January is a slow month for a gardener. You find yourself grabbing a cup of coffee and just staring out the window at the clean, crisp blanket of snow that winter has deposited on your landscape. Never fear, I have a suggestion. January is also the time when nurseries and seed companies send you their catalogs that hold your dreams for the future. To a gardener, these catalogs are like a picture book. They remind you of the seeds you want to replenish, they provide you with new information and get you to look for something exciting to plant in your garden or landscape.

Here are some tips to pass the time away in January. First, if you have not received any seed catalogs, just go to the internet and search for your favorite nursery or seed company. Most now have an online presence. Many have made their catalogs available to the consumer with just a click of your computer. If you prefer, fill out their form to request a hard copy catalog. Then, you only have to wait a couple of weeks for the gorgeous picture book to arrive.

If you want some ideas, here are ten of the most popular seed catalogs:

  1. Seed Savers Exchange
  2. Baker Creek Heirloom
  3. Clear Creek Seeds
  4. Johnny’s Seeds Select
  5. Territorial Seed Company
  6. Gurney’s Seed and Nursery
  7. Burpee’s Seed Company
  8. Park Seed Company
  9. Totally Tomatoes
  10. J.W. Jung Seed Company

When you get the catalog in your hands, begin to browse. Don’t bypass the front of the catalog. This is the location that houses the keys to get the most out of the catalog. Familiarize yourself with the meaning of the symbols each catalog uses. This will make your browsing and deciding easier.

After you have paged through the catalog, start making a plan. There are a few things that you need to know before you start ordering. First, know your USDA hardiness zone if you are thinking of ordering any perennial plants. South Dakota has hardiness zones from 3b to 5a (Aberdeen — zone 3b; Sioux Falls — zone 4b; Rapid City — zone 5a). You can find your exact zone by consulting this interactive online map https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/phzmweb/interactivemap.aspx. Just enter your zip code into the small box in the upper left corner of the screen and it will zoom in on your location and tell you which zone you are in.

This is important because you want to make sure that the plants you will be growing will be able to withstand the weather conditions of the area you live in.

Another thing that is helpful to is know how long the growing season is, on average, in your area. This number is figured simply by adding the number of days from the last day in spring that the temperature remained above 32°F in the spring to the first day it fell to 32°F in the fall. As one might imagine, the days in a growing season can vary from year to year. On average, Aberdeen has 136 days, Sioux Falls has 146 and Rapid City has 141 days. You need to consider this when looking at how long it takes for fruit or vegetables to mature. Look at the description of the plant variety to see how many days are needed to reach maturity from planting. Order seed that fall within your area’s available growing season length. Keep in mind you can “cheat” the numbers and extend the growing season a bit by starting plants indoors or covering them when frost threatens them in the spring or fall. Also, some cool season plants can withstand temperatures below freezing and continue to produce later in the fall or be planted earlier in the spring too.

Before you get too excited and want to buy all the new and exciting plants you see; figure out how much space you have to plant. Plot out what and where you want to put vegetables in your garden or flowers in your landscape. I know this can be hard. This step helps you to not buy too much. Some plants will take up more space than others. As an example, cucumbers can vine and crawl all over a garden. Or you can buy a more compact or bush variety that will be a space saver. You can also encourage vining plants like this to crawl up a trellis to save space. This is why having a plan is important. The catalogs are so intriguing that it is hard for a gardener to stop and think, “What do I need this year?”

Once you have an idea of the space you have, make two list; one list is “needs”, the other is “wants.” The “needs” list will consist of those favorites you just can’t do without. It can be those seed that do the best in your garden. The “wants” will consist of those seeds that have peaked your interest. It could be a variety of tomatoes your neighbor had, and you want to try them too. It could be a new flower or vegetable, like kale, that you thought might be something good to introduce into your diet this year. It can just be something exotic that you think maybe fun to experiment with in the garden. Pair these lists down to what will fit into your space.

All this preparation leads you to placing your order. Make sure the company you are ordering from is reputable. You can call their consumer information line and get an idea how the company works. You can make a small order early, which will gage how fast their service is. It is best to order as soon as possible since some varieties may become sold out. Some of your seeds may need to be started indoors for transplanting once it warms up outside. That time will sneak up on you if you procrastinate.

You have now begun your garden. The long, dark days of January have been very productive, after all. These steps will help get you started on the right foot to a productive garden and a picturesque landscape. Sit back, drink that cup of coffee and dream of the warm summer days to come.

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