GARDENING THROUGH THE YEAR – JANUARY in USDA Zone 5

January – a time of new beginnings, new hopes, new dreams, new plans and goals, and a welcome break in the list of month’s ending in “brrrr”, and often accompanied by a too short-lived mid-winter thaw.

January is often thought of by gardeners as the month to pour over all of those beautiful seed catalogs and prepare orders in anticipation of summer’s bounty. Which brings me to the first garden “chore” for January – seed catalogs. Ha! Would that all chores were this much fun!

Seed catalogs

If you’ve been gardening for very long, you probably already receive a goodly supply of these beauties. If you don’t receive any, here’s a list of some of my favorites:

  • SeedSavers.org – heirloom, open pollinated, and organic seeds
  • SustainableSeedCo.com – heirloom, open pollinated and organic, including grains
  • JohnnySeeds.com – both hybrid and heirloom seeds
  • RareSeeds.com, also known as Baker Creek, has two web addresses, this one and heirloomseeds.com – heirloom seeds
  • burpee.com – both hybrid and heirloom seeds
  • Gurneys.com – both hybrid and heirloom, but mostly hybrid
  • rhshumway.com – both hybrid and heirloom, not always marked for number of days to harvest though so be prepared to do some research

Not only is January the time go through the new seed catalogs, it’s the best time to order seeds!

Most of the seed companies offer specials during January, and, the most popular (often the best) varieties get sold out later in the year so ordering early gives you the best chance of getting the varieties you want.

Some of the companies offer free shipping, but, if you talk with neighbors, you may be able to combine orders to save on shipping.

Also, talking with neighbors can be a good idea for avoiding an excess of certain vegetables, for example, most neighborhoods could easily be overrun by having 7 or 8 families all planting zucchini!

If you’ve been gardening for a few years, you may have a stash of older seeds, or seeds you picked up on clearance last fall. It’s a good idea to inventory them before you order more, and maybe check their germination rates.

Research plant varieties for the fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals you want. Try to find ones that are drought tolerant and disease resistant.

Figure out how many of each variety of vegetables you need to plant in order to feed your family for the time you want, and the space you have. But, when planting, stagger your plantings so you don’t end up with 400 lbs of tomatoes in one week! Even with children helping, that was too much for me to handle along with my employment and all of the routine household chores.

Plan your garden. I have fallen in love with the garden planner at almanac.com but have done many a garden plan on graph paper in bygone years when I was raising my family.

Do you have goals for your garden this year? Write them down!

Winter snows can be hard on plants, birds, and animals.

  • Keep your evergreens free of heavy snow that could break their limbs
  • Fence around tender trees and bushes that the deer and antelope may find tasty
  • Feed the lovely winter birds for just a couple of dollars a month and enjoy their songs and beautiful colors – even if you don’t have a bird feeder. No feeder? How about a scrap of plywood or a scrap of carpet? Even a plate will do in a pinch to keep the seed out of the snow.
  • Speaking of birds, they need liquid water every day, just like you.
  • Move as much of the snow to your garden as you can since it provides the garden with a touch of nitrogen, needed to help green things up in the spring. Yes, snow absorbs some atmospheric nitrogen and can deposit it in your garden when it warms up. It’s not a lot, mind you, but if you have soil like I have on this brand spankin’ new homestead, every little bit helps!
  • Watch your trees, especially any fruit trees, for the slightest sign of rodent activity around them. Rodents have a tendency to feast on that yummy bark near the ground. Protect the trunks and, if necessary, set traps. Better yet, get a cat, or encourage the neighbors’ cats to visit frequently. If you do set traps, please be careful to not place them where children or pets can get at them.
  • If heavy snow breaks limbs, trim them quickly to minimize damage to the tree. Treat the wound if it’s large.
  • If you have perennial bulbs in your garden, check every time it thaws to make sure the freeze/thaw cycle hasn’t caused them to heave out of the ground. If it has, gently bury them again. Mulch helps to reduce this problem. Use liberally.
  • If you had a “live” Christmas tree, recycle by trimming the branches and using them to help protect your garden.
  • Houseplants need to be pruned regularly to encourage bushy growth rather than leggy.
  • Group houseplants together as much as possible to help with the dry winter air. They each give off a bit of humidity thus helping each other maintain a happy hydrated state.
  • Keep those houseplants away from chilly windowsills and drafty heat vents.
  • Use sand or sawdust on your sidewalks after it snows to increase traction and melt without danger to your lawn or garden. In fact, sawdust can help your soil by increasing organic matter. Just don’t overdue it or you’ll need extra nitrogen in the spring.
  • If you’re suffering from gardening withdrawal, especially in your diet, consider growing some microgreens in your kitchen, or a kitchen herb garden to spice up your winter cooking while brightening your kitchen and cleaning the air.

January is here,

With eyes that keenly glow,

A frost-mailed warrior

Striding a shadowy steed of snow.

– Edgar Fawcett

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