January Is For Garden Planning! Start The New Year Right With This Gardening Guide

January is the time to study seed and nursery catalogues and the numerous online stores, decide what to plant and where, draw pictures of your dream garden, plan projects and create a gardening budget. Plus, there are some fun things you can do indoors in January, such as forcing bulbs and setting up an indoor greenhouse. This year’s seeds are starting to appear in the local gardening shops and planting time will soon be upon you.

With this said, we have put together an indoor and outdoor gardening guide to kick-start your season!

Indoor Gardening

Create an Indoor greenhouse

  • This very worthwhile and inexpensive project will serve you throughout the year, for many years, and not just for starting seeds to be transplanted outdoors in a month or two. The indoor greenhouse can be a ‘hot house’ for forcing winter flowering of annuals, such as geraniums, and for forcing bulbs in containers. It also can serve as a ‘plant hospital’ to perk up ailing houseplants. Use it to grow herbs and flowers all winter. It’s a great ‘fix’.

Starting Seeds

  • Starting seeds indoors is inexpensive and requires only a little work and the correct conditions for tremendous results. This spring and summer, you’ll have more bedding plants than you ever dreamed of and at a fraction of the nursery cost! With the great conditions of the indoor greenhouse, you can start virtually anything indoors – and keep it growing. If you pine for petunias in January, plant a couple of seeds and watch them grow and flower.

Forcing bulbs in January

  • This month you should bring into light and warmth the containers of bulbs you planted last autumn. They’ve been maturing in some cold, dark place, like the garage or basement, or even the back of the refrigerator. Make sure each type of bulb has had enough dormancy, and then bring them in from the cold to quickly spur leaf growth and flower production.
  • You can still start paper whites indoors this month. They are quick growers and some of the best indoor flower producers. Use bulbs you purchased last autumn, or check out the gardening centres, which may still have some for sale now. Put the bulbs in a shallow bowl, anchor them with pebbles or gravel and water thoroughly. Allow about a week of dormancy in a cool, dark place and then put in warmth and light to start flower and leaf growth.

Making a Gardening Plan in January

  • Planning and organisation are the backbone of any successful garden. A little planning goes a long way, so spend a few grey days in January doing it, and you’ll thank yourself all spring, summer and autumn. Get a calendar just for your gardening tasks. Go through each month of this site and write down what you must do, what you should do, and what you’d like to do each month.
  • Along with a 12-month calendar, a gardening journal is a great tool for the home gardener. A journal will help you remember from year to year the things you tried, what worked, what didn’t, and what you want to try at a later date. A journal also helps you recall where you planted spring bulbs last autumn and where your perennials are so that you don’t plant something else over them or accidentally dig them up.
  • How about setting up a gardening budget in January? Want to avoid over-spending like last year? Unsure what your gardening dreams will cost? Want to keep a lid on it? This is the answer. Probably the hardest thing for gardeners to do is put away the chequebook or credit card. You get to the nursery or garden centre, and suddenly you must have everything in sight: tools, seeds, bedding plants, bulbs, fertilisers, pest controls, planters, watering cans, hoses, sprayers, gloves, statuary, mulch, stepping stones and bordering. Gardening can be an expensive hobby – but only if you don’t PLAN your spending. Ditto on this being a good project to do before any mail ordering.
  • If you are thinking of major changes, such as a complete lawn or garden overhaul, or if you just want the services of a professional landscape architect, consider talking to a couple in January and getting some plans drawn up. Make up a fantasy garden plan, including rough sketches, and the professional landscape designer will turn them into a specific, detailed plan that you can implement all at once – if your budget allows – or year by year. This will cost you some money. But once you have the technical plans laid out, you can do the work yourself or engage that designer or other professionals before they get booked for the season.

