January is the calm before the storm of seed-starting and gardening begins in earnest! Learn what January gardening chores you should be doing this month to ensure that your garden is ready to live it’s best life next spring.
I know that, technically, winter has just begun. Still though, in my heart, as soon as the winter solstice passes and the holidays are over, I start thinking of it as gardening season.
Granted, there is no actual outside gardening going on. January is really more of a month for dreaming and planning, but I believe that that’s as important to a successful garden as digging in compost or thinning the carrots. Without a plan, your garden definitely won’t thrive.
You might like: The Best Seed Catalogs // 2019 Edition
So, this month, throw some more logs on the fire and curl up with all those seed catalogs that have been clogging up your mailboxes since Christmas. Sketch out your garden layout so you’ll know where to plant everything, and make a list of all those new seed varieties you want to try this year. Have fun dreaming the winter away!
January Gardening Chores + Tasks List
Please keep in mind that these January gardening chores are examples of tasks I do in my northwest maritime garden (zone 8). Every garden is different, and you may need to adapt your chores based on climate, growing zone and conditions, among other things.
Please take what I do as inspiration for your own gardening tasks, and grow your own roots with it!
Here are the most important January gardening chores to get done before the month ends!
Take Inventory and Order
Now is the perfect time to make sure you have everything you need to start sowing and planting in earnest next month!
- Get rid of seeds that are too old or that you don’t like
- Order seed potatoes
- Order onion slips (if you’re not starting your own from seed)
- Start ordering spring and summer seeds
- Order bare-root fruit and berry plants and trees
- Stock up on seedling plug trays
- Order pots or make your own with newspaper (this is the tool I use to make mine)
- Purchase (or make) seed-starting mix and fertilizers
- Buy seedling grow lights if you don’t already have some (they will change your life!)
Maintenance and Clean Up
Most of the things on your maintenance list in January are just holdovers from previous months. Keep cleaning up so you’ll have a blank and perfect slate to start from come spring!
- Spread wood ash throughout the garden and at the base of apple trees
- Add mulch, such as straw or leaves, to any exposed soil
- Dig a trench where you’ll grow peas next season, and add your food scraps directly to it
- Cover faucets with insulated covers
- Turn the compost pile
- Drain your garden hoses and bring them inside so they don’t crack during cold weather
- Check and water plants in covered areas
- Make sure all clay pots are moved inside (cold weather will crack them)
- Cover garden beds with cardboard or silage tarp to kill weeds and warm soil
- Keep your woodpile stocked up and your ax sharpened
- Empty the gas from lawn mowers and other tools
- Clean pots and seed trays
What to Plant
Even here in the very mild and temperate Pacific Northwest, January is simply too cold and wet to sow any seeds outside. If you do, they’ll probably just rot (whomp whomp). You can start some hardy and long-season seeds indoors, but make sure you don’t start too early or they’ll get too lanky and might even bolt before harvesting.
Sow indoors under lights //
- Onions and leek seeds
- Lettuce and greens
- Peas (this is admittedly very early, but you could try!)
Plant outside this month //
- Rhubarb sets (they don’t mind the cold, but don’t like being too wet)
- Landscape shrubs
- Fruit and berry bushes
- Bare-root trees
- Daffodil, crocus, allium and tulip bulbs
- Spring garlic
I know that bare-root trees and shrubs will start showing up at the end of the month in a few nurseries and stores, and if you can you should definitely buy some, since they are often much cheaper than their potted-up counterparts!
What to Prune
Winter pruning can continue until it isn’t winter anymore. If it’s very cold and frozen where you are though, you might skip pruning for now. Use your best judgement!
Prune this month //
- Ever-bearing raspberries
- Marionberry canes
- Apple, pear and peach trees
Blueberry bushes will begin to go dormant in January, which means it’s the perfect time to start pruning them, too!
If you live in a warmer or more temperate zone like I do, you might still have crops to harvest this month! Heck, even if it’s covered in snow where you live, you might have a row or two of especially hardy vegetables still out in the garden. Here are the cold-hardy plants you could still be harvesting this month:
Harvest as needed //
- Brussels sprouts
- Winter cabbage
- Rutabagas and turnips
- Winter radishes
If more than a frost threatens, I would go ahead and cover your plants with cloches or fleece row covers (this is what I use), just to be on the safe side. Also, if you’re leaving carrots in the ground to harvest throughout the winter (I am this year!) give them a nice, thick mulching with straw to keep their tops from freezing.
Pests and Diseases
January is still a great time to root out and prevent pests and diseases from taking hold in your garden! Believe me, the bugs are out there!
- Burn diseased and mildewed leaves, branches and foliage
- Cover new apple trees with net to keep starlings and crows from eating the new buds
- Look for rodent damage and holes, and use traps as necessary
- Renew the grease bands around the base of fruit trees if necessary
- Rake over the top layer of soil (or let your chickens do it!) to expose hibernating grubs
Houseplants and Indoor Starts
Having houseplants to take care of makes the winter a little more bearable, in my opinion. Make sure to give them some love and attention this time of year, too.
- Give ferns a deep watering and mist them to prevent them drying out
- Check, water, and fertilize indoor plant starts (like your scented geraniums)
- Pot up amaryllis and paper whites
Check Stored Produce
Be sure to inspect your stored food every month! Get rid of anything that is starting to show signs of rot or that just isn’t keeping well, and make sure to use the smaller, damaged produce first.
Food to Keep an Eye on This Month //
- Early and mid-crop potatoes
- Mid-keeper onions (any that say they keep between 4-6 months)
- Hardneck garlic
- Apples and pears
January is a pretty quiet month, there’s no disputing that. But this is truly the calm before the storm of seed starting begins, and it’s wonderful in it’s way for that. Enjoy these long evenings of dreaming and planning and before you know it, spring will be here again!
What are some of your must-do January gardening chores?
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