January Gardening Minnesota (Zones 2-4)
January: Things To Do
Not sure of what to do in your garden or on the farm in January? Here are some helpful ideas to keep you busy and help benefit Mother Earth.
Make a list of the seeds you have and want to use this season, and then compare it to the list of seeds you plan to order. If you had a garden or farm last year, review your journal and pictures. Plan to expand or reduce planting space based on your experience. Consider increasing planting space and expanding existing gardens. Decrease maintenance by selecting low-maintenance annuals, mulching, sharing the work-load, and/or decreasing the planting space. Maybe you want to reduce the size of your garden or convert a space to a perennial, shrub, groundcover or turf area? Draw a sketch of the proposed changes. Develop a plant list and make sure the plants are best suited to the growing conditions. Order any seeds that you plan on needing.
Planting: Too early to plant outside. Start Pansies at the end of the month indoors. Select an area out of the way. You will need a power source nearby and enough room for seedlings and other supplies. Make sure you have cool fluorescent lights, a light fixture to hold them and a system for keeping the lights 6 inches above the seedlings. Build your own system by mounting the light fixtures on shelves, creating table supports for the lights or designing a stand alone system. A pulley will allow the lights to be raised and lowered over the seedlings. Paint the shelving white or use reflective surfaces under and around the unit to increase light. Keep warm for best chances of starting seeds. Water seedlings often enough to keep soil moist but not wet. Over-watering can cause root rot and seedling failure. Allowing the soil to dry will stress the seedling. Seedlings can be fertilized once sprouted and actively growing. Use diluted solution.
Check on any Geraniums or other plants that you have. Plant any geraniums that have started growing- move to a sunny location and treat as you would other houseplants. Keep pinching back houseplants like: geraniums, coleus, impatiens, etc. that you are overwintering. Remove the growing tips or pinch stems back to just above a set of healthy leaves helps encourage branching and stouter stems.
Adjust watering schedule of houseplants to meet needs. Shorter days and less intense sunlight and low humidity of winter changes the pants' needs. Water the soil thoroughly and wait until the soil is slightly dry before watering. Only fertilize plants with stunted growth, yellow leaves or other signs of nutrient deficiencies.
Monitor plants for pests like: fungus gnats, mites, aphids, and whiteflies. Fungus gnats do not hurt the plants but can be a nuisance. They are often mistaken for fruit flies found throughout the house. Fungus gnats feed on organic matter in the soil such as dead plant roots and peat moss. Keep soil slightly drier than normal to reduce populations. Aphids, mites, and whiteflies suck out plant juices causing leaves to yellow and brown. Look for poor growth and a clear sticky substance called honeydew on the leaves. Aphids are small tear-drop shaped insects that can weaken plants. Treat aphid outbreaks with insecticidal soap- may need several applications. Check stems of trees for black knot cankers. The mature canker is a black bumpy growth on the stem. the immature canker looks like an abnormal swelling of the branch. Prune out any mature and immature cankers. Prune 9 inches below the canker and disinfect tools between cuts. Use rubbing alcohol or solution one part bleach to nine parts water to disinfect. Look for tent caterpillar, gypsy moth, and other egg masses throughout winter. Tent caterpillars eggs look like a glob of mud stuck on the branch. Prune out or smash the eggs. This will prevent feeding damage caused by these wormlike insects in May. Gypsy moth egg masses are yellow. Scrape these egg masses off the tree trunk and destroy. Look for signs of animal damage. May have to use animal fencing. Make sure animal fencing is still in place and working. Add an extra section of hardware cloth to areas in buried snow. The 4 foot rabbit fencing will do no good if half of it is buried in snow. An extra section will reduce rabbit damage.
