Garden Chores for January, 2013

FOR ME, and maybe for you, too, January marks the beginning of spring. This is the time to sow seeds outdoors (even if you have 6 inches of snow on the ground, as I currently do), and to clip forsythia branches for indoor bloom. Then there are bulbs to force, African violets to propagate, geraniums to fertilize, and…well, just have a look at the chores:

Seeds. Order these from catalogs now, especially if you have specific colors or varieties of plants in mind. Among other things, I hope you’ll order Berlandiera lyrata, the “Chocolate Flower.” This bright yellow, cocoa-scented wonder will delight you all summer long. It’s a great plant to winter-sow.

Winter-Sowing. Plant your perennial and hardy annual seeds outdoors in containers now, and in spring you’ll have enough plants to furnish your entire neighborhood. This nifty method of seed-sowing is fun, fun, fun!

Forsythia. It’s not too early to force these branches. Cut sprays at varying lengths, mash the ends with a hammer, and submerge in a tub of cool water for several hours or overnight. Then arrange in a vase. In a bright but cool window, a brilliant bouquet of goldenrod-yellow will emerge in about 3 weeks time. I like to display forsythia with pink begonia semperflorens and purple and white Primula obconica in my parlor window (above). Here are my tips for forcing the branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs.

African Violets. How these loathe the dry air that defines the heating season! To increase moisture, set the plants on a humidifying tray of pebbles and water.  You might as well create new plants from leaves now, too. The directions (along with other valuable African violet care-tips) are here.

Amaryllis. Has the flower bud emerged on your new plant? If so, move it gradually to light and sun and heat (not more than 70F), and increase water as need indicates. Check your older stored amaryllis for signs of growth. Then renew the top layer of soil and provide water. Keep cool and dim until the flower-stalk is about three inches high. And be sure to read my amaryllis growing-guide.

Cyclamen. Take care that there is always water in the saucer (or bowl) beneath this plant. Provide food, too, if you intend to re-bloom the tuber next year.

Geraniums (Pelargoniums). Move rested plants back to sun and warmth (not more than 65F, please). As growth develops, water more freely and feed regularly with a high-phosphorous, low-nitrogen formula.

Hardy Bulbs. If, in early October, you joined me in a big bulb-potting campaign, you can bring the hardy Dutch-types (tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, etc) out of cold, dark storage now. Set the bulbs in your sunniest window, keep temperatures on the cool side (55-65 degrees is ideal), and in about a month you’ll be rewarded with fabulous color and scent.

Boston Fern. Is yours looking a little…ratty? Then divide it into several small, easy-to-manage ferns. I use such divisions to bring green accent to the flowering plants in my music room window, as pictured above (the ferns are located between the too-tall hyacinths on the first glass shelf).  How to Divide & Conquer the Boston Fern. 

Poinsettia. To insure months of beauty, keep cool and just barely moist. How I grow and re-bloom my poinsettias.

Primroses. Fragrant malacoides and buxom obconica both require coolness and constant moisture. As with cyclamen, keep water in the saucer at all times. My favorite Primula for winter-bloom indoors.

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Related Posts:
The Rabbits-foot Fern
Steps to a Beautiful Window Garden
Forcing Hyacinths for Winter Bloom


  1. Hi Kevin,
    I wanted to thank you for the awesome zucchini fritter recipe in last week’s post. I made it as an appetizer for my family’s Christmas dinner and they were a huge hit! Thank you! and a most blessed and Happy New Year!

  2. I dream of someday having such beauty in my home this time of year. Thank you so much for your inspiration and suggestions!

  3. Kevin, you have the BEST blog ever!!!! Information that is so helpful and timely!!
    Thanks for all you post.
    Have a blessed New Year!!!

  4. Hi Kevin,

    You always inspire me with your energy and creativity. I really didn’t feel up to decorating for Christmas until I saw your fresh fruit & evergreen spread on your mantlepiece – and then I went crazy! We decorated the mantlepiece, the bannister, the front door, the deck, the dining room table, etc. We hosted Christmas this year for our family and received so many compliments on the decor. Now, I’m off to set up a little winter sowing area in my living room (I’ve saved milk jugs all year thanks to you!) Just wanted to say thank you and keep up the good work!


  5. Where should I buy seeds for flowers and vegetables? Thanks Kevin. I look forward to your emails.

  6. Kevin you do it all so well.

  7. Thanks for posting this list! It makes outdoor gardening not seem so far away! Have a Happy New Year!

  8. Susan in MI says:

    This is for Cathy (and everyone else as well) who questioned on where to buy seeds. There are plenty of sources out there for those of us who do not wish to support Monsanto.

    Kevin, thanks for your advice on winter sowing. If you have any grape vines, mid January in my zone 5 is the time to prune the vines back which I vow to do this year. I didn’t know they had to be pruned since buying this house. Sure found out when the bunches didn’t ripen up properly so I barely harvested 100 lbs of Concord grapes this year. Live and learn.

