House & Garden Fun for January, 2014

I HOPE YOU’RE LOUNGING ON A BEACH IN THE BAHAMAS JUST NOW. Alas, I’m shivering in New York’s Hudson Valley, where nighttime temperatures are in the single digits. And get this — the National Weather Service says a foot of snow will arrive on Thursday. Good thing the January house and garden chores offer a hint of spring:

Seeds. Order these from catalogs now, especially if you have specific colors or varieties of plants in mind. I order most of my seeds from these reliable sellers. 

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!  The details.

Forsythia. It’s not too early to force the dormant stems. Cut sprays at varying lengths, mash the ends with a hammer, and then plunk them in a vase of water. Set before a bright but cool window, a bouquet of goldenrod-yellow will emerge in about 21 days.  As pictured above, I like to display forsythia with pink Begonia semperflorens and purple and white Primula obconica in my parlor window.

Design a Window Garden. Outfit a window with glass shelves and a broad sill, and you can have all kinds of fun creating seasonal plant-pictures. The easy-peazy directions are here.

African Violets. As usual, I have way too many of these Saintpaulia ionantha. But they are perfect for the glass shelves of my window gardens, and their flowers make my smile. To ensure constant bloom, I care for the plants this way.

Amaryllis. Has the flower bud emerged on your new plant? If so, move it gradually to light and sun and heat (not more than 70°F, please), 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.

Cyclamen (above, in blue pots). Keep water in the saucer (or bowl) beneath this plant. Provide food, too, if you intend to rebloom the tuber next year.

Zonal Geraniums (Pelargoniums). Place these in full sun, and they will flower with increasing frequency as the days lengthen. The pink and white zonals I propagated last August are now in various stages of bud and bloom. I encourage them with a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorous plant food.

Hardy Bulbs. Did you pot up a few tulips, hyacinths, or other “Dutch” bulbs last October? Bring them out of cold storage now, and place them in a sunny but cool window. And if you wish to save them for outdoor planting after their flowers fade, provide food and water until the foliage withers.  More details.

Well. I hope the above list of chores has put an April bounce in your January step. Happy 2014, everyone!

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Related Posts:
A Snow-Cloaked Garden Tour
Flower Arranging: July Blooms for a Cold January
Housekeeping 101: Cleaning the “Master” Bedroom


  1. Louise Brouillette says:

    Kevin, when do you start forcing your forsythia? I don’t have any in my yard, but I asked a garden buddy to share. I’d like to try it this year.

  2. Hi Louise – I always clip forsythia branches on New Year’s Day. They bloom for me in just 2-3 weeks!

  3. A visit with you always lifts my spirits, Kevin! Happy New Year to you!

  4. We just moved to Denver last month, to a place with very sandy, barren soil, and few plantings. I will probably put in a temporary vegetable garden in the spring, start amending like crazy, and wait and watch to see how blazingly hot the back yard will get(full southern exposure and no trees).Plus, we need to eradicate the fire ants and persuade other colonies to stay away. At least we do not have prairie dogs! I am planning on adding lenten roses to the front, with its northern exposure, as I miss my rather large patch from Maryland. I also need to replace a dead tree by the sidewalk, and am happily going over my choices. I am leaning towards a Stewartia, but am not sure whether I should go with the korean or japanese. Does anyone have any suggestions? I would prefer something with 4 season interest, as it is a specimen and will be seen by everyone driving by. Thanks, and happy New Year!

  5. Adriana Fernandez says:

    So beautiful!!!! I love plants in the house during winter, I only have three now, a spectacular Christmas cactus that blooms beautifully every year after Thanksgiving and during Christmas time (red flowers), a Bougainvillea that only gives me 2 flowers during the summer (I had one that had flowers almost all year around (fuchsia) when we lived in Argentina. I took tons of pictures in Mexico (just out of envy), but I love and cherish it: and a bamboo in water. Oh, I forgot, I also have basil. I have only two windows where I can put pots, I will look for some of the pretty ones you suggest. Thank you Kevin. Adriana, also with the same low temperatures here in Ottawa. Keep warm!!! Cheers!!

