DOUG’S GARDENING BLOG – What’s a Gardener to do in January?


“Well, the weather outside is frightful”  –  No, wait, this is not the case in 2020.  Here we are in early January and we are having some nice weather and temperatures that allow us to get outside into our gardens and enjoy ourselves with our beloved plants.

I always love sharing the temperature of our soil.  As of January 3, our soil temperature is 50 degrees.  It didn’t hurt having a record warm day four days earlier with 73 degrees.  Another added bonus for this time of year is that we are having some good, timely rainfall to keep our soil moist for our plants.  A common gardening question this time of year is “can I still plant?”  Because of our current soil temperature and rainfall, my answer to this common planting question is a resounding YES!

January is NATIONAL GARDEN CATALOG MONTH – for a good reason.  Winter is an excellent time to sit down and put onto paper some of your garden plans for the upcoming spring season.  Spring will be here before we know it.  Matter of fact, as of January 3, we are exactly 77 away from the official start of spring (March 20).


  1. Now is a good time to clean and sharpen all the tools to get ready for spring.
  2. If you were given some flower bulbs, such as daffodils or tulips, for Christmas, let’s get them planted now and they will bloom for you later this spring.
  3. Don’t forget that bird feeding/watching is the # 2 outdoor hobby – behind gardening.  Keep the feeder full for our feathered friends.
  4. Spring 2020 flower and vegetable seeds are here.
  5. Now is a good time to do a soil test on both your vegetable garden and the lawn.  Soil test kits can be picked up at all Chesterfield Libraries.  Or, we have plenty here for you to take home.  Just follow the simple instructions and send them off to Virginia Tech.  In a few weeks, you will have valuable information on the condition of your soil and what you may need to do to improve.
  6. This is a good time to prune some plants – but not all plants.  Any shrub that blooms in the spring should only be pruned after it has finished blooming.  On pruning, there is a growing gardening trend to let plants grow naturally with unaltered growth.  Now, this trend can only work if the plants have enough room to grow naturally.

Whatever the weather and regardless of where you live, January marks the start of another garden year.  We made it to 2020.  Make it a great gardening year for yourself!  Somehow, any gardening disappointments that you experienced last year are vanishing as we look ahead and plan our gardening strategy for 2020.



26 thoughts on “DOUG’S GARDENING BLOG – What’s a Gardener to do in January?”

    • Donna,
      First, thank you for reading my blogs and taking time to send me your plant question. Now is the time to prune all bush type roses – while they are in a dormant state. We have Knock Out roses in our landscape and each winter we trim them down to half their size. They grow and bloom every year continuously through the growing season. When you are trimming the roses, thin out some of the weaker smaller branches from the interior of the plant – leaving the larger branches only. Let me know if you have any further questions. Doug

  1. Happy New Year and thank you for writing interesting and informative blogs! My question is, what should I be doing this time of year for my Apple trees? Thank you in advance!

    • Lynn,
      First, thank you for reading the blogs and sending me your question. Apple trees are dormant right now. And, will be for another six weeks.During this time period is when you can inspect the apple tree and do some selective pruning to thin out some of the branches. In February is the time to consider spraying the branches and trunk of fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spraying with a dormant oil spray will help kill insects that may have taken up residency in the cracks and crevasses of the stems or trunk. Get back with me if you have any further questions. Spring will be here before we know it. Regards, Doug

  2. Put a bird feeder up on patio door with suction cups. Have had food in it , still dry and fine, for at least 3 weeks. Not a busy area of house at all..birds feed on deck floor and all around but will not fly up to feeder? I tried putting food all around underneath ..strange???

    • Cindi,
      The birds may be afraid of their reflection from the window. Not sure. I use to have a suction cup feeder that I filled with Niger seed. I would get some finches. Not sure what to suggest to help you get more birds to this feeder. Good luck, Doug

  3. Doug,

    Last fall I discovered the easy way to plant spring bulbs: plant them in a container. Don’t fill the container with potting soil and dig holes for the bulbs. That’s the hard way. Plant from the bottom up. Add just enough potting soil for the deepest bulbs. Put the bulbs on top of that–pointy end up. Add potting soil for shallower bulbs. Add them on top. Continue layer by layer until the shallowest bulbs have been planted. This eliminates the bending and digging–especially if you put the container on a potting bench rather than on the ground. You could plant in a container even after the ground has frozen solid. One could use this same method in a garden. Remove all the soil to the planting depth of the deepest bulbs. Add the bulbs. Then layer soil and bulbs until the shallowest bulbs have been planted.

