The January Gardener Blues

Gardening in January

January can be a slow and cold month. Many people find this time of year to be dreary, but what we find is it is a great month to start planning ahead to get over those gray day blues. Seed catalogs are showing up in the mail, so why not start daydreaming about the months ahead!

In Oregon, we are blessed to have access to the OSU Extension office. They are always a wonderful resource for information if you are looking for what crops would be good to start planting now!

Order Seeds

The first thing that we recommend is drawing out your garden on a piece of paper. Create a diagram! This tip will save you time and money in the long run!

The Last Frost

As tempting as it is to get your seeds in the ground. It is important to wait until the last frost of the year. This date will vary by your location and can vary a bit year to year. Figuring out this date is the most important thing you can do during January.  Everything you want to do in the spring and summer will depend on it!

Crops to Start in January

You will want to start most of your seed indoors. In general, you will be planting the cold loving crops that take a long time to grow, but that you can move outside later in the season.

Vegetables and Herbs To Start in January

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Parsley
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Chives
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Marjoram
  • Cilantro

The last frost date for our area in the Umpqua Valley in Oregon is May 15th. So if you are from a different area, double check your frost dates and adjust the planting schedule accordingly. These crops can be planted in the ground once it is warm, but if you are looking at more frost in your area covering your crops would be recommended.


Soil preparation is a hugely important part of any garden. January is a great time to work with your dirt. As long as it isn’t frozen, this is a great time to start turning it. This will expose insect eggs and larvae for the birds to take care of.

If you are rearranging the structure of your garden or building new beds, January is a perfect time to work on it!


Seedlings that are started indoors don’t really need a lot of fertilizing. When they grow a few inches, they can benefit from a diluted application of fish emulsion, or another organic fertilizer.


Turn to your compost pile! Then turn it again and maybe one more time for good measure. Begin adding the composted organic material to your beds!

So, if you are feeling down and wish you could get started in the garden now, fret not. You can! Just bundle up and get to work!

Pallet Garden Blunders –

At first glance, the pallet garden idea seems great. It is easy on top of simple, with convenient spacing and rows, right? We thought so last spring and were more than a little disappointed by fall! It just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped. After dumping out dirt and restructuring the garden this week, we felt the need to advise other gardeners looking for new methods against using this one!

Here is what we found out:

  • Wooden pallets are susceptible to vermin and insects infestations.
  • Soil compaction leads to smaller crops and difficult tending.
  • If a pallet has gone across a border, they require fumigation – which is often performed with methyl bromide, a highly toxic, ozone-depleting chemical. Scary!
  • Shipping pallets contain e. coli and Listeria, and are prone to mold growth when left out in the elements. Not ideal for a gardening in Oregon.
  • Contamination from chemicals used to treat the wooden pallets can leach out onto whatever is placed on them or into the air. Which can also compromise soil quality!
  • Wood pallets made with “engineered wood” components contain urea formaldehyde – a known carcinogen.

We are all about using recycling materials where possible, but we now strongly advise against using pallets in the garden, as tempting as it may be! It looks nice, but is not worth the risk or time spent on a system that can only lead to small crops.

So I am including a short list of articles found online – both pros and cons – to let you make your own informed choice about whether or not you’ll use pallets in your garden.
Are pallets safe to reuse?
Don’t reuse wood pallets.
Recycling wood pallets and packaging.

What are your thoughts on reusing pallets in the garden or as furniture?  Have you done it already?  And will you do it again?