Garden Tasks by Month | January in Zone 5

Dear Garden Diary,

January is one of the hardest months for the garden and the easiest for the gardener.

William Aldrich & Don Williamson 
...................

That being said, there's always something for the gardener to do.

"Gardening is a 365 day-a-year activity. 

If you only garden from Mother's Day to Labor Day (May to September), you are missing a great opportunity. 

It's not something you have to do everyday, but there is something interesting available to do each and every day."

William Aldrich & Don Williamson


How true! Which is why I'm putting together a little list of to-dos by month, to remind me of garden tasks to focus on each month in my zone 5 garden.

Some might call them garden "chores", but not me. I just can't call "enjoying", "planning" and "dreaming" chores.

Now, if I ever ask myself what I should be doing in my garden in January/winter, here's a gentle reminder:

Garden Task calendar, january, garden chores



What should I be doing in my garden in January? 
A Garden Maintenance Checklist


Enjoy!
☐ Recycle Christmas Tree
☐ Fill bird baths
☐ Savor winter interest when it snows
☐ Make ice-wreaths, ice ornaments

Plan and Dream!
☐ Catch up on reading. Look through seed catalogs and gardening books to plan for the upcoming months. What needs to be changed/ updated.
☐ Look outside and think what will make your garden more interesting.
☐ Imagine the garden you would like to have. Make sketches, lists of your ideas.


Maintenance Tasks
☐ Dust snow off evergreen branches after a heavy snowfall. 
☐ Maintain houseplants (water, move around the house for various light needs.
☐ Water outdoor evergreen shrubs if the soil is not frozen. Evergreens lose water through their needles all winter long.
☐ Call a professional arborist to inspect mature trees for pruning.

Seek Inspiration
☐ Visit local parks and gardens 

      Digging ....deeper.....

Enjoy!
1. Recycle Christmas Tree

snowy garden, winter interest, recycled christmas tree
Recycled cut Christmas trees in the yard

Every year we buy a fresh Christmas tree for Christmas. But after Christmas is over, instead of dumping it unceremoniously in the trash, we recycle it in our back yard. Propped up, would you ever guess that those two fresh evergreens are cut trees? They'll serve like large outdoor flower arrangements for us to enjoy through the winter.

Next month, we will cut the branches off and use the branches to layer on perennial beds. We'll cut up the trunk to be used as firewood in our outdoor firepit.

2. Fill bird baths and bird feeders

Cardinal in snow
A cardinal in winter

Birds need food and water in the winter when supply is short. Feeding and watering birds will attract them to the yard and encourage them to visit through the year.


3. Savor winter interest when it snows

snowy garden, winter interest
A beautiful view of my back yard  after a heavy snowfall.
The garage roof looks like an iced cake and the branches and fence outlined in snow create wonderful winter interest.

Evergreens, bushes, branches, tree trunks and permanent structures are all canvases for Father Winter when he paints with his snowy paintbrush. 


4. Make ice-wreaths, ice ornaments.

ice wreath
 An ice wreath hanging in the garden

If temperatures are going to be sub-zero for a few days on end, consider making ice wreaths to hang outside in the garden. Fill them with cut fruit, berries, evergreen leaves and bird seed. This is a winter activity that both you and the birds will enjoy.


Plan and Dream!

1. Catch up on reading. Look through seed catalogs and gardening books to plan for the upcoming months. What needs to be changed/ updated.

 I pore over my favorite books on garden design at this time of the year. Some of my favorites are:

- Big Book of Garden Designs with  over a 100 landscaping plans for every garden space is a dreamer's dream with plans for theme, tropical, sun, shade, cottage gardens, flower beds and vegetable plots.

- The Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy Disabato -Aust focuses heavily on the pruning and maintenance needs of perennials and is an essential reference guide and encyclopedia for the perennial gardener.

- Practical Gardening by Peter McHoy is everything I need to know about designing a garden, planning the best plantings and how to put the plan into action.

2. Look outside and think what will make your garden more interesting.

With all the leaves and beds bare, this is a good time to visualize how you'd like your garden to look in the upcoming months. Would you like to introduce more evergreens for winter interest? More hardscaping like rocks, benches, lanterns, bird baths? More flowering plants to attract bees and butterflies? Plant a hedge/creeper to block an unsightly view?

Check our Your Garden Sanctuary's Ideas for architectural plants for winter interest and adding winter interest to your landscape.

3. Imagine the garden you would like to have. Make sketches, lists of your ideas.

Make rough sketches of the garden you would like to have. Perhaps something needs moving in Spring? Or maybe the  flower beds would look better curved rather than straight. Or perhaps, you're considering expanding the vegetable bed. Dream and draw it out, so that once spring comes you have a plan and are ready to go.


Maintenance Tasks

1. Dust snow off evergreen branches after heavy snow. 

A wet snow is heavy and can weigh evergreens down, injuring branches. Sweep the snow off evergreens using a broom.

2. Maintain houseplants (water, move around the house for various light needs.

This is a good time to devote some TLC to your indoor plants. Continue to water them, move them to sunnier spots in the windows but away from heating vents and radiators.

3. Water outdoor evergreen shrubs if the soil is not frozen. Evergreens lose water through their needles all winter long.

It might seem counter intuitive to water plants in winter, but plants/ shrubs that were planted the previous season still need water through winter. When the soil is not frozen, water these plants. Also, water small-medium evergreen shrubs through winter.

4. Call a professional arborist to inspect your mature trees.

With many trees bare of leaves, winter is a perfect time for trees to get a check up. Mature trees require maintenance, so call a professional arborist to inspect them for disease, cracks, branches growing too close to the house etc. Winter is also a good time for getting large trees pruned while they are in their dormant state and are not growing.


Seek Inspiration

1. Visit local parks and gardens 
Visiting local parks at different times of the year to see what's in season is a great way to seek inspiration for your own garden. 

Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL, winter, Idea garden, snow, winterberry
'Berry Poppins' Winterberry at Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL

On a winter visit to Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL after a snowfall, I was floored by the profusion of stunning red berries on the sweetly named "Berry Poppins" Winterberry (Ilex vericillata).


Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL, winter, Idea garden, snow, winterberry
Winterberry at the Idea Garden in Cantigny Garden, Wheaton, IL in winter.

Planted alongside a stream, lined with rocky boulders at Cantigny Park's Idea Garden, this was such a dramatic sight. I'm seriously thinking I need to introduce winterberry in my garden for some much needed oomph. And while my garden is too small for a stream, perhaps a dry river rock bed from my downspout, will be a beautiful way to channel water run off.



Additional Readings:

Gardening Month by Month in Illinois by William Aldrich and Don Williamson

In case you missed it, also see:


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