There is some variation in climate throughout the month of January in Zones 6-8. After all, it is winter, and frozen ground and frigid temperatures are a likely reality in many areas. As a benefit, however, gardeners in this milder climate get the best of both worlds and can enjoy both cool-season crops and plants that thrive in the heat.
While it isn’t traditional outdoor planting time just yet, there is still much that can be accomplished during this slower season to ensure that this year’s garden is the best one yet. Check out our robust list of things that you can do in the garden in the heart of winter that will make all the difference in the world when it comes time for this year’s gardens.
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.
January Garden Planning
January marks a time for gardeners to start anew with exciting goals and aspirations. It’s an exciting time filled with unlimited possibilities. The pace is slower, and the demands are fewer this month, so reward yourself for last year’s triumphs and cozy up and dream of what you can accomplish in the year ahead.
Review of Last Year
Taking time to reflect on past garden successes and mishaps is one of the most important things to do. It is what will make you a better and more productive gardener. Celebrate what you did well in years past and acknowledge and learn from setbacks as you troubleshoot problems that presented themselves.
If you do not already have a gardening journal, start one today! Use the diary to store designs, notes, and keep track of the perennials you have already and those annuals and perennials you would like to have.
It’s a great time to doodle and sketch out some garden design plans. Consider crop rotation, companion planting, and succession planting in your design plans for the most productive gardens. Allocate a spot for charting seed and plant varieties. Having planting requirements, germination and maturity periods, and notes at the ready will be an invaluable tool for many years to come. It will help keep you on track 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 you are like many of us, you are anxiously awaiting the vibrant seed catalogs that arrive at this time of year. January is prime time to be selecting and ordering seeds from the catalogs that have sprung up in your mailbox. Curl up by the fire, pour over the pages, and gain inspiration as you anticipate growing an array of new varieties and old-time favorites. Order seeds early so you will have the first choice of seed selections before they sell out.
If you are ordering climbing vegetables, fruit, ornamental seed varieties, know that they will require some structural support. There is no better time than the slower-paced month of January to build some essential climbing structures and DIY trellises indoors. Spring outdoor planting is just around the corner. Having the right materials means you can get an earlier start planting with less worry about bending stems and more thought to the additional space you’ll gain in the garden beds by implementing vertical gardening!
January is an ideal time to prune fruit and non-flowering ornamental trees, deciduous vining plants, rose bushes, and grapes in Zones 6-8. Wait to prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs after their bloom in early spring.
If the garden beds are clear of snow, take inventory of the mulch layer. Are bulbs beds still amply covered? Add additional mulch as necessary to insulate perennials and protect the soil from erosion. Mulch will also aid in water retention and regulation when the snow melts, protecting your beds from pooling water.
With only some light-duty jobs to do in January, you’ll find that it is an ideal time to take stock of all your garden tools and find homes for new gifts that you may have added to your garden tool kit. You’ll be glad that you did once planting season arrives.
Check your tools for signs of disrepair, tune-up and thoroughly clean and sanitize, sharpen blades, and oil up moving parts. These steps will give you confidence for a strong start to the garden season. It is also essential to keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.
- Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
- Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
- Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
- Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
- Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
- Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.
Your seed starting materials are also important garden tools of the trade. In Zones 6-8, it’s time to start germinating some seeds, so you want to make sure you have everything you need to give seeds their best start. Before you get started, clean, and organize your stock of seed starting materials. Ensure that you have plenty of seed starting mix, grow trays, grow lights, and warming mats. As you assess your materials, organize your seed packets so that you are aware of what you have and what you might like to add to your supply.
Spring outdoor planting time will be here before you know it, which is very exciting. Cool nights and frost warnings still come with the territory in these grow zones, so consider stocking up on some row covers and hoop houses that will add extra protection and extend your growing season.
Composting in Winter
One of the best things you can do for your garden is to create a compost system. After all, healthy gardens begin with a nutrient-rich soil structure. If you’ve already started a compost pile, continue to feed it throughout the month of January by adding kitchen scraps, pine needles, and fully cooled wood ash to the pile.
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.
Zone 6 gardeners may start seeds of:
- Dusty Miller
Zones 7 and 8 can begin the germination of:
Zones 7 and 8 may also be able to transplant seedlings and sow seeds for many cool weather crops such as:
If you are really missing watching your garden grow this winter, it can be fun and easy to force bulbs indoors. Pick up some quick blooming bulbs like amaryllis bulbs and narcissus and enjoy the bursts of color and beautiful fragrance.
Greenhouse Gardening and Cold-Frames
Greenhouses and cold frames can provide much-needed protection and extend the growing season for gardeners in Zones 6- 8. These valuable tools may have even allotted you an ample winter harvest opportunity that you would not have otherwise had. Root vegetables and greens are solid performers in greenhouse environments during the winter season.
Some of the best performers in Zone 7 and 8 winters are:
- Swiss Chard
- Mustard Greens
When shopping for seeds, keep an eye out for winter garden vegetables that boast cold hardiness and have shorter maturation periods. This is particularly important, as shorter days of sunlight and cooler temperatures increase the time it takes for plants to mature.
Winter Garden Harvest
With the proper provisions in place, gardeners in Zones 7 and 8 can enjoy a continuous rolling harvest all year long, while those in Zone 6 may have to use some trial and error to find out what works. Utilizing the cut and come again method of harvesting leafy greens and harvesting root vegetables as you need them will give you something to harvest right through the month of January. Root vegetables like carrots keep well in cooler temperatures, so you can pick them over time even after they have reached maturity, as long as the soil doesn’t freeze.