  6. Kevin–the hyacinth photo is so beautiful I can almost smell them! Thank you for sharing the winter seed starting information and the links to the seed companies–I’ll be trying this process, after years of sad, spindly seedlings on my windowsill.

    Jenn V, I would suggest you take a look at garden books by Lauren Springer Ogden and Rob Proctor–they garden in Colorado, and give great advice for those of us out here in the Plains. I’ve found them very helpful in achieving a lush cottage garden look even with the baking hot summers we have. Good luck!

  7. badger gardener says:

    Hope everyone had a happy holiday season. I can’t believe how time flew by.

    I just ordered some flower and veggie seeds today. Trying some hollyhocks this year. When we first moved into our home a friend gave me a lovely hollyhock but it never reseeded itself and I never tried one again. I ordered a dwarf variety that is listed as an annual so hoping for blooms this summer. Perhaps it will inspire me to try the full size again. Also trying coleus this year after seeing how easily you keep yours going via cuttings. I have lots of shady spots that could use this little plant.

    Will cut some forsythia in the next few days as I clear out Christmas decorations and make some room. Looking forward to them brightening up the winter. Pretty cold here too but still tolerable. Next Mon. the forecast is for HIGHS of negative 4. Brrrrr.

  8. Thank you Kate. I will check the library for them. I left behind a mature, mostly shade garden near the Baltimore harbor, so this will definitely be a big change! At least I should not have to worry about mildew!

  9. Question–what do you use to label your jugs for seeds? I did this last year and used a sharpie/permanent marker on the jugs and still the names bleached out. Any suggestions?
    Thanks! Mary

  10. Just love the glass shelved window treatment, but I lose the ability to close the shades??? is there a way to have both?


  11. Sara in Indiana says:

    To answer Mary L regarding labeling winter sown jugs–I cut a label-size strip of milk jug and write the plant name on it with a sharpie, then tuck the label between the soil and the jug where the sun cannot bleach it, with the writing towards the soil.

  12. Peggy Herron says:

    I am soooo jealous of those beautiful hyacinths . I potted up three a amaryllis a bit late and am trying to time their flowering so I can have somthing blooming or almost blooming for a few weeks this winter.
    I worked on a leek ,cabbage and white bean soup during the snow storm . I live have somthing simmering on the stove during a storm . My German neighbor suggested I add sour cream to the soup which I did and it really gave the soup a lovely creaminess plus a bit of tang. I would like to add some bacon bits on top but I was trying to keep it vegetarian .
    A much loved member of our cat family was just diagnosed diabetic . Kato had to spend last night at the emergency vets hospital . My husband and I will be able to pick him up at four. It is going to be a long afternoon and a long week trying to find out what was causing his distress.

  13. Hi Peggy Herron – Your poor kitty! I hope you and your vet are able to manage the diabetes through diet. Sending positive energy your way.

  14. Kevin – Woo Hoo! I just ordered my FIRST SEEDS EVER! (Always have purchased “ready made” plants from a nursery) I can’t wait to start Winter Sowing. Wish me luck, please

  15. Diane TG – Good luck! And here’s a warning: Winter-sowing is additive!

  16. Thank you Sara! I will try that!

  17. Jackie Leib says:

    Hi Kevin,

    It has been over 5 hours since my first post to you on your “Ask Kevin” tab of your website. Like I said in that post, I am so enjoying surfing your website and am embarrased to say that I have spent thoses 5 hours on your website!!! It is cold and snowy and I need a gardening fix.

    I have another question for you and it involves bulbs. I purchased bulbs in the fall. Before I could get them in the ground, I got sick and was unable to get them in the ground before it froze. Can I do anything with them now? I don’t need them to bloom indoors. In fact, I would prefer to have them in my garden. Is it possible to pot them up?

    Thanks again for a wonderful website. I am so glad I found you!!!

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