In the New Year: Take time for a new garden project

by Jan Spann

In Central Arkansas, January can have fluctuating temperatures, and the Farmers’ Almanac predicts a milder winter with below normal precipitation this year. That means you can find several days warm enough to play in the dirt. Whether it’s adding some plants to color the view or growing cool weather vegetables to color your diet, both can liven up your sleeping garden and keep you active, too.

If you have more sod than garden spots, now’s the time to change the ratio. Grass requires time to mow, water and fertilize so give yourself more time in the warm months to celebrate nature, not work for it. Place cardboard or newspaper over the grass you’re reclaiming and water it well. Cover it with play sand from the home center, and in a couple of months, remove the cardboard and dig out the grass. Mix the sand into the soil to give plants a better soil base for growth.

While you’re waiting for the cardboard to work its magic outside, you can start seeds in a sunny window indoors. This is a great project for young kids! Your local garden center may have cool weather vegetable starts like onions, garlic and cabbage. Select seed packets for spinach, snap peas and peppers as well as onions and cabbage if you can’t find transplants. You can also pick up windowsill greenhouse kits designed for starting seeds, and these usually include the potting mix.

Herbs are a great addition to your windowsill garden. Growing herbs gives you their full nutritional value, as many herbs lose half within 30 minutes of harvesting. Culinary favorites include basil, a good source of fiber known to calm nerves and detoxify the liver.

One tablespoon of parsley brings half the daily intake on vitamin K (essential for healthy blood) and also includes vitamins A and C. With its antiseptic and antioxidant properties, sage can help in the fight against early aging.

Chives, part of the onion family, can help boost your immune system, and other plants in the allium family — garlic, leeks and scallions — are associated with a lower risk of developing certain cancers, including those of the prostate, stomach and breast.

Mint is a rich source of vitamin A, providing more than half of your recommended daily intake in just two tablespoons. In addition, mint is good for the breath, digestion, nausea, headaches, respiratory disorders, asthma, pimples and cavities. Need another reason to use this herb? A recent study found that essential oils in peppermint have a positive effect on exercise performance, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

Thyme has long been used as an herbal remedy for respiratory problems such as bronchitis, and it also has antiseptic properties. In a UK study, people performed better on various memory tasks when rosemary scent was pumped into the room. Lavender’s fragrance is soothing, often used for better sleep, and it contains antioxidants known as polyphenols that fight belly bloating.

Move outdoors to sow poppy and larkspur seeds, as these prefer a cool start. If you would like more color in your winter garden, consider hellebores for shady areas. The reliable pansies and violas should still be showing their colors. Bulbs like crocus and hyacinth will begin to bloom this month, and the camellia’s winter flowers make this shrub a southern favorite. Mahonia — Oregon grape holly — provides food for birds. Consider winter jasmine to climb on fences and arbors for a blast of vibrant yellow this month. On my to-buy list is hamamelis x intermedia “Jelena,” witch hazel, with orange or gold flowers that look a bit other-worldly, a surefire wow factor.

Winter is also the time to review your garden’s basics. When deciduous trees and shrubs drop their leaves, you can observe the structure and make a plan to prune later in the year. Look for holes in your garden’s design to identify spots where you can plant shrubs, perennials, grasses and trees. Good design includes a mix of color, texture and line using plants, hardscape and art.

When freezing weather is forecast, make sure plant roots are wet to keep them safe. Most of our shrubs and trees depend on cool weather rainfall to encourage deep, strong roots, and your plants will welcome additional moisture you can add.

Last but not least, hit the Arkansas Flower and Garden Show Friday, Feb. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 26, for tips and inspirations for your growing garden! At, look under the “About Us” tab to learn about the Greening of Arkansas grants, awarded to non-profit and civic groups to beautify public areas. Applications will be available in late summer/early fall on this site. This year’s show includes music, food trucks, demonstrations, shopping and great presenters with the latest on this year’s best new tools and plants!

Even though the weather may be blustery, you can still find chores and opportunities to help your garden grow in the January chill, so dig in!


A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.