Now is the time to plant an Amaryllis. Plant in a pot slightly larger than the bulb. Place the bulb so that the pointed half is above the soil. fill the pot with any sterile well drained potting mix. water and move the pot to a cool bright location such as a sunny window in a cool room with temperatures around 60-65 degrees F. Keep soil moist but not too wet. Soon new growth will appear as flowers or leaves. Remove the flower stem when the plant has finished flowering to direct the energy to rejuvenating the bulb not producing seeds. Move the plant to a sunny window and continue to water and fertilize with any dilute solution. Harden off the plant and move it outdoors after the danger of frost. Water and fertilize as needed. Bring it back indoors before the first fall frost for winter and a chance to rebloom. allow plants to go dormant. Do not water for 8-10 weeks. Then topdress or repot. It will take 4-8 weeks to rebloom. Plant any leftover spring bulbs. There is still time to force them for spring bloom.
Add mulch to any areas outside that are not covered with snow. Cover bulb plantings to help prevent sprouting during winter thaws. Check on non-hardy and remaining bulbs tucked away in storage. Discard any soft discolored or rotting bulbs. Move sprouting bulbs to a cooler (45-50 degrees F) dark location. Check stored bulbs and discard any that are showing signs of mold and bulb rot. Start bringing forced bulbs planted in October out of cold storage. Stagger forcing times to extend your indoor bloom. Move bulbs to a cool bright location. Water thoroughly as the soil below surface just begins to feel dry and wait. Remove spent flowers, continue to water and fertilize with diluted solution.
Tools: get planting tools ready. Find shovel, trowels, and other tools. Make sure they are clean, oiled and sharp. Use a wire brush to knock off any soil. Follow this with steel wool or medium grit sandpaper to remove any rust that may have collected. Sharpen edges with metal file. Rub in a few drops of oil to help prevent rust.
Check winter mulches on strawberries. Replace any that were dislodged in bad weather. Snow is the best insulation. If there is no snow and no mulch, then you should put some mulch down. Check the yearly growth on fruit trees such as: apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc. Start at the tip of the branch and trace it back to the terminal bud scal scars. these ridges encircle the stem and mark one year's growth. Young fruit trees typically grow 10-20 inches each year. bearing trees grow 8-12 inches. Stunted plants will benefit from spring application of fertilizer. Make not not to fertilize those that are growing more than normal. Overfertilization can stimulate stem and leaf growth, prevent fruiting and increase the risk of disease. Remove hazardous or storm damaged branches. Save major pruning for late winter. You can correct winter damage. Adjust for animal feeding and do structural pruning all at one time.
Herbs & Vegetables:
Harvest herbs from your windowsill garden as needed for cooking. You may need to add artificial light during the short dark days of January to improve growth and productivity. Keep the soil slightly moist. Check twice a week. Water whenever the top 2 inches of soil start to dry.Watch for signs of nutrient deficiencies- pale leaves and poor growth may be a result of poor light and/or lack of nutrients. Try improving the light before fertilizing. Use a diluted fertilizer if needed. If you notice sticky substance on the leaves it may be from aphids or mites. Spray infested plants with insecticidal soap. May need to be applied one week apart. Watch for fungus gnats and whiteflies. Try catching them with yellow sticky traps. Cut back leggy herbs to a set of healthy leaves. This will encourage branching and more growth for harvest. Dry or use the pieces for cooking. Harvest carrots and Parsnips that have been stored in the garden for winter. dig carefully to avoid damaging them. Check on stored vegetables- discard any that have shriveled or are rotten. Make sure plants are out of reach of animals. Consider planting a pot of ryegrass to give cats their own herbal fix.
