you have enough evergreens.  Take notes about what you need and maybe, just maybe, you’ll remember to buy those essential foundation and screening plants when they’re in the garden center next spring – despite wanting to fill your cart with things that flower.  (We’re so easily tempted!)  Shown on the right is a new hedge of Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’.  They max out at about 10 feet.

Removing Leaves

If you haven’t removed leaves from your lawn yet – do that asap!  Another high-priority area for leaf removal is in your flower beds around plants that do NOT like to be damp for long  – like Lamb’s Ears, Sedums, and other super-drought-tolerant plants from dry places.  Leaf litter at the base of plants is a perfect breeding ground for disease and pests, so be sure to remove leaves from beneath the more disease-prone plants, which includes all roses.  It’s also smart to remove leaves that are piled up next to woody trunks and stems.  (You’ve probably heard that piled-up mulch “volcanoes” are a bad idea?  So are leaf volcanoes.)

And while you’re cleaning up your borders, DO remove any weeds you see. 

Planting Bulbs

As Gene Sumi has assured us, it’s okay if we see new bulb foliage emerging soon.  They’ll still bloom right on schedule.

Now this may amaze you, but people are still planting their spring bulbs.  As long as their not-yet-planted bulbs have been sitting outside, they’re getting the cold period they need to bloom as soon as you get them in the ground and it warms up in the spring. 

Cutting Back Perennials

I like to leave perennial stalks standing as long as possible into the winter – for the look of them, and to feed the birds.  But if we get some snow, they’ll come crashing down and then I’ll get out there with my hand pruners to do the late-winter clean-up. 

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