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Over the Garden Fence

Two garden tasks to do in January

January finds us thinking we have already had our share of cold, and this year, some snow. Yet the colorful gardening catalogs keep us thinking that spring will return. The vegetable and flower gardens are certainly asleep until spring, but we can take a yard inventory from the dining room window and think about what we liked, what grew well and not so well, and begin to generally plan how we want our yard to look in 2021. Green Industry magazines talk about how seeds and plants sold well in 2020, so I know many of you have your green thumb started.


One great thing about annual flower beds is they give us a “do over” every year. If the marigolds did not do so well last year, we could try petunias or zinnias or something new instead. You can find just about any color or size of flowering annuals you need.

Perennial beds take a little more time to get just right, so expect a fuller looking, better blooming perennial bed in 2021. The catalogs do a good job of describing plants, yet in your yard they may behave differently. This coming season, when the plants are more mature, you can take stock of your perennial plants and decide if you should move a few, if they need more space, or perhaps to bring your favorites towards the front of the bed. In fact, you may want to start a garden journal, if you don’t have one already.

While you are looking over the yard, wintertime is a good time to see the potential sun and shade patterns in the landscape. These lighting patterns will help guide the selection of plants and flowers that will thrive and produce both the flowers and vegetables you want. When you see the sun and shade patterns in the winter, don’t forget to think about your trees and how much more shade may be in that spot come next summer.


Something you can do now is to continue to add to the compost pile or bin all winter long. You don’t have yard waste, but the raw vegetable kitchen waste along with the spent coffee grounds are great candidates. You don’t have to make the trip to the compost pile daily, just save up for a few days to make the trek worthwhile. The cold weather will break down the cell walls through freezing and thawing, and you will have your winter additions to your pile well on their way to being compost come next spring. Other greenery that can placed in the compost are the spent holiday gift plants like poinsettia, mums, azalea, and even holiday flower arrangements after you have removed any floral foam, support wire, and any holiday decoration that may have been included with the arrangement.

Spring will come so keep planning for it and working toward your 2021 garden goals.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.