Avoid drafts of hot and cold air for your plants. Cold drafts from doors and windows can chill the foliage and lead to root rot. drafts of hot air from heating ducts create lower humidity. The drier air is hard on the plants and is a great environment for mites and aphids. Your Pointsettia and other holiday plants may be still blooming. Keep these in a cool bright location to prolong flowering. Once the bloom cycle is complete, remove faded flowers, decrease watering and move to a sunny window. You may need to sacrifice some sunlight during extremely cold weather. Move plants away from window or keep curtains and blinds between the cold window and the plants. Never trap plants between the curtain and the window where they can suffer cold damage. Increase humidity around your plants by grouping them together, place them on gravel trays or place pans of water on your radiator. Some gardeners move their plants to a cool room for winter. the cool temperatures slow the plants' metabolism and allow them to better tolerate the low light. Clean your plants. Removing dust and debris increases the light to reach the leaves and helps remove any insects that may be present. use a damp cloth or sponge to clean smooth leaves. Brush dust off hairy-leafed plants using soft cosmetic brush. Plants growing under fluorescent lights need 12-16 hours of light each day. give plants at least 6 hours of dark each night. Use a timer if available. Adjust watering schedule to meet needs of plants. Plants growing in an area with low humidity will need to be watered more frequently than those growing in a cool area. Generally, it is not recommended to fertilize plants in the winter unless absolutely needed. Remove the faded flowers on holiday plants. Prune off insect infected, broken, or wayward branches. Save major pruning for late-February.
Shovel walks and driveways before using de-icing salts. This will help reduce damage to lawns and other valuable plants. No need to plant or water anything in your lawn. Do not fertilize. Make a note of areas where snow and ice tend to linger. These areas are prime candidates for snow mold. Damaged areas may become matted and covered with a gray or pink fungus in spring. Watch for mole activity. These rodents scurry beneath the snow, eating weeds, chewing on bark, and wearing trails in the lawn.
Perennials & Ornamental Grasses:
Look for areas to convert to perennials. Perennials can be started indoors. Some seeds need to be stratified (cold treatment) for weeks, soaked in tepid water overnight, or scarified (the seed coat scratched) prior to planting. Winter mulch helps protect plants from fluctuating temperatures. Nature provides the best mulch- which is snow for much of central and northern Minnesota. Use other organic materials if snow is not the case in your area. Apply winter mulch after the ground freezes. Some years the ground freezes by Thanksgiving, while other years it does not freeze until January. The goal is to prevent temperature extremes caused by winter thaws and fluctuating spring temperatures- not to keep the soil warm. Recycle your holiday trees and trimmings by converting them to mulch. Cut branches off trees and lay them over your perennials. Keep organic materials available for mulch if there isn't snow or if it disappears. Do not fertilize in January. Check for tracks, chewed bark, and other signs of vole (meadow mouse) damage. High vole populations may start nibbling on the roots of i.e. Siberian Iris and Hostas. Chipmunks and squirrels can also damage perennials by digging up the plants and leaving the roots exposed to the cold weather. No need to prune. Although some of these perennials may not be completely hardy to your area in Minnesota, try creating a micro-climate and consider adding a few Perennial Plants of the Year:
1990: Native Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera)
1991: Palace Purple Alumroot (Huechera micrantha)
1992: Moonbeam Corepsis (Coreopsis verticillata)
1993:Sunny border Blue Speedwell (Veronica, 'Sunny Border Blue')
1994: Sprite Astilbe (Astilbe, 'Sprite')
1995: Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
1996: Husker Red Beardstongue (Penstemon digitalis)
1997: May Night Salvia (Salvia, 'May Night')
1998: Magnus Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, 'Magnus')
1999: Goldsturm Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii, 'Goldsturm')
2000: Butterfly blue Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa columbaria, 'Butterfly Blue'):
2001: Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora, 'Karl Foerster')