    • Jim,
      You are right on with your method of planting bulbs. Personally, I have one container that I have tulips bulbs in the bottom and then daffodils and then finish up with crocus. Right now I have pansies in the pot. These bulbs will poke up through the pansies to give the layered blooming look. I have spoken to a couple garden clubs on just this subject of planting. I am glad you took time to share this comments so that other readers can be inspired to do the same. Happy Gardening, Jim, Take care, Doug

  4. Hi!
    Last fall all of my chrysanthemum flowers were eaten quickly by a small fly. What can I do to avoid this problem next fall?
    I actually think the same flies were responsible for eating all of my rose flowers , too! Should I but ladybugs to get rid of any bugs? Thank you!

    • Tracey,
      I am sorry to hear that your mum flowers were eaten. It is not that uncommon. You mention ladybugs. Not a bad idea. I like it. You can buy ladybugs and then release in your garden. Let me hear back from you if you have any further questions. Doug

    • Debbie,
      First, thank you for reading the blogs and taking time to send this gardening question.
      Now is the proper time to prune back smoke bushes – while they are in a dormant state. So, be sure to trim them down anytime between now and the end of February. The reason that this is the proper time to trim back smoke bushes is because their flowers are produced on new (current season) wood.
      Let me hear back from you if you have any further questions. Doug

    • Sue,
      Thank you for this timely question. Now is the time to trim back the butterfly bushes. Because Butterfly bushes bloom off of the new spring growth you can trim it down as far as you want. But, do the trimming before the first of March while it remains in a dormant state. Again, thank you and let me know if you have any further questions. Doug

  5. Hello Doug,

    Thank you for this great article. Based on your description of the current mild weather conditions of January 2020, could plants , Skip Laurel and Robin Holly be planted now safely with no risks or is it better to wait until Spring like March 20th time frame?. Thanks in advance for your input. This is for Bristow/Gainesville Virginia area.

    Best Regards,


    • Umut,
      First, thank you for your kind comment on the blogs. Yes, you can plant now with no damage to the plants. Landscapers are loving this mild winter and are still planting. I hope you can find the plants in your area and can go ahead and do some planting. Doug

    • Stan,
      Yes, we are having a mild winter. And, yes our soil temperature is well above freezing. And, yes we are having some good timely rain fall. But, now is a tough time to get grass seed to germinate. It will take longer for the seed to eventually germinate this time of year. I would recommend seeding with a perennial or an annual rye grass. Once you seed. Add a lawn starter fertilizer. Lastly, you will want to do some covering of the seed. I would recommend tossing some peat moss on top of the seed (instead of wheat straw). This should get you through until fall. Fall is the optimal time to be seeding and fertilizing in our region. Doug

  6. Doug. I’m happy to have run across your blog. I hae several holly bushes of different varieties which have gotten away from me. is it too early to trim, and when I do, how much can I take off? Thanks

    • David,
      Usually I would recommend holding off trimming any evergreen shrub until the first of March. However, so far this year we are having a mild winter. If this mild winter continues into February then you may want to do it around the 15th of February – but no earlier. The general rule of thumb is that you can trim down evergreen shrubs by 1/3 of its size. Doug

  7. I have a crepe myrtle bush, is now the time to trim it? and crept myrtle trees?
    We would like the crepe myrtle bush to get bushier, is this possible?

    • Anne,
      Good timely question. Yes, now is the best time to prune back crape myrtle bushes or trees since they bloom off of new growth. By trimming it back now it should be a more bushy plant when it breaks dormancy later this spring. And, once it begins to show new growth is an ideal time to give it some quality fertilizer. Doug

  8. Doug. Love your blog. Is now a good time to trim holly bushes? I have several varieties that have all gotten out-of-hand. If I can trim now, how much can I safely cut off? Thanks

    • David,
      Good to hear back from you. Yes, now is the proper time to prune Abelia – IF YOU THINK IT NEEDS TO BE PRUNED. Pruning will make it a thinker plant once the new growth begins to appear. And, by pruning now, should not interfere with having blooms come this fall. Doug

  9. Doug. I’m confused. I was told by a nursery that they were Abelia but they bloom spring and summer, bees love them, and they definitely need cutting back.

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