Carry on an old Southern tradition and take down holiday decorations on New Year's Day. Remember, cut greenery and trees that are dry and brittle may be a fire hazard. So, start the New Year off right by keeping your home a safe place.
Christmas Tree branches can be used to protect marginally hardy plants from Winter's cold.
All this month WinterSow cool season annuals and perennial seeds in covered, well draining, vented containers. Wait until March to sow tender annuals such as Zinnias, Marigolds, and Morning Glories. If you are unfamiliar with this practice, do a web search for the term "Winter Sowing" and be prepared for a new addiction.
Take good care of houseplants - keep them away from heat vents, and mist their foliage frequently with water since the humidity inside our homes is often low. Water them only when the surface of the soil feels dry. Take them to the sink and use the sprayer to wash dust from the leaves then let them soak until the soil is saturated and water drains from the hole in the pot.
Christmas Cactus actually thrives in low humidity. After the flowers drop, keep it as an indoor plant. Next September, prepare it to bloom again for the holidays.
Poinsettias and Jerusalem Cherries can be kept inside for months and forced to flower again next fall. Keep them watered and away from cold drafts.
Remove last-season's foliage from Hellebores as new growth emerges.
Pour over the garden catalogs arriving in your mailbox and order flowers and vegetable seeds to WinterSow now or to start indoors late this month.
Clean pruning shears and loppers with mineral spirits to remove sap, then lubricate them with WD-40.
Sharpen them yourself if you know how or take pruners and loppers to be professionally sharpened before winter pruning in mid-February.
Start battery-operated equipment periodically to keep the battery charged. A friend who used to own a power equipment business recommends not draining gas from lawnmowers and other small engines because he saw more damage caused by vapor left in the carburetor than from gasoline itself. He highly recommends using Briggs & Stratton fuel stabilizer (which is mineral rather than alcohol based) to prevent the old gas from turning to varnish.
Clean and inspect power trimmers and replace spools of line if needed.
Order hardy perennials to be planted in February.
Now is a good time to weed Privet and other unwanted hardwood seedlings. Pull them up and add to the compost. You might want to pot up good ones like Hollies or Mahonia for upcoming plant swaps.
Inspect your garden and remove Japanese Honeysuckle. Now that the leaves are off deciduous shrubs, its evergreen foliage is easy to spot.
Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlaped shrubs and trees when the ground is not frozen.
If a deep freeze is coming, cover plants temporarily to protect from burning by cold winds. Don't forget to remove the cover once the cold has moderated.
If it has not rained recently and the ground is very dry, water the garden. Moisture in the soil will freeze when the temperature drops to 32 degrees and will help isulate plant roots that might be damaged by very cold temperatures. Evergreens also continue to transpire in the winter and can be damaged if no water is available to their roots.
Spread newspaper over Pansies or other low-growing, winter-flowering plants on very cold nights and spray with water to freeze and provide insulation.
Watch for plants that freezing soil has caused to "heave" out of the ground and reset them. Do Not use your feet to push them back in the ground, for that will break brittle, frozen roots and cause severe damage.
Start a garden journal. You'll thank yourself in years to come.
If bare-root trees arrive before planting time in the next two months, inspect them to see that they are in good condition and that the roots are moist and healthy. Store them in the shipping package in a cool, damp, but not freezing location until they can be planted. Evergreen shrubs that did not go into the ground before a hard freeze should also be stored in a sheltered place protected from cold wind until the ground thaws enough to dig the planting hole.
Dormant pruning of summer-flowering shrubs will force new growth in the spring upon which flower buds will develop. Prune summer-flowering shrubs and trees including Chaste Tree (Vitex), Pee Gee Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborscens, and Rose-of-Sharon. Do not prune Crape Myrtle severely - only prune it to shape it up and remove crossing branches.
Lightly prune (from the top down) large-flowered Clematis in the Type II group which bloom on one year-old wood in the spring. Some of these are 'Dr. Ruppel', 'Duchess of Edinburgh', 'Henryi', 'Elsa Spaeth', 'Nelly Moser' and 'General Sikorski'. Prune hard (from the bottom up) late-blooming Type III clematis that flower on the current season's wood. These include ''Niobe, 'Comtesse de Bouchaud', terniflora ('Sweet Autumn'), 'Hagley Hybrid', tangutica, texensis and the viticellas, like 'Julia de Correvon' and 'Polish Spirit'.
Mild weather late in the month might tempt you to get out and use your pruning shears. Do not be tempted to trim spring-flowering shrubs such as Forsythia, Azalea, Spirea, Viburnum, or vines such as Carolina Jessamine. In general, a plant that flowers before June should be trimmed after flowering, not before. Doing it now will remove flower buds. Watch for Forsythia in bloom before pruning roses. Do not prune hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribundas or the new everbearing roses until late February or March when Forsythias are in bloom. Wait until after Valentine's Day to trim broadleaf evergreen shrubs which might trigger new, cold-sensitive growth.
Use the mower to cut down Liriope foliage before it starts putting out new growth or to chop up fallen leaves.
Be on the lookout for winter annual weeds including Chickweed and Henbit. Pull them up before they flower and produce seeds.
Order online, go to a bookstore, or check out from the library a new gardening book to inspire you. Consider re-reading a classic such as Annie Dillard's A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Take a garden walk and enjoy winter's beauty. If you see buds already forming on spring-flowering bulbs, don't be alarmed. Odds are, they will not be damaged by the cold unless they are showing color.
Learn a new craft such as hypertufa. Make a stepping stone (kits are available at hobby shops), or buy copper pipe, a pipe cutter, and fittings at the hardware store and construct a beautiful copper trellis.
Join or become more active in a plant society or gardening group where you can learn new gardening skills and share your joy of gardening with like-minded friends.