There are one-time, repeat, and continuous bloomers when it comes to roses. One-time bloomers flower on the tips and new side branches of the previous season's growth. they usually start flowering the second year after planting. Most species and Old Garden roses are in this group. Some Modern Roses and Shrub Roses are one-time bloomers. Repeat bloomers will bloom the summer they are planted. They flower in spring on the tips of new growth or side shoots formed on the previous season's growth. Fall flowers develop on the tips of summer growth or side shoots. Some Modern and Shrub Roses are repeat bloomers. Continuous bloomers produce flowering canes and side shoots all seasons long. Hybrid tea Roses and some Shrub Roses such as 'Chuckles', 'Nearly Wild', 'Carefree Delight', 'Knock Out' and 'Ballerina' fit this category. Also, consider adding a native rose to the landscape. Both the Prairie (rosa setigera) and Prairie Wild (Rosa arkansana) are hardy native roses. Use Prairie Rose as a climber on walls, fences, or trellises. It will brighten the landscape with single pink flowers in early to mid-July and small reddish fruit (Rose Hips) in fall. the fruits also help attract birds. Prairie Wild Rose is hardy to zone 2 with a variable height of 6 to 12 inches. the plants spread via suckers, sometimes traveling five feet under barriers before popping up to the surface. These are very drought tolerant. Evaluate growing conditions and your landscape plan. Use climbers for vertical accents, large shrub roses for screening and fragrant species for a little aromatherapy near a patio or screened porch. Check roses and make sure winter protection is secure. Locate and replace any rose shelters, rose cones, or mulch that may have been blown away. Vent rose cones on sunny days or during warm spells. Some cones come with precut or removable vents. If not, cut small holes on the side away from the wind and near the top of the cones. Monitor the health and growing conditions of miniature and tree roses that you are overwintering indoors. Keep plants in a cool room in front of a south facing window. Place plants on pebble tray to increase humidity and eliminate need to pour excess water out of the saucer. As you water plants thoroughly, the excess will collect in the pebbles- allowing the pot to sit on the pebbles and not in the water. As the water evaporates it will increase the humidity around the plants. No need to water outdoor roses. Water the roses growing indoors as needed. Check on container roses growing in the garage. Water when the soil is dry and not frozen. Do not fertilize until conditions improve. Only prune off canes damaged by snow or ice. Check outdoor roses for signs of animal damage. Rabbits, deer and voles are major problems. Covered roses should be safe from rabbits and deer. Try repellents on uncovered roses that are being damaged. Voles are mouselike rodents that travel under the snow, feeding on the seeds, roots, cambium, and bark. Try spraying with organic garlic spray, neem spray, or other organic solutions. Check indoor roses for signs of mites and aphids. Putting an infected pot in the shower and spraying off the pests may be a solution. Also try spraying with an insecticidal soap.
Look for areas that would benefit from new shrub plantings. make sure there is sufficient room for the ones you select. Consider the mature size as it relates to nearby buildings, existing plants and overhead/underground utilities. Monitor the landscape for snow, de-icing salt, and animal damage. Do not shake or brush frozen snow off the plants. This can cause more damage than if the snow was left in place. Make a note on your calendar to prevent plant damage next season. Apply winter protection in late October-November before the heavy snow arrives. Try using a natural de-icing product like magnesium chloride and calcium acetate. No need to water plantings. Water the above ground planters you may have stored in your garage. Water thoroughly so excess water runs out the bottom of the planter. Review soil test information to determine if you need to fertilize next season. Contact local University Extension Office for soil test information. This is a good time to take preventative measures against pests. Check for signs of animals. Secure animal fencing and reapply repellents as needed. Check for eastern tent caterpillar egg masses. the eggs look like shiny glob of mud on the stem. Prune and destroy. Watch for black knot cankers on Plums and Cherries: this fungal disease causes stems to swell, eventually turn black and crack open releasing infectious spores. Prune out infected branches below the swollen areas. Burn or bury cankered branches to reduce future infections. Also check for growths called galls. These galls eventually girdle and kill the stem. Prune out infected stems below the gall and discard. Disinfect tools between cuts (Viburnum, Euonymus, and Spirea stems). Add shrubs that produce edible fruit as well as beauty to your garden. Some ideas are: American Cranberrybush Viburnum, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Rose, American Hazelnut or Filbert, Elderberry, Juneberry or Serviceberry. Do not spray plants with pesticides if you plan to eat them. Prune winter damaged branches as they are found. Wait until the snow melts and the worst of winter has passed to start major pruning.
