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Most of us begin the New Year armed with plans, projects, and resolutions. The January garden provides a stark contrast as it hunkers down to wait out the winter, but there’s still plenty to do when the weather cooperates.

The month of January takes its name from Janus—the Roman god of Gateways and Journeys—who is often pictured looking both backward and forward at the same time. New Year’s resolutions spring from this tradition, and your January gardening can follow suit.

This is a great month for evaluating and planning, placing orders (January is National Mail-Order Gardening Month), preparing and getting organized. It’s also a good time to work on plants during dormancy, so they can begin their spring growing season with an advantage.

Here are some gardening chores to tackle during January.

Bare trees can reveal unexpected treasures, such as this hawk’s nest.

Trees and Shrubs

In January, you can continue these chores from December:

  • In warmer zones, protect tender trees and shrubs from surprise frosts by covering them with burlap draped over a simple wooden frame or plant stakes.
  • Inspect stakes and wires on newly planted trees, to make sure they are still straight and not damaging the bark.
  • Stake leggy plants to protect from wind or ice breakage.
  • Leave snow in place as an insulator – remove (gently!) only if the weight of the snow threatens to break the plant. Do not attempt to remove ice.

You can also:

  • Prune dormant trees and shrubs now, including fruit trees. In warmer zones with winter-flowering shrubs, wait until just after they bloom.
  • Hold off on pruning spring-flowering shrubs until after they bloom.
  • Inspect your winterized roses – make sure they are still firmly tied and/or covered.
  • Apply anti-desiccants to newly planted evergreens.
  • Bring spring-flowering branches indoors for forcing. Good choices are forsythia, pussy willow, jasmine, and flowering quince.

Zones 7 and warmer can:

  • Begin planting roses.
  • Plant bare-root, balled-and-burlapped, and container-grown trees and shrubs. It can be hard to identify plants when dormant, so hopefully you’ve made some notes during the growing season!

These forsythia branches are already gearing up for spring.

Perennials and Bulbs

Continue these tasks from previous months:

  • Protect evergreen perennials from freeze damage. Use boughs from your recycled Christmas greenery as an extra mulch layer.
  • Check your stored tender bulbs every couple of weeks. Discard any rotten ones. If they look withered or dried out, mist the packing medium very lightly with water.
  • Brighten up cold, gray days by bringing out your chilled bulbs for forcing indoors. Also plant bulbs that don’t require chilling, such as paperwhite narcissus.
  • Sow seeds in indoor flats for spring planting.

Also, you can:

  • Clip faded blossoms from gift amaryllis.
  • Take a tour of your garden to see if any of your plants have been uprooted by frost heaving. If so, add extra mulch.
  • Zones 7 and warmer can plant summer and fall flowering bulbs.
  • Frost-free zones (11 and warmer) can plant spring annuals outdoors.
  • Pansies blooming

    Annuals and Containers

  • Continue to protect tender container plants from freezing temperatures.
  • Keep watering containers.
  • Feed winter-blooming pansies with a bloom-boosting fertilizer.
  • Start seeds indoors for summer annuals.
  • Lawns

  • Remember not to walk or drive on frozen grass.
  • Apply post-emergence weed control to actively growing broadleaf weeds.
  • Fruits and Vegetables

  • Inspect stored fruits and vegetables (such as apples and potatoes) for decay. Throw away any that look spoiled, and increase air circulation to reduce further damage.
  • If your winter vegetables are looking yellow, add some nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Prune dormant fruit trees and grape vines.
  • Continue applying dormant spray to fruit trees. Don’t spray during wind, rain, or freezing temperatures.
  • Sow seeds indoors for spring vegetable planting.
  • Houseplants

    Continue these chores from previous months:

  • Keep houseplants out of drafts and in the brightest spot possible.
  • Increase humidity around tropical plants.
  • Reduce fertilization, but continue watering (may water less often, but the same amount). Make sure your water is room temperature.
  • Address any insect and disease problems.
  • Keep plants clean by gently wiping or rinsing.
  • Also, you can:

  • Give extra protection on chilly nights by closing drapes and making sure plants don’t touch cold glass.
  • Give your holiday cactus a rest this month, by watering sparingly but keeping it in indirect light.
  • Repot any indoor plants that are pot-bound.
  • Cover or wrap new houseplants when transporting to keep them from freezing on the trip home.
  • Cleanup and Maintenance

    Continue these chores from previous months:

  • If the ground isn’t frozen, install French drains, bury downspouts and drainage pipes, and watch for drainage problems in the garden.
  • Have your soil tested to determine if supplements are needed.
  • Till workable soil and work in amendments. This gives you the added benefit of exposing buried insect eggs and larvae to hungry birds.
  • Don’t forget to feed the birds!
  • Clean, oil, and repair garden tools.
  • Take in your lawn mower in for blade sharpening or repairs – the repair shops are much less busy this time of year.
  • Also, you can:

  • Inspect and repair leaky or water-damaged sheds, porches, and garden structures.
  • Build fences and walkways, and install trellises and structures before the vines start growing.
  • Busy gardens make lonely gardeners – use the winter to join a garden club, start a garden blog, or otherwise connect with fellow gardeners.
  • Add cooled fireplace ashes to your compost pile.
  • Don’t use salt on frozen driveways and sidewalks – it can damage surrounding plants. Instead, use sand, organic kitty litter, or sawdust.
  • Clean your stored containers using a little vinegar or bleach. Smash broken clay pots and store the shards to use as drainage in the spring.
  • Garden catalogs start arriving in earnest this month. Sit by the fire and make your wish list.
  • January is the prime month for planning! Read the gardening books you received as gifts, make landscape diagrams of your existing garden, and work out your design for the next growing season.