by Leslie Cox; Sunday; January 1, 2017                         Updated January 2, 2021

Now all the festivities from the holiday season are behind us, we are just itching to get out in the garden…although with trepidation. There is likely to be some damage in our garden from accumulated snowfalls and colder than usual temperatures this winter.

To ease all of us back into gardening shape, here is a list of some chores that can be undertaken this month.

Helleborus x ballardiae 'Pink Frost' - early buds

Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Pink Frost’ – early buds

In the garden:

  • Check your trees, shrubs, vines, and evergreen perennials after every snowfall. Heavy snow causes a lot of damage to frozen branches.
  • Pick up branches and rake leaves off the lawn and garden beds.
  • Check hellebores. Remove old and diseased leaves.
  • Check to see if your Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) plants are up. Remove snow and leaf mulch, if they are buried underneath.
  • Keep the bird feeders filled…especially after a snowfall.
  • Check ponds periodically. Remove any decaying leaves to prevent hydrogen sulfide and methane gas levels from building up. Try not to worry about your goldfish…they do tend to be okay under the ice.
  • Weather permitting, start those projects on your list – an arbour for a climbing vine, repair grape arbour, build a new raised bed…
  • Never too early to weed. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of Cardamine hirsuta (hairy bittercress) which will likely be showing itself this month. Pull them before the seeds pop, or you will be sorry.
  • Third week of this month, look for a break in the weather to start pruning your fruit trees, grape vines, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and currants.
Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite)

Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite)

In the vegetable garden:

  • Continue harvesting winter and any root vegetables still in the ground under cover.
  • Dig and amend vegetable beds as they are emptied.


In the greenhouse:

  • Check on the plants you are over-wintering from the elements. Water any that are excessively dry.
  • Check for possible insect infestations or diseases.


Building the compost pileIn the compost pile:

  • Turn the pile. Cold as it is, this will build up heat and destroy weed seeds.
  • Be sure to cover the pile so rain will not leach out precious nutrients.


In the tool shed:

  • Check over all your gardening equipment, if you haven’t done so already – secateurs, pruners, and hedgers need sharpening.
  • Have the lawn mower serviced, if you cannot do it yourself.
  • Pots, trays, and inserts should all be washed with a 10 % bleach solution and well rinsed in preparation for sowing seeds and potting up annuals and perennials.


Indoors:seeds, seeds, seeds

  • Check for decay on summer-flowering bulbs you have in storage.
  • Check your over-wintered tender perennials regularly. Remove any leaves that are decaying and inspect plants carefully for aphids or other pests or disease.
  • Indoor plants do not need as much water during the colder months, so beware of over-watering.
  • Start a list of everything you did not get finished last fall such as perennials to be moved or divided, re-seeding the lawn, that last bit of garden clean-up.
  • Start another list of garden projects you wish to tackle this year such as a new raised bed, a new arbour, etc. And any repairs that need attention to this list.
  • Organize your seed inventory. Make a list of varieties needed.
  • Check dates on seed packets and compare to Seed Viability Chart. Throw out old packets.
  • Do germination tests on seeds older than 2-3 years.
  • Start planning your veggie garden. Make a list of what varieties you want to grow and how many plants of each. Draw up a diagram defining rows or beds of vegetable varieties. Don’t forget to rotate your crops! Consult last year’s plan to see what was planted where in order to move everything one bed or row over.
  • Order the new catalogues from your favourite seed companies, or peruse them online. Start another list…your garden wish list.
  • Catch up on your garden-related reading material because you will not have much time for reading once the garden starts to wake up from its hibernation.


Seed sowing schedule:
(If you do not have a proper seed starting set-up with overhead grow lights, hold back on starting any of the following seeds by two to four weeks.)

  • First / second week:
    • If you like to grow yams, start sprouting your tubers this week, or next, to harvest in summer.
  • Third week / fourth week:
    • Vegetables: artichoke, leek, onion
    • Herbs: basil, chives, lavender, lemon balm, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, winter savory
    • Flowers: agastache, alyssum, asclepiad, columbine, dianthus, digitalis, helenium, iberis, nicotiana, oenothera, scabiosa, snapdragons, statice, stocks, veronica, viola, wallflower

Celebrating seeds