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Northeast: January/February Gardening

A Rhode Island Master Gardener shares current tips and news

Top 6 “to do’s” for January and February:


  • Think about last year’s garden so you can look ahead to the new season. One of the things you will want to do is collect those beautiful seed catalogs, find those “must have” annuals and select some unusual varieties of veggies.
  • Check your tools inventory to see if you need any new ones. It is worth spending a few months talking to other gardeners, checking catalogs, and surfing the Internet before buying so you will know exactly what you want and need.
  • Send for plant catalogs. It is a good idea to order early because nursery inventories are usually in limited supply.


  • Start indoor seeds of annuals that require a long growing season, e.g. lobelia, petunia, vinca, snapdragon, verbena, etc.
  • Prune away storm-damaged branches promptly from trees and shrubs in order to prevent tearing the bark and other damage.
  • Unfortunately, a few warm days can stimulate plants into new growth. If you are beginning to see life in your dormant shrubs be prepared to protect them for when another cold snap occurs. Tender new growth is much more sensitive to cold than their dormant counterpart. Covering large plants is difficult, but you can throw on some extra mulch or even a cardboard box over a small shrub.

Recent local gardening trends: In general, gardeners seem more interested in native plants, organic gardening and ecologically suitable techniques for lawn care and landscape management. There also seems to be a return to vegetable gardening— something like the ole Victory Garden concept—both at home and in community gardens.

The biggest current challenge to local gardeners: There is no doubt that climate change is becoming the biggest challenge to gardeners in Rhode Island. The change manifests itself mainly in below-average rainfall, an extended fall season (or, this can be viewed as a delayed winter season), and milder temperatures at times over the winter. With such changes plants behave differently, doing unexpected and unpredictable things. For example, the bloom period may be extended or new growth may develop after plants are cut back for winter (as my hostas did this year).

The best advice about these conditions is to watch and learn. Make notes about the weather and the plants. Let the garden and not the calendar decide your gardening chores. Of course this may mean that there are some things you will not actually get done until spring but it also means you might get extra time for fall planting. For those who do not find winter to be a time of welcome rest from the garden the changing seasons may provide a new gardening season and also offer the prospect of less time out of the garden. So, while there is a necessary adjustment, it is not all a bad thing!

About Sybil: I’ve been a URI Master Gardener since 2003 and over the past five years my gardening life has had many incarnations…but that is typical for any dedicated gardener. My garden grows and changes every year as I learn more about sustainability, as I fall in love with new plants, and as I get older and need some short cuts. I don’t have a single favorite plant…my favorites change with the seasons…but I do LOVE roses!

As for the “rest of my life,” well, as a very passionate gardener, and with my commitments to the URI Master Gardener Association, there isn’t much time left, but I do love to read, I dabble in photography and painting, and I am a writer and editor (yes, at this time in my life, of gardening information).

URI Master Gardeners