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Winter Gardening: January Garden Checklist Zones 1-3

January is a pivotal month for planning and prepping for this year’s upcoming gardens. While frozen ground and frigid temperatures impede Zone 1, Zone 2, and Zone 3 gardener’s ability to work the soil and plant outdoors, there is still much to be done to ensure that this year’s garden is the best one yet. Check out our robust checklist for ideas on what you should be doing this month to help your garden for the upcoming growing season.

Check out our Monthly Organic Gardening Guide By Zone and make sure you don’t miss some essential steps for extending your growing season, performing maintenance routines, and seizing the opportunities to dream big about next season’s garden.

Frosty Winter Leaves on the ground.

January Garden Planning

In Zone 3 and below, when the days are cold and the landscape looks stark and devoid of color, it’s an ideal time to dream of the healthy crops and blooming treasures that you will plant in the new year. Think of your garden beds as blank canvases and envision the lush landscape you can create. It’s a whole new year, after all, and that means that the possibilities are endless for your home gardens.

Year in Review

Bring in the new year by reflecting on past seasons’ delights and pitfalls. Dare to dream a bit and forge ahead with new ideas and upgrades for the coming year.

Start a gardening journal if you don’t have one already. Use the journal to keep track of the perennial favorites that you expect to return this year and consider both ‘tried and true annuals’ that have performed well for you, as well as some new varieties to try. Sketch out a master garden design plan. Consider crop rotation in your design plans as well to keep your soil nice and healthy.

Chart seed and plant varieties, making a note of their planting specifications, days to germinate and mature, and keep notes about what worked well and what was not quite as successful. This chart will help you plan from year to year with knowing when to sow seeds, plant with optimal spacing, when you can expect blooms, and when to harvest your plantings.

If pests or diseases were a problem for you last season, it is a great time to research companion plants and spacing provisions to protect and boost your plants’ productivity. Use this knowledge to strategically place these friendly plants into your design plans.

Garden Planing

If seed catalogs didn’t pop up in your mailbox last month, then January is about to be your lucky month! Flip through those vibrant pages, check out what’s new, and decide what you’d like to add to your upcoming gardens. Embrace the possibilities for what you can grow within your garden space and determine if you need to carve out more garden beds or acquire new planters. Order your seeds this month so that you can ensure that your selections can be fulfilled before other gardeners snatch them up.

If you haven’t done so already, investigate if your town has a local garden club or a community garden. This is a great way to meet people in your community who share your passion for gardening. Many others might be looking to swap seeds and exchange ideas. Sharing sees with others can help you add diversity to your garden and might encourage you to try something new.

Do some of your new seed selections and acquisitions included climbing varieties that need support? January is an excellent month for constructing some essential climbing structures and DIY trellises, so you’re are ready to go to place them in the garden beds when the time is right for planting.

Close up shot of hands working with soil filling up a pot.

Garden Maintenance

If you live in Zones 1-2 and even Zone 3, you are in the depths of winter’s freeze, so you are in the clear for labor-intensive garden tasks in the backyard garden. The odds are high that snow is insulating your garden beds as your perennials rest.

Why not take care of the feathered wildlife in your yard during these cold and bleak days of winter? Fill up some bird feeders or hang some suet and watch the array of birds that flock to the feast. Attracting these colorful friends to the feeders will provide some entertainment and joy as you await the milder days to come.

Garden Tool and Supplies Assessment

January is an excellent time to take stock of all your garden tools. Sort through your tools and assess what you have and what new tools you’d like to acquire.

Make any necessary repairs, tighten hardware, clean tools, sharpen blades, and oil up moving parts. Not only does tool cleaning and maintenance ensure that you have what you need for garden work, but it also will keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.

  1. Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
  2. Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
  3. Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
  4. Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
  5. Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
  6. Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.

It is also a prime time to clean and organize your stock of seed-starting materials. Ensure that you have plenty of seed starting mix, grow trays, and organize your seed packets. Make a note of what you have and what you need to order from those treasured seed catalogs.

Spring will be here before you know it, so think ahead and stock up on some row covers and hoop houses, which will help extend the growing season in colder climates where future frosts will threaten tender crops.

Close-up of radish microgreens with green leaves and purple stems

Composting in Winter

An ongoing composting system is one of the best things you can do for next year’s garden. Healthy gardens start with a robust and nutrient-rich soil structure. As you peruse the seeds that you have in storage, discard any seeds that are passed their prime and toss them into your compost pile. Continue to feed your compost pile by adding kitchen scraps.

Indoor Planting and Growing

It may be winter, but it’s the perfect time to get a head start on some indoor seed-starting for those seeds that have lengthy germination and maturation periods. If you love your greens, sow seeds in an indoor planter and place them in a sunny spot for a lovely winter harvest opportunity indoors.

Winter Gardening Zone 3

If you’ve seen inspiring winter garden crops on social media, try not to get your hopes up too high. The ground and the climate in Zone 3 and below are known for their wintery conditions and frozen ground. This deep freeze of the soil is not conducive to planting, growing, and harvesting vegetables and flowers from outdoor gardens in January.

Continue to dream the planting seasons come and set your sights on all of the things you can do on our garden checklist. Keep in mind that you can bring your garden to an enhanced level for the upcoming growing season with some planning, preparation, and a little creativity.


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Orange frosted flower with text, "Plan and prep for spring, zone 3"
Close-up of radish microgreens with green leaves and purple stems with text, "January Garden Checklist Zones 1-3"

4 Comments

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    • Hi Orville, we are an organic soil and fertilizer company and do not sell plants or seeds. If you’re interested in receiving our catalog please fill out our contact form here: https://www.kellogggarden.com/contact/. You can request a catalog in the “Message” section. Once we have your address, we will send you a catalog. Please let us know if you have any questions, we’re happy to help.

  1. My larger variety of tomatoes all split and had riot spots while my Roma tomatoes struggled a bit this past year. What was puzzling to me is how plentiful. And awesome mY cherry and grape varities did. I was told to add calcium – broken egg shells to the soil which I did in the late fall. Needing advise and help.

    • Hi Staci, the smaller tomato varieties often do well with less assistance while the larger heirloom varieties require a lot more attention. Tomatoes cracking and splitting can be caused by sudden changes in temperature and inconsistent watering or rainfall. Next season if you try a drip irrigation system with a timer this may help you avoid watering inconsistencies or if you can try using ollas buried in the soil next to your tomatoes if you are not ready or drip irrigation. Temperature changes can be harder to address but if you have a hot or cold spell coming row covers can help. For end rot, adding ground eggshells break down over time while that is happening you can try adding a small amount of Epsom salt to your tomato plant soil. This will supply magnesium to the plant, lessening the likelihood of blossom rot on your fruit, or you can use a calcium foliar spray for a quick solution. Make sure to rotate your tomatoes to another area of your garden this year if you have space.

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