January gives us all breather in the garden. A chance to assess what worked and what didn’t. Our January garden chores are all about planning and coloring in calendar dates. So grab a pencil and your calendar, and let’s do a little planning.

Dates to Mark: Because We’ll Forget if We Don’t

  • Mark a January day to pick up or get your mulch delivered. If you’re in Asheville, call our Landscape office about getting it spread at 828-650-7300. Get this chore done before the perennials start showing. Here’s why and how to mulch. 

  • Pencil in a February weekend for pruning deciduous trees and shrubs, including fruit trees, berry bushes, and brambles. Here’s the how-to on pruning.

  • Flip the calendar over to March and jot down a day to fertilize all the trees, shrubs, and perennial beds and grow grass seed. Here’s your how-to on lawn care.  

  • Are you planning a vegetable garden? Use a planting calendar to schedule. Columbia area planting guide.  Asheville area planting guide. 

  • Mark a date for cleaning up the garden shed. Check bags of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and all your tools. Do they need to be sharpened? That’s an easy inside chore.

If you’re itching to plant something, try seeds indoors.

Starting Seeds Indoors: Because We’re Dying to Plant Anything

When can I start my seeds indoors? What about cool-season crops? Is it too soon or too late to start those? So go the questions of anxious gardeners who managed the holidays and are now ready to grow something–anything! Starting seeds indoors is one-way gardeners can fight that winter itch to plant, even when snow covers the ground.

The How-To on Starting Seeds

You don't have to have a fancy set-up. Seedlings can be started in any containers with a good potting mix and the right amount of light.

You don’t have to have a fancy setup. Seedlings can be started in any container with a good potting mix and the right amount of light.

If you’re starting transplants indoors, start 6-8 weeks before the outdoor plant date, and follow these few tips.

  1. A window sill isn’t enough light for seedlings. They’ll become leggy and won’t thrive. Instead, try 12 hours of light from a grow light that provides the necessary brightness.

  2. Use a potting mix that drains well, and keep it moist but not wet. If the soil stays too wet, there’s potential for a fungal disease called damping off, killing young transplants. Good air circulation and watering the seedlings from below, not above, will help.

  3. Peat Pots are good for starting seeds since they can be planted directly into the soil when the time comes, but any container is okay. If using pots that had summer annuals in them, be sure to use a fresh potting mix. If reusing growing trays, be sure to sterilize them first.

  4. Most homes are warm enough for seeds to germinate, but a heat mat is beneficial. Heat mats go directly under the plant tray until germination starts. Also, remove the dome over the seedlings after germination.

  5. If you don’t have room indoors to start seeds, we sell transplants (both organic and non-organic), so you can still get a jump start on your veggies. The frost date for the Asheville area is April 15, and for Columbia is March 24th, with a ten-day standard deviation rate (meaning be prepared to cover your seedlings if a late spring frost shows up).

  6. If you have leftover seeds from too many years to count, consider doing a viability test on those, remembering that you’re testing germination rates, not vigor. The rule of thumb is that most seeds will last a couple of years, more or less. If you can’t see the date on the package, it’s probably time to toss them. If you’re saving this year’s seed, put seed packets in a Ziploc bag, zipped uptight, and store them in the freezer.

You only need one packet of cherry tomato seeds. The harvest is plentiful.

You only need one packet of cherry tomato seeds. The harvest is plentiful.

To test for viability: Dampen a couple of paper towels, place ten seeds from one left-over packet in-between the layers, and roll up. Place the damp paper towels in a plastic bag to keep them moist but not airtight, and leave them in a warm place for a few days. If three germinated, that’s a 30% germination rate. If seven germinated, then you’ve got a 70% germination rate. You want a higher rate. The lower the rate, the more likely you’ll need a new packet of seeds.

The good news? We have seeds and everything needed to start your seedlings. The temptation is to buy more than you have space for or will eat. Instead, choose the veggies you love, purchase enough for succession planting, and experiment with a few new vegetables for fun. Oh, and don’t forget the flowers. We need lots of flowers, don’t we?

Houseplants: Because They’re Our Winter Love

Succluents are fun to grow indoors, but you will need a sunny window, and water monthly instead of weekly.

Succulents are fun to grow indoors, but you will need a sunny window and water monthly instead of weekly.

Turn all that garden-nurturing love you’re missing toward your houseplants. Now is their time for a little TLC. Double-check for spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. If you catch problems early, it’s easy enough to take care of–a shower, insecticidal soap, or horticulture oil works. So does alcohol with a q-tip. But hold off on the fertilizer. Wait until early March, a bit closer to spring, to feed your indoor plants. The same goes for transplanting. I’ve put that chore off for a few years, and I have it on my calendar this year. Every houseplant I own gets a pot full of fresh soil and fertilizer! Someone remind me, please.

Before you go, check out these tips on designing with houseplants, and read about the best low-light houseplants. Stop by the store for a splurge on a few additions to the houseplants. For those of you with four-legged housemates, here’s the pet poison hotline with information on which plants are harmful to your pets.

Design and Review: Because Now is the Time Or it Won’t Happen

January is the month to review and dream a little. What worked last year, and what didn’t? What area of your yard needs some serious attention? Do you have a drainage issue? Should irrigation be considered, or hardscaping (the year you get that patio)? We have a landscape department that can help you with all of that. Do you have the onesie look happening? This is the year to unify the garden with sweeps and masses (masses don’t have to be large scale, 3 of something counts). The garden coaches can help with that. We have a retail installation program that does the digging for you, especially if you’re planting oversized items or lots of things. Ask for a consultation as you do your walkabout.

Go for walks and check out the neighborhood. Start a wish list of plants. See something you like? Please take a picture and bring it to your closest store in spring. The staff loves to play name that plant! And chances are, we will have it.

Now, back to the fireplace with those seed catalogs.

Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant and Blog Writer.

BB Barns Garden Center serves Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.