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January Garden Care in the Pacific Northwest

Have you ever wondered what should be done in the garden in January to help ensure a healthy garden throughout the year? Following, are a few basic maintenance tips.

I’m sure most of you buttoned up and tucked your garden in for a long winter’s nap weeks ago…. right?  Well, on the off chance you’re like me, your garden is still in need of a little TLC before you can put your tools away and wait for the first signs of spring to appear from the comfort of your cozy living room.

If your garden isn’t quite ready for bed, here are a few garden maintenance tips for January in the Pacific Northwest.

Perennial Clean-Up

By now, your perennials either look like slimy mounds of mush (hostas) or crispy brown twigs (astilbes, dahlias, etc…). Cut perennials back to an inch or two of the soil surface.  Trim back hellebore leaves, being careful of emerging new growth.    Epimedium may still look somewhat decent but cut it back to the ground in late January or early February, before new growth emerges.  See, don’t be embarrassed… this is in my garden today.


Many perennial grasses are best left untouched until February when the threat of a damaging freeze is less prevalent.  You can comb your fingers through any grasses that look particularly messy, if you wish.  However, most grasses, with their golden and oat colored hues, create lovely winter interest in an otherwise barren garden.  So for aesthetic reasons as well, it’s good to leave them up.

Leaf Clean-Up

Finish any raking, especially over lawns.  It doesn’t have to be spotless, unless that’s the look you prefer.  The most important thing is to make sure you don’t leave a dense mat of leaves over your lawn that prevents light from reaching the grass blades and hindering growth.

Leaves left in your beds are another story.  Leaves in planting beds can act as a layer of mulch, which breaks down over time and adds nutrients to the soil.  Avoid a super thick layer (several inches) as this could smother delicate perennials that are itching to poke their heads above the soil’s surface as soon as the temperatures rise. If you like your garden neat and tidy looking, go ahead and rake all the leaves in your planting beds as well.  Dump those leaves in your compost bin (see previous post on composting) and you’ll have nutrient rich compost your garden will LOVE by next year.


Laying a layer of mulch on your garden is always a good idea at this time of year.  Any leaf clean up you want to do should be done and your soil will be left looking quite bare.  Before weed seeds have a chance to germinate and take over your garden in spring, lay down a 2-3 inch layer of mulch throughout your garden.  Mulch also acts a great insulator for your plants, trapping warmth in when our temps dip below freezing.  Make sure the crowns (base) of trees and shrubs are not piled high with mulch as they can rot. You can also push mulch away from the base of Delphinium, Iris, Pulmonaria, Hosta and Brunnera to help prevent slugs from eating new growth.  For more tips on mulching, check our previous blog post about general maintenance tips for weed management.

Sublime Garden Design

Trees and Shrubs

Most deciduous trees and shrubs can be pruned now through February, while the plants are dormant.  Check a book on pruning for specific timing and technique by plant or feel free to contact us for advice.  We’ll be sharing another post in the coming days with more specific information about pruning.


We have fairly mild winters, here in the Pacific Northwest, which allows for planting year-round.  However, you’ll want to avoid any planting if the ground is at all frozen or water-logged by rain.  Delicate root systems won’t make it under either condition and your plants will fail.  I couldn’t help myself at the nursery yesterday when I saw this six variety espalier apple tree.  But yes, I’ll be babying it now for the next few weeks until I can put it safely in the ground.  Our escape artist chicken likes it too.


January is a great month for lawn care, mostly because there’s very little to do!  It won’t need to be mowed or fertilized at this time because the grass is not actively growing.  However, it is a good month to lay sod.  As with your garden in general, if your lawn is frozen or water-logged, it’s best to stay off it as walking on frozen lawn and soil will damage the turf and soil structure.  If you’re a real go-getter, this is a good time to sharpen your mower blades.  I say sit back and relax, there will be plenty of time for lawn care in the coming months.


January is a great month for watering too:)  Thanks to our wet Seattle winters, you really don’t have to worry about watering your garden or lawn – mother nature will take care of that!  That being said, be sure to check plants and containers under eaves and overhangs by your front or back porch.  Trust me, they’re easily forgotten. Read more on proper watering techniques.