As cold fronts move in, the gardening process begins to slow down. The trees and plants within a garden are mostly dormant for the winter, and in cooler months gardens receive much less attention from their caretakers. Even though the plant life within the garden may be less active, January is a prime month to start planning, and ordering the supplies needed to prepare for your garden’s spring revival. January is not a typical month for gardening in most areas, but in Tennessee the average temperatures are just warm enough for certain plants to be seeded. It is important to check region temperatures and frost dates in order to be as effective as possible in the early months of the year. The sun still makes expected appearances in the southern states, and it is very unlikely that snow or frost will stay for more than a couple of days within the month, if they even appear at all.
Weather is impossible to predict, and hard to plan for, especially in terms of gardening. To make plant buying and rooting decisions less complicated, gardeners and nurseries have developed a USDA categorization system to help identify what plants grow best in what regions. The system utilized ‘Hardiness Zones’ and each plant or tree in a nursery is tagged under a specific zone. Each state can have a range of zones, and there are standard rules that apply to all plants that can grow well within a zone. For most regions in Tennessee the Hardiness Zones range from 6 to 8. While these zones can give gardeners a platform and guidelines for their landscapes, weather can vary and change drastically even within a zone. Therefore, when deciding which plants to buy and when to plant them be sure to make clinical choices based on all factors not just their Hardiness Zone.
If the weather permits, certain flowers and vegetables can benefit from being planted in the early days of the year. Bulbs thrive in the chilly temperatures and grow and flower quickly. January is a fine time to plant any variety of daffodil or tulip bulbs that might even yield flowers later within the same year. During January the temperature rises and falls with the change of a day, seeing warmer conditions creep towards 50 degrees and then plummet into the teens and low 20’s at night. This transition has a direct impact on the soil in a garden, freezing and thawing all within the same day. Some flowers, like larkspur and poppies, excel in these conditions. Sow these seeds directly into the soil to help them sprout more easily. In some cases, vegetables can be planted outdoors in January if the soil is malleable. Asparagus and strawberry plants do well in the mild winter, while broccoli, onion, and cabbage seedlings can start to be relocated into the garden.
Other plants, which are less resilient to colder temperatures, can still be planted but should remain indoors during the month of January. Starting to grow vegetables and flowers inside is a very common practice, and most are easily transplanted when the warm weather arrives. In general, seedlings have a much higher life expectancy and quality of life within a garden than bulbs do. For the best production from your garden, it is crucial to start planting and growing seedlings indoors during the winter months. Plants that grow particularly slow should be started in January, so they can have success in the spring. Celery, cauliflower, lettuce and peppers should all be planted indoors to maximize their yield. These plants are typically quite easy to transplant and need more time to grow than most other plants in a garden. Other flowers should be grown indoors under direct light. Snapdragons, begonia, and geranium are all early spring bloomers and benefit from the extra care and attention.
January is the month to get serious about gardening. Expert gardeners are ordering nursery catalogs, pruning dormant trees or shrubs, and covering their plants at any mention of the word ‘frost’. Having a strong plan heading into the heavy gardening months is key to elevating your garden, and that work starts today. Everything done now is only going to make spring that much easier. Winter is also a perfect time to test grow. Depending on the climate and terrain some seeds will prosper where other seeds will not, and finding out which is which after planting is a gardener’s nightmare. Seed growth is also linked to the condition of the seeds before you plant them. If you have seeds saved over from the last planting season, make sure they are still suitable for this year’s garden by wrapping them in a warm, wet paper towel and seeing how many start to sprout within a week. If fewer than half sprout, its time to whip out that catalog and order again!