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Download a printable copy of our January Gardening “To-Do” Checklist.

Studying and Planning

January is THE time for planning, so it’s a good time to browse this blog for ideas for spring planting, especially the articles about about plants – the perennials, trees and shrubs, native plants, and so on.  Email us with your questions (behnkes@behnkes.com) and we’ll try to answer them. If you haven’t ever done so, make a to-scale sketch of your yard, placing the trees and shrubs. Think about where you have room for more. When the bulbs and perennials emerge in spring, add them to the sketch. It’s a great planning tool for deciding what else to plant this spring.

Winter Supplies

  • If you don’t have a snow shovel in good working order get one now before you need it desperately. Same goes for a supply of snow and ice-melting products; we’ve already had some icy steps and there will be lots more. The University of Maryland reminds us to keep all ice melting materials away from landscape plants, and to NOT use granular garden fertilizers to melt ice, they’re very corrosive to concrete and metal, and contribute to waterway pollution.

Maintenance Jobs for Winter

  • Larry Hurley writes that in the winter he likes to “do all the things that seem like a pain when it’s hot and buggy out. Cut back that bamboo that you always meant to clean up, dig out invasive ground covers like English ivy. Make sure your gutters are clean. It will reduce the risk of ice dams if we have heavy snow this winter, and during rainstorms the water will flow down the down spout instead of along your foundation, reducing the risk of basement flooding.  Clean mowers and other outdoor power tools if you know what you’re doing. Sharpen shovels and other bladed hand tools, and apply a light coat of oil to reduce rust.”

Trees and Shrubs

  • Winter is the best time to prune deciduous (leaf-dropping) trees and shrubs because you can easily see where branches rub against each other, spot dead or broken branches, and see how you might prune to improve form. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.  But remember that you will be removing flower buds on spring bloomers, so be conservative if that is an issue.
  • If you have yews or camellias, look for white cottony masses on the undersides of needles/leaves. These are scale insects and they should be sprayed with horticultural oil later in the season when the youngsters (aptly named crawlers) emerge.
  • Got deer?  Now’s the season when they home in on our more expensive plants, like trees and shrubs. So apply deer repellant monthly, rotating two or more different products.
  • If/when it snows, try to prevent snow and ice from building up on gutters and eaves above shrubs. Gently sweep snow loads off of shrubs to prevent breakage.
  • Remove and destroy bagworm bags from affected trees – principally on evergreens. The bags contain hundreds of eggs that will hatch out and feed next spring.
  • This is a good time to inspect winter creeper and Japanese euonymus foliage for scale problems.  Prune out damaged leaves and control the scale insects by spraying the healthy leaves with dormant oil. Be sure that temperatures are expected to remain above freezing for a 24 hour period after spraying.


  • Plant left-over bulbs in the garden as long as the soil can be worked.


  • Plan for spring seeding now.  Here’s how to check your last year’s seeds to see if they’re still viable:  Place 10 seeds between moistened paper towels, roll up the towel and place it in a plastic bag. Put the bag on top of the refrigerator or other warm location and check after 5-7 days to see what percentage has germinated. Discard seed lots with less than 75% germination.
  • Get your seed-starting gear in order. Grow Lights working?
  • By mid-January, seeds will be in stock. Buy them early, before the supplies dwindle.
  • Fall-bearing raspberries can be cut down to the ground and the spent fruiting canes of June bearers can also be removed now.


  • Avoid excessive walking on your grass when it is frozen to avoid damaging the crowns of your grass plants.


  • Keep an eye out for pests on your houseplants – like spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects.  If you act quickly, most pests can be eradicated with simple methods, like a spray of water, spraying with insecticidal soap, or swabbing the critters (especially mealybugs) with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.
  • Be careful not to over-water.  And remember – don’t fertilize houseplants this time of year.  It will tell you when it’s ready for action.


  • Keep bird feeders clean and replenished throughout the winter months.
  • Remember that wildlife needs a water source through the winter. Refill your weather-resistant birdbaths regularly. You might attract more birds that would otherwise not be interested in a feeder.
  • If you have a pond, keep a portion of the surface clear of ice at all times. If the water freezes over completely your fish may die. When ice forms, there is a strong chance that gasses from organic debris at the bottom of the pond will build up in the trapped water and harm the fish. There are a number of electric pond de-icers available that will provide a constant unfrozen area in the water. There are also some small bird bath warmers that do the same thing.
  • Ceramic and plastic birdbaths are especially vulnerable to cracking in cold weather and should be stored indoors.  Metal ones should be unaffected by freezing so keep them outside.
  • If you garden near deer, keep up the deer repellants through this, the most vulnerable time for evergreens. Use monthly, rotating two or more different products.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Re: Bagworms under “Trees and Shrubs” above. The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center has an excellent information sheet on bagworm lifecycle and effective remedies for infestations. We’ve used BT to save our arborvitae hedge from bagworms on two or three occasions. It is inexpensive, easily applied, and amazingly effective.

  2. Now is a good time to wrap evergreen shrubs with twine string before January snow, ice and cold weather arrives. Tie up boxwoods so the snow would not bend back branches to cause breakage and winter injury. Remove string in late February.

    For fig tree winter protection place chicken wire or leaf-bin fencing around the fig tree and fill with available leaves. Leaves provide insulation and may protect figs from winter injury and serious dieback like we experienced last winter.

  3. Anything I need to do this early for my apple trees? They had some blight last year (we just planted them last spring), and our quince tree had a fungus last year, so I want to keep both the quince and the apples safe for this spring. I am going to prune back the quince. What else.

    1. Hi Janet

      The only thing I can suggest is to consider spraying preventatively (starting maybe in a month or so) with one of the Fruit Tree sprays (there’s an organic version if you want). Fungal infections can’t really be treated – especially on edibles – once set in. Not knowing what the fungus in question was makes it difficult to recommend anything more specific. Quince, from what I’ve heard from our VA fruit tree grower, are magnets for disease in our area and they quit growing them because of that. I don’t have experience with Quinces. You can always email the UM Extension service (“Ask an Expert” on the HGIC page) or even submit a question on the website of Hollybrook Orchards (the consumer-accessible part of our former fruit tree wholesaler in VA).

      Miri T – Former Behnke Woody Plants Manager/Buyer

  4. My seeds have arrived. Although usually to impatient to start from seed, this year I had the time to give it a try. Zinnias were successful; I’m thrilled to find the cactus type I admired in someone else’s garden.?
    Happy better New Year! Beth Beighley

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