University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor and
Lisa Halvorsen, Garden Writer

Janus, who lends his name to the month of January, was the dual-faced Roman god of gates and doors.  He also was called the god of beginnings as it was commonly believed that you needed to go through a door or gate in order to enter a new place or beginning.

 The god was depicted as looking forward and backwards at the same time--forward towards new beginnings and back towards the past.  It's an appropriate symbol for this month as it's a time when gardeners are thinking about last year's garden in order to look ahead to the new growing season.

 If you are like many gardeners, you probably keep notes on annual seed and plant purchases, past garden successes and failures, and even new things to try.  It's a good idea to review these before you start planning your seed and equipment orders.  Maps of past gardens will help you rotate plants and avoid overcrowding when planning spacing of plantings.

January is a good time to start a garden journal or even just a file where you can store articles clipped out of newspapers and magazines, or lists of ideas you want to try in the garden.  A good place to get a few new ideas is by taking a class or joining a garden club.  Most gardeners love to talk about gardening and won't mind sharing some of their tried and true methods and products with you.  Or apply to the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener program.  For more information, visit http:// or send an e-mail to

 Next, check the seeds you saved and stored from last year's garden.  Discard anything that is damp, diseased, moldy, or in otherwise bad condition.  Look over what's left, and determine what you need to order.

 You also should take a look at squash, potatoes, root crops, and other vegetables and fruits in winter storage.  Although conditions may have been ideal when you harvested and stored them in the fall, the cold, wet winter may make that location too wet or damp.  Toss anything that has spoiled or has soft spots.  The same goes for summer flower bulbs like dahlias and gladioli that you saved to plant this year.

 As many avid gardeners have discovered, it's wise to plan your seed order with other gardeners.  This will allow you to save money while growing a wider variety of crops and flowers.  In addition, some seed companies offer discounts or free seeds for early bird and/or large orders.  Just don't fall into the trap of ordering more than you can use.  That's where the notes you kept from past years will be useful.

 If you need to replace a tiller or want to add a few new gardening tools to your inventory, start comparison shopping in January.  Granted, some of this equipment won't be available for purchase in garden centers for a few more months.  But by studying catalogs and magazines, talking to friends, and even surfing the Internet now, you will have a better idea of what you want and won't waste valuable time in the spring deciding what to buy.

 The same goes for landscape plants.  Although you wouldn't be able to plant them now, even if you could buy them, this "down time" in gardening is perfect for planning.  Start thinking about what you need to fill in gaps in your landscape or what new plants you'd like to try.  It may help to take a walk around your property to visualize where landscape improvements are needed or where you might put in a new flower bed.  Think about color, scents, textures, and shapes.  Then scout out companies that carry what's on your wish list.

 No yard or garden is complete without statuary, gazing balls, sundials, and garden whimsies that make the space uniquely yours.  Shop now for what you'll need in the spring to accessorize your lawn, garden, and flower beds.  Use your imagination.

 This January get creative in the workshop.  Build a bat house or a birdhouse or two.  Paint garden furniture. Construct artificial lighting set-ups for growing houseplants or starting transplants indoors. Or install a composting bin in your basement, adding a handful of red worms to turn your vegetable table scraps into rich compost for the garden.

 Other activities for January: visit the Vermont Farm Show at the Barre Civic Center, Jan. 29-31; start an amaryllis bulb for spring bloom; re-read a favorite gardening book or start a new one that you received as a holiday gift.

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