Outdoor Gardening

Garden Clean-up

  • Take a tour of the garden on a mild day. If leaves have piled against the house or threaten to smother shrubs, rake them away. However, take care not to expose bare ground in places where perennials and spring bulbs are planted. They need the winter leaf cover for another month or two for protection. A light to medium leaf cover is a good thing for them in the winter, and also may help prevent squirrels from digging up and eating your bulbs. You can also pull up dead stalks from annuals and perennials, if you didn’t get to it last autumn. Be careful not to pull up the roots of perennials while doing this. Replace protective mulch or leaf cover afterwards.
  • Check the mulch level around perennials, trees and shrubs. Replace it, if necessary. Sometimes this just means raking it back into place. By mulch, I mean the decorative layer of shredded tree bark or wood, or the finely shredded piles of leaves you have applied on top of flowerbeds and around the bases of trees and shrubs.
  • Watch out for the ‘heaving’ of perennials. This occurs when the freezing and thawing of the soil pushes the roots to the surface. They will die or be damaged by the cold if not replanted. If you see heaving, gently push the roots back down and cover them. Adding a layer of new soil or mulch will help prevent a recurrence. Sometimes edging materials are also heaved up during the winter. Press them back into the soil, also.

Snow removal

  • A heavy, wet snow could damage evergreen branches bowed under the weight. If branches on trees or shrubs are loaded down by snow, take action. Remove the snow while fresh and soft. GENTLY shake the affected branches until the snow falls off. Use a broom to reach high branches. If any branches are broken, cut them off and seal the wound with a product meant for that use.
  • If you have some newly planted trees and shrubs, or ones with vulnerable branches, give them some support against heavy snowfalls. Tie up weak branches or stake them to prevent splitting and tearing.
  • When clearing driveways, stairs and walkways of snow, throw or blow some of it onto the flowerbeds – but NOT if the snow contains any salt or “melting” chemicals. If the snow is pure, it will provide additional moisture to the soil, as well as insulation from freezing, which can cause heaving of perennials. Be careful not to pile snow on top of growing things, like holly and evergreens.

Tools and equipment

  • It’s a good idea, before the big snowstorm hits, to check the running condition of your snow blower or snow thrower. Take it in for a tune-up, if needed. Also, is the handle broken on the snow shovel? Maybe it’s time for a new one before those six inches fall some night.
  • If you have a snowy afternoon to kill, spend it in the garage. Look over the garden tools and machines. If you didn’t have time to do it last fall, now you can clean, sharpen, repair, oil and organize everything. Also, take inventory. Make notes about repairs, replacements and maintenance.


  • Hang a bird feeder near a window, and watch the cardinals, titmice, chickadees, finches and sparrows gather. Get a bird book and keep it by the window to help identify the different species. Remember that different birds prefer different food. Finches like the tiny, black thistle seed. You will need a special feeder to hold it. Also, cardinals prefer black sunflower seeds, and will be drawn by this food. Mixed wild birdseed is available almost everywhere: grocery stores, garden centres, hardware stores, discount shops. Nut bars also will draw many birds. One suggestion: make sure bird food is out of the reach of squirrels. They’re masters at stealing it.
  • If you’re pulling out the garden hose to water some newly transplanted trees and shrubs during a dry winter, take a few minutes and fill up the birdbath. Or, take a jug of water outside and do the same. It will be their drinking water.

Additional Advice

Feeding squirrels in winter is not recommended, unless you want them to stay around all spring and summer, too. But, if you don’t mind them and enjoy watching their antics, they will eat corncobs, apples, bread crusts and sunflower seeds.

Think about decorating your window boxes or other empty outdoor planters. Get some inexpensive artificial grass or flowers. Stick them in the soil of the planters. Look for holly, ivy, dark-coloured mums, asters, or ornamental kale at the craft and discount stores.

Another way to add some outdoor interest is to clip (carefully) some branches from your evergreen bushes or trees. Stick them in the window box (or pot) soil and arrange artfully. A few small twigs and branches you find on the ground will add interest. Add some pine cones. Also, take clippings from a live Christmas tree before throwing it out.