Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

Gardening tasks and ideas for January

An image of an over the door shoe hanger with pockets filled with various seed packets.
An over-the-door shoe holder also doubles as a way to sort seeds.

Do you have the gardening itch? Here are some tasks you can complete in January as you prepare for this growing season.

My #1 tip: Order your seeds early — especially if you have your eye on a popular variety. 

Pansies and violas can be started from seed in early February. (If you are aiming for even earlier bloom times, begin seeds at the end of this month.)

Let's get ready for starting seeds indoors

  • Cue the lights! If you use grow lights, clean your equipment. In the past, I used a diluted bleach solution to wipe down my trays, but you can also use soap and water first, and then vinegar to disinfect. Make sure grow light bulbs work. I use the three-tier grow light stand from Gardener's Supply, which is now 13 years old! I have begun to substitute out the T5 bulbs for the LED versions. The LED bulbs do not get as hot as the original T5 ones. There are lots of grow lights on the market so you can find one to fit your size (and commitment). Here are some other suggestions for grow lights for smaller spaces.
  • Disinfect reusable plastic plant containers. You can also clean these with a diluted bleach solution (or the vinegar solution I mentioned above). This will ensure that any harmful things (such as plant diseases) will not find its way into your plantings this season. 
  • Figure out what your growing calendar looks like.  Look up when your estimated last frost date is. (This website will help.) Then count backward from that week to get your growing season. For example, my last frost date falls on April 27 this year, so when a packet of seeds says to start them inside eight weeks before the last average frost, I count back eight weeks from April 27 and get March 2. 
  • Then start sorting your seeds. Now that you know when to start which seeds, now you should sort them. I find the easiest way to do this is to use an over-the-door shoe holder. I place each seed packet into the appropriate slot and then I can easily see how much I have for each week. (See below.)

For me, seed starting begins at the end of this month with pansy seeds. (This is a good way for me to beat the winter blues and have my own pansies for early spring decorating.) But you may not start other seeds until February or March.

If you have the seed starting bug, try winter sowing milkweed weeds using plastic containers. More info here.


When it is colder out, I do pay more attention to my houseplants. Things you can do this month include:
  • wiping any dust that has accumulated off the leaves. (You can use a wet paper towel for this or you can give them a gentle shower in your bathroom.) 
  • cleaning windows to allow for more light to get in.
  • checking regularly to see if plants need to be watered (thanks to indoor heating). You do not need to follow a set schedule but look to your plant and its soil for clues for when it needs water. 
  • placing plants, such as ferns and prayer plants, on trays with pebbles and water to create a bit more humidity.
  • continue to force amaryllis and paper whites indoors for blooms. 
  • keeping plants away from radiators.

Help the birds

  • Keep feeders filled. I use black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds in a small feeder. I also try to opt for "clean" mixes, since they leave less waste on the ground at the end of the season. I also use a suet feeder that attracts woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches, chickadees and wrens. 
  • Provide fresh water. It's also very important to keep unfrozen water available for birds when other sources of water are frozen. (Here's a review on one of the heated birdbaths I use.) Keep water muck-free by rinsing out and using a steel wool pad to periodically clean.
More info on attracting birds to your garden can be found here

And.... my second gardening book, "Bird-Friendly Gardening," is due out in March! Learn more about it here!

Other tasks

  • Clean your tools. You can use fine steel wool to remove any sticky sap and then clean the blades with soapy water. Mineral oil can be placed in the space between the blade and the hook to help them move smoothly. If your blades need sharpening, you can use a diamond hand file. Take the file and in a smooth motion, drag it across the length of the blade so it sharpens the beveled side. You can also use it on the flat side of the blade if needed. Another way to store your larger tools is to place them in a bucket of sand when not in use. 
  • Help perennials. To prevent frost from heaving plants out of the ground, recycle Christmas trees so the branches protect your plants. (Read more here.) If you see plants coming out of the ground, push them back in gently. (If it's too cold to chop up a Christmas tree, consider leaving it standing in your garden. It will provide protection for songbirds.)
  • Make plans! Dream big! What have you seen on Instagram that you love and want to try? Maybe you earmarked some pages in a gardening magazine concerning a specific plant or a design you admire. Take these ideas and assemble them on a piece of matboard, a bulletin board or large sheet of paper. Having a visual representation available of what you want your garden to emulate helps make it a reality. 
Remember — spring is coming.

If you'd like a reminder of the monthly garden chores when they are posted to the blog, be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter. You can learn more here.

*I live in Central Connecticut and garden in USDA Zone 6b. The garden chores listed above are tailored to this growing zone (+/- a zone or two), but warmer and colder climates might find helpful advice as well.

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