    Have a Lovely New Year!

  9. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!! My chocolate flower seeds are ordered ON TIME this year thanks to you! I found a package of 50 seeds from Outsidepride, 4.99 ($2 shipping). I also ordered Joy perfume tree seeds and Pale Vanilla Lily tubers. You just brought excitement and success to a cold, gray day! Woohoo!!

  10. Dawn Trainor says:

    Hi Kevin – Love all of the great information! Would you share the details of your glass plant shelves please – did you use tempered glass? Where did you find such great brackets? It looks like the brackets are anchored directly to the window frame? Suggestions? Would you do anything differently if you had to do it again?

    Just got divorced and now get to do all of the things I have wanted to do with my house and my plants – have always wanted shelves like these but my ideas were shot down. Thanks for any info you are willing to share!!

  11. Hi Kevin –

    Thank you SO much for this website & for the information on winter sowing! I live in a tiny house & have cats (who think all plants are theirs to nosh on) so I have no room to start seeds, even if my cats would allow them to grow. I am saving cat litter jugs (which I will clean thoroughly) to use as my greenhouses as no one I know buys anything in gallon jugs of any kind. I spent all day yesterday reading & PDFing all your basic instructions & then going through seed websites. I am so excited to spend this winter actually planting my garden rather than just daydreaming over pretty catalogues! I am also thrilled that you are in Zone 5b as I am, too (near Northampton MA) so I feel confident I can get at least some of my items to grow.

    BTW – I don’t know if you’d heard this about Seeds of Change but it looks like Mars is not a good owner/employer to any of their employees. They shut their New Mexico warehouse in March 2011 & not only put humans out of work but left their warehouse cats behind & if the cleaning service hadn’t found & taken care of the cats, they might well have starved. I had planned to order from them but anyone who can abandon cats (& employees) doesn’t deserve my money.

    And thank you for all the information about Monsanto.


  12. Debby – Good for you! You will love the scent of B. lyrata.

    Dawn – A window garden is very easy to make, but oh, what pleasure it provides. I made mine this way: Steps to a Window Garden.

    Sarah – Thanks for the heads-up regarding Seeds of Change. Needless to say, they will not be getting my seed money.

  13. Andree in Spain says:

    Wishing you and yours Health Wealth and Happiness in 2013 Have a great New Year and thank you for a wonderful blog and all the time and effort you spend informing us in such an inspiring way xxx

  14. Do you get the Baker Creek catalog? If not you need one. it is the most awesome and beautiful seed catalog and is the first one to mailbox every December.

  15. Dawn Trainor says:

    Thanks Kevin for directing me to your window garden in the making! You have inspired me!

  16. badger gardener says:

    Happy New Year Kevin. Hope you’ve been having a great holiday season. Our family had a great one this year. It’s back to work and school tomorrow. Think I’ll cut some forsythia today so I have something to replace the Christmas decorations, as I always get a little sad about putting them away each year. I plan on prepping my milk jugs soon but still haven’t decided what I’m trying out this year. Excited about all the possibilities now that I know about Winter sowing.

    I thought you might appreciate this link which is a memorial page to Rebecca Tarbotton, executive director at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) who passed on quite unexpectedly over the holidays. She was a tireless advocate for the health of the planet. She started out in the early local food education efforts in Vancouver and eventually was smartly plucked-up by RAN.
    There is an excellent video link to an eloquent speech she gave in October at their annual dinner that I think is a must-see for anyone who appreciates a little hope when it comes to environmental change.

  17. It is cloudy, dreary and cold (55 degrees is cold for me) here on the Texas Gulf Coast. Your wonderful web site is a ray of sunshine for me. Thanks. Seed Savers Exchange- GOOD MAN.

  18. Love all your window gardens!

  19. Kevin .. you always have such wonderful information to share with us! I’ve just made a listing of the invaluable details regarding Monsanto (how I hate what they do!) and have sent your blog site to gardening friends. I’ve printed out the information on what plants and seeds to avoid. Scary.

  20. Allison K says:

    For over a dozen years I lived in/near Decorah, Iowa where Seed Savers Exchange is based. They are a _fantastic_ group of people! I get so excited whenever I see references to them, such as the seed catalog in your pic! Also, just this weekend I was telling friends in Madison, WI about winter sowing and referred them to your website…

  21. Gretchen Wood says:

    I never really paid attention to the site. Good info on winter sowing and I love the fact that u cut the containers in half. I guess I never really understood the concept until now. Thanks for the picture. I guess I am more of a visual person than I realized.
    Keep up the great, fantastic work!

  22. Hi Kevin — Your site is an inspiration. I now look forward to it every week. Miss your house!

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