As the first month of the year, January is perfectly poised for gardeners to look back in reflection and forward with resolve. It also provides us with a few necessary moments of rest. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season behind us, this month gives us the opportunity to find a new appreciation for the beauty of cold mornings and the tranquility of a garden at rest — perhaps even under a blanket of snow. We love going for walks in the garden and taking a closer look at those aspects that may otherwise be overlooked: A mossy rock shining with chartreuse signs of life or a tree that stuns with its beautiful branching structure and vibrant bark. January also gives conifers, other evergreens, and garden artwork a chance to be in the spotlight. But for those of us itching to start making steps forward, there are a few projects gardeners can undertake!
As individual gardeners, we may only be the stewards of small plots of earth, but together, we can make a significant positive impact on the environment. As you take a look at your garden this month, consider planet-friendly measures you can implement in the year ahead. Perhaps you want to use fewer chemical interventions like pesticides and fertilizers, or maybe you want to be more water-conscious or incorporate more native plants into your garden design. Whatever the case, it’s never too late to make even a few small changes; they have a way of adding up. Consider the following projects as a jumping-off point for your own research:
- Exploring lawn alternatives
- Installing water catchment systems
- Setting up a compost system
- Auditing your supplies to see where you can reduce waste. (Plastic!)
- Xeriscaping (using plants that don’t require irrigation once established)
- Installing a rain garden
- Increasing the number of native plants in your garden
- Depaving (replacing hardtop with water-permeable surfaces)
- Switching to manual garden tools where possible (instead of gas or electricity)
- Installing solar-powered lighting
- Planting a tree to fix carbon and add to the cooling green canopy
If your holiday celebrations in the last month have involved a freshly cut Christmas Tree, an easy way to start your year off on a planet-friendly foot is by recycling your tree rather than sending it to a landfill. There are several options available in most communities. Cornell Farm is proud to partner with the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to restore historical salmon habitat using our recycled trees.
Assessing Your Garden
Take a slow walk through your winter garden — with your garden journal in hand if you have one. (If not, this is a great time to start one as we move into the New Year!) If we’ve experienced any winter weather, inspect your plants for winter damage and take note of their condition. The important thing to do is not to panic! Snapped limbs can always be pruned out, and burned foliage will eventually be replaced with new growth once spring arrives. If you have a plant that constantly seems to struggle during the winter, you might consider relocating it to a more protected spot this spring, or perhaps rethinking its place in your garden altogether. It’s okay to change your mind! Gardening is all about imagining — and reimagining — the possibilities.
Is there anything that didn’t really fit during the last year, that you didn’t enjoy, or that you’d like to take out for some other reason? Maybe there is a plant that would like to be moved for different light exposure? Are there any big projects you’d like to take on in the coming year? There is no end of questions you could ask yourself about your garden, and your answers will determine how you move forward. If you’re getting overwhelmed, it might help to pick a particular area of your garden to focus on in the year ahead, rather than trying to tackle the whole thing at once.
Making Your Wish List
What do you want to grow this year? January is a great time to make a wish list! Start with a simple plant list, then look into optimal planting times and ideal conditions for each plant. Suddenly, you’ll find that your wish list has become the start of a plan.
The next step is to determine what size each plant will be when you start with it. Plant size and maturity has a lot of sway on timing. Will you grow from seed, transplants, or large established plants? Of course, the answer to this depends quite a bit on what you are thinking of growing. Lots of annual veggies and flowers are great to start from seed, but if you are pressed for time, then buying transplants can be a great fit. For landscape plants and fruit trees on the other hand, the bigger the better!
If you’re planning to start seeds indoors, January is too early to start planting, but it’s a great time to gather your materials and set up place to start your seeds. Here’s a quick list of supplies you might need:
- Seed-starting soil
- Plant lights
- Heated seed mat
- Humidity domes
- Soil blockers or containers with drainage holes
- Labels and a waterproof pen
We keep our seed displays well-stocked year-round, so it’s okay to get a head start on a few veggie varieties now before things suddenly ramp up in the spring. To help you prep, you can always revisit our more in-depth blog post on starting seeds.
When the days outside are short and wet, gardeners in the Pacific Northwest often find themselves with a bit more time on their hands, and much of that is spent indoors. Thankfully, there’s plenty of gardening territory to conquer inside, too! Whether you already have an extensive houseplant collection or have stuck strictly to outdoor gardening in the past, investing some time into a houseplant hobby this month is a natural way to channel some of your gardening energy.
This is a good month to tackle some of the maintenance you may have been putting off, whether that’s trimming off spent leaves or shining healthy ones with a microfiber cloth and diluted Neem oil solution. If you have a plant that’s in dire need of repotting, you can go ahead and do so now, but in general, it’s best to wait until spring when the days begin to lengthen and plants enter their active growth period before repotting houseplants. If you don't often go through your entire houseplant collection, you might consider doing a thorough check for pests like fungus gnats, mealy bugs, or scale to address the first signs of any issues that might have gone unnoticed.
If your collection has expanded beyond your windowsill since last winter, it is also a good idea to provide some supplemental lighting to help your plants get through the remainder of the dark winter — especially here in Portland. If you’re looking to expand your collection, there’s no time like the present; we get in multiple large shipments of houseplants this month!