Even though it’s still January, I have to admit I’m already feeling the itch to start doing some work around the yard, a sentiment I normally don’t feel until February at some point. If you’re also beginning to feel the “need to weed” or get gardening, here are some recommendations to keep you busy without getting ahead of yourself.

First, let me offer a word of caution. Last year we enjoyed a particularly mild, pleasant January, only to get walloped in February by two snowy, icy winter storms and bitter cold. So, as much as I look forward to the signs of spring and the beautiful color the new season brings, I’m going to hold off from doing too much outdoors this month.

That said, January is a great time for many of the less-glamorous but equally important aspects of gardening. One of the best ways you can ensure an enjoyable year ahead is by taking good care of your gardening tools. If it’s been awhile since you’ve sharpened your shovels and pruners—or, if you’ve never done so—you’ll be amazed at the difference a sharp tool can make. Use a bastard file (available at Vander Giessen’s) to put an edge on your shovels and take a sharpening stone to your pruner. With a little bit of work, you’ll enjoy effortless digging, chopping and pruning all season long.

A second gardening task you can do this month is to begin planning your vegetable garden for the coming year. By early February, we’ll have our seed racks stocked for the coming season, and now is a great time to start mapping out what you’ll plant and where. Before your mind gets too focused on the upcoming year, take stock of what grew well last year, what you wish you had grown and what might need to be replaced with something new in your garden plot. With so many varieties of just about every major vegetable and herb available, I make an effort to try something new each year. Don’t be afraid to try new things in the coming year—chances are, you’ll find some must-have plants you wonder how you’ve ever done without!

Third, January is a great time to take care of the most abundant garden life in winter—birds! While winter is a dormant season for most plants, birds are as active as ever and would be thankful for a little bit of seed to keep them well-fed. To keep squirrels at bay, treat your bird seed with a pepper-based sauce every few fill-ups. A product like Coles Flaming Squirrel seed sauce is an easy-to-use, bird-friendly additive (who knew they actually like spicy food?!) that will deter squirrels or other rodents.

Finally, if your spring itch is too difficult to not scratch, there are some plants you can begin to enjoy already this month. ‘Kramer’s Rote’ (also known as ‘Kramer’s Red’) heather, blooming now, can be added to a container planting on your porch for a splash of deep rose-pink. Enjoy it in a pot until it finishes blooming in April and then move it to a flowerbed for winter-long color for years to come. Several varieties of hellebore are in bloom now with many more varieties ready to bloom soon. And of course, primroses are a great harbinger of spring as well.

As we enjoy another mild western Washington winter, make the most of the slower pace and begin to prepare for the season of gardening upcoming. Happy New Year!