Take a walk around your garden/farm to give you some ideas where to plant trees. Look for areas that would benefit from the addition of trees that can provide screening, seasonal interest, shade, windbreaks and food. Select planting areas large enough when trees are fully mature. Make sure you avoid planting too close to buildings, power lines and other utilities. Check Minnesota Gardener's Guide and the University of Minnesota Extension Service publications for help selecting trees best suited for your area. Wait for a spring planting. Check trees for snow or ice damage. Do not try to knock frozen snow and ice off trees. this can cause more damage than the snow or ice. Make notes on next year's calendar to adjust winter protection and prevent future problems. List all winter protection- such as tying evergreens, shielding plants from salt and wind, and watering in well before the ground freezes- that you want to complete before the snow flies. Above ground planters should be watered if needed- otherwise there is no need to water outdoors- wait for ground to thaw. Wait until spring to fertilize if needed. Check for animal damage and overwintering insects. A little prevention now can save lots of headaches and extra work in the future. Check and repair fencing and other animal barriers. Reapply repellents or alternate scare tactics to prevent and reduce animal damage. Remove egg masses of gypsy and tussock moths. Trees can be pruned during the dormant season. It is much easier to see the overall shape of the tree and what needs to be removed. Prune Oaks and Honeylocusts in winter to reduce disease problems. Save branches from flowering trees such as Crabapples, Magnolias, and Pussy Willows for indoor bloom. Re-cut the stems and place in a bucket of water in a cool (60 degrees F) bright location. Mist the branches several times a day if possible until the stems start to bloom. flowering stems can be used in arrangements with other flowers or by themselves. Prolong the blossoms by storing the blooming stems in a cooler spot (40 degrees F) at night. Wait two to four years after planting to start pruning for structure. The more top growth (branches and leaves), the faster the trees will recover from transplanting. Remove any branches that are crossed, sprouting from the same area on the trunk or growing parallel to each other. Remove any branches that are growing straight up and competing with the main trunk. Remaining branches should be more horizontal (perpendicular to the trunk) than upright. Make sure branches are well spaced from top to bottom and around trunk. Well-trained trees will need minimal pruning. Start pruning by removing dead and damaged branches. Next, prune out watersprouts (upright shoots on branches) and suckers (upright shoots at base of trunk) as close to their bases as possible. Remove any branches that are crossed, rubbing, or parallel. Only prune off lower branches for safety and clearance- the lower limbs are the tree's best defense against disease and old age.
Vines & Groundcovers
Identify areas where groundcovers can be used to unify a planting bed, mask surface roots of large trees or fill a bare area where grass will not grow. Grow perennial vines such as Clematis, Porcelain Vine, and Climbing Hydrangea in containers to add vertical interest to patios and decks. Overwinter tropical vines such as Mandevilla indoors like houseplants. Hardy vines can be wintered outdoors. Sink the pot in the ground to insulate the roots. Or store in unheated garage. Water whenever the soil is frost-free and dry. Take note of how the vines and groundcovers are surviving the winter. No need to water outdoors. Monitor landscape for ice buildup. Water tropical vines moved indoors (thoroughly until excess runs out from bottom). Wait for top couple inches to dry before watering again. Do not fertilize. Remove broken and damaged branches as they are discovered. Wait until weather improves and snow clears to do routine pruning. Ideas for planting: Ajuga (bronze cultivars), Creeping Phlox (covered with white rose or purple flowers in spring; evergreen foliage year-round), Hostas (various colors), Lamium (green leaves with silvery white; mauve or white flowers in summer), Moneywort (bright yellow flowers cover the green leaves in summer; or yellow leaf variety), Orange Stonecrop (covered with yellow-orange flowers in summer; the foliage turns yellowish-orange in fall), Pachysandra (white flowers in April with glossy green evergreen foliage), Variegated Yellow Archangel (green and silver foliage with yellow flowers in summer), Wintercreeper (evergreen ground cover- turns purple in winter)
Special thanks to: Minnesota state Horticultural Society's Month-By-Month Gardening In Minnesota by Melinda Myers & edited by Chuck Levine