January gardening checklist (© Mark Bolton/Corbis)

Gardening, in January? Absolutely.

There are still lots of things you can plant, and you can start the new year on the right foot by doing timeless chores that will add to your garden's health as spring approaches. (Bing: When is the first day of spring?)

Everything you accomplish now will make spring that much sweeter.

Trees and shrubs
This month's tree and shrub tasks are all about planting, pruning and protecting.

  • If you live in a place that has mild winters, you can still plant trees of all kinds: fruit trees, shade trees and flowering trees; and choosing them is fun now, since nurseries tend to add their new selections in January.
  • On a day when temperatures are below freezing, plant new evergreens, rose bushes and deciduous shrubs.
  • While you shouldn't prune flowering trees until after they've bloomed, you can now prune most shrubs and deciduous shade trees.
  • When you notice new buds on deciduous trees, possibly late this month or in early February, give them their third and last shot of dormant spray — follow the label's instructions and avoid spraying on days that are windy, rainy or below freezing.
  • Keep up with raking; fallen leaves can do heavy damage if left to smother grass.
  • If you have snowfall, knock snow off the branches of evergreens and fine-branched deciduous trees using an upward motion to keep limbs from breaking — don't risk the benign fluffy stuff turning into ice overnight. If breakage does occur, prune broken branches.

Winterizing
With winter in full force, there are several things you can do to protect challenged plants, trees, shrubs and even birds.

Don't haul that Christmas tree out to the curb just yet: Its branches can be used to protect tender plants and even root vegetables and perennials or to form a wind or sun shield for shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, holly and boxwood. Or the full tree can be staked near a feeder to shield birds from cold. (Place far enough away to avoid accidents with cats.)

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If you live in an area that has heavy winters and you haven't yet wrapped newly planted trees or thin-barked trees such as maple, ash, mountain ash and linden, do so now. Wrap from the base upward to repel moisture.

Read:  10 great winter home projects

Keep protecting tender plants against freezes by covering them with burlap or other cloth supported by a perimeter of stakes; just don't let the cloth touch the leafy parts.

Houseplants
Winter houseplant care is more about attentive restraint than high maintenance.

  • When you water, which should be minimal during the winter, do it just enough so that water saturates the soil and comes through the drainage holes; at this time of year, plants left in standing water can suffer root damage.
  • Turn plants every two weeks for balanced foliage as they seek sunlight.
  • Check for pests in the greenhouse and on houseplants; treat with organic products so kids and pets aren't endangered.
  • Hold off on transplanting those plants whose roots are potbound.
  • On nights that are extremely cold, be sure to draw the curtains or blinds of plant windows.

Little live things
Wouldn't it be nice if birds ate slugs for a living? If you're a feeder of birds, don't stop now — during this month they'll need all the help they can get, and it needn't be fancy. Birds will likely find any station above snow level, from old logs to carpet scraps.

Every slug you catch before it reproduces can spare you from facing several more generations. (And you thought rabbits were prolific.)

Maintenance
Take this chance to get sleek for spring. No, not to buff up for your getaway swimwear — you know, the fun stuff. Machines. Tools.

  • Any machine repair you have done now will spare you spring headaches — or at least a long wait in the queue that begins to form in February. Consider mowers, chain saws and other power tools.
  • Clean, sharpen and oil hand tools, from clippers to shovels.

Perennials
Even after the holidays, the catalog season continues.

  • Start planning your spring garden now by making a map of your garden, including what you'd like to plant where, with seed and bulb catalogs by your side for inspiration.
  • Clear away mulch from winter-blooming bulbs.
  • Dig up and divide winter-blooming bulbs after they've flowered.
  • In mild climates, you may still be able to plant hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and crocuses.
  • If an unexpected warm streak fools bulbs into thinking it's springtime, help protect them with an extra light layer of mulch.

Weeding
It's a nasty job, but unless your garden is buried under snow, somebody has to do it. Too bad weeds don't take winter vacations.

  • Many weeds are still merrily going through their flowering and seeding cycle even in January. Uproot them before seeds spread to spare yourself weeding future generations.