January-February Checklist

In coastal California with our Mediterranean climate, January and February are the ideal times to start your Spring Garden. 


  • Catch up on garden reading and incorporate a few new ideas into this year’s plan
  • Start a gardening journal for the new gardening year.  Wire coil sketchbooks work well for notes, planning, ideas, germination times, and results.  You’ll appreciate the information next winter when you plan the next season’s garden and appreciate the wealth of accurate information.
  • Now is an excellent time to select and plant container-grown roses to fill in those bare spots in your rose garden.
  • If you want to plant fruit trees or shrubs January-February is the best time to plant.  (Bare root grow faster and better than potted plants purchase later in the season.)
  • When buying plants, the biggest is not always the best, especially when dealing with bare-root plants.  The medium to small sizes (4-6 feet) are usually faster to become established and more effective in the landscape than the large sizes.
  • Azaleas and camellias are in bloom and rhododendron are in the budding stage. Now (while they are dormant and you can see the bloom color) is an excellent time to purchase them.

Clean Up and Improve

  • Clean up leaves and debris around fruit trees and rosebushes to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Prepare garden tools and machinery for spring use. Wire brush and sharpen tools with cutting edges such as shovels, spades, hoes, pruning shears, hedge trimmers and trowels.
  • Have mower serviced if you didn’t do it in the fall before you put it away. Budget for new tools or replacements now.
  • Prepare beds and garden area for spring planting. Till in several inches of compost, composted pine bark or similar material.  If you have clay soil try to till to 1 ½ feet for maximum soil quality.
  • Assess soil. Buy a soil test kit or have soil tested. Most county extension services can test your garden soil or recommend labs if they don’t. Healthy soil is essential to a productive plant, so it pays to test especially if your results were unimpressive last year. Call to find out what you need to do and how long it will take, then plan accordingly.
  • Provide or build gardening supports for peonies, tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash. Supporting flowers with heavy heads prevents breakage. Growing vegetables vertically saves space and prevents bugs and slugs from knoshing on your veggies.
  • While you’re at it, organize the garden shed. Clean, sterilize, and organize terracotta pots, planters, and starter trays. Sterilize using a bleach and water solution of 1 part bleach to ten parts water. Rinse thoroughly, then dry. (Remember to do this in the fall so you don’t have to do it when it’s still cold outside.)

Plant Care

  • Winter-bedding plants will ad a shower of color to your garden. Plant pansies, primroses, violas, Iceland poppies, snapdragon and stock.
  • Cover frost-sensitive plants, preferably with a frost cloth (sold at nurseries). Prop up the cover with stakes so that the cloth does not touch the plants; otherwise the frost will penetrate straight through to the foliage.
  • If some of your plants have been bitten by frost, leave the foliage alone. By not trimming it, the plant will be protected from another bout of frost. New growth in the spring will indicate when it is safe to prune.
  • Now is an excellent time to transplant mature or established trees and shrubs while they are dormant
  • Apply oil to fruit trees soon after a rain to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective. Don’t apply on foggy days.
  • Do you have a lot of perennials? Do any of them need to be moved? Spring is the time to transplant divisions or move plants around. If you have friends who are gardeners, it’s a good time to arrange trades.
  • Check junipers and other narrow-leaf evergreens for bagworm pouches. The insect eggs over winter in the pouch, and start the cycle again by emerging in the spring to begin feeding on the foliage. Hand removal and burning of the pouches reduce future damage.
  • Sow seeds in flats or containers to get a jump on plant growth before hot weather arrives.
  • Petunias, begonias, and impatiens should be sown in early January. Warm temperature plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, and periwinkles, should be sown in late January or early February.
  • Start pruning roses. They’ve been slow to go into dormancy this winter – many were blooming in this area just before Christmas – but it’s time to get to work on this annual chore. Trim any remaining leaves off canes.
  • In the vegetable garden plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.
  • Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.
  • Complete winter pruning of any other dormant plants such as cane berries, fruit trees, grapes and wisteria. Do not delay too long because warm weather will send these plants into a vigorous growth spurt, which you want to direct by pruning.
  • Azaleas and camellias are in bloom and rhododendron are in the budding stage. Now (while they are dormant and you can see the bloom color) is an excellent time to purchase them.