There is so much garden preparation to do during the post-holiday weeks of January that I hardly notice the letdown after the Christmas rush.

Visions of spring flowers and summer vegetables replace the sugar plum fairies of the holidays. Seeds, grow lights and sprouts quickly supplant shopping, wrapping and baking.

My annual after-Christmas task is to organize and clean my potting bench and gardening tools. This simple activity motivates me to get outside and move around after the holiday indulgences.

As I stack pots and sort plant tags, I think about the past year in the garden. I reminisce on the plants that brought me joy, such as juicy tomatoes, fragrant herbs and flowers with bees buzzing around them. I also think back on my gardening mistakes.

Last spring, I decided to plant several heirloom squash varieties, and after a busy spring at work, I ended up planting them all too late. The result was a healthy infestation of pickleworms.

I had beautiful plants but no fruit. It was disappointing but a good reminder of my 80/20 rule (more on that later). My annual cleanup gives me time to make mental lists of what I will and won’t grow again.

Buying and planting seeds is the most fun gardening “chore” of the year! But, poor timing can ruin the fun faster than you can say germination rate!

I find most folks are a bit off on their timing when it comes to planting vegetables in the Lowcountry. Listening to other gardeners complain of failed crops, it seems that often they err by planting too late.

To take the guesswork out of properly timing your vegetable garden, I suggest using the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center Factsheet No. 1256, “Planning a Garden.”

This invaluable resource also includes information on how much seed to buy, the depth of planting, spacing and days to harvest. I recommend printing it out and keeping it handy when shopping for transplants or seeds.

Since the “spring” planting season in the Lowcountry actually begins Dec. 15 for crops most tolerant to cool weather, now is the time to start the gardening year.

Early January is perfect for directly sowing the seeds of radishes, carrots, beets and turnips into prepared garden beds. Spinach, lettuce and mustard greens may be directly seeded for a tasty early spring garden.

Plant seeds of English peas, edible podded snap peas and snow peas Jan. 1-20. For recommended varieties, refer to the Clemson Home and Garden Information Center Factsheet No. 1328.

Direct sowing simply means planting seeds directly in the garden instead of starting them indoors and transplanting them later.

Here are a few tips for direct sowing seeds:

For best germination, be sure seeds are fresh. Check dates on the packets before purchasing.

Follow seed packet directions for proper thinning and spacing of seedlings. This is critical to proper development of mature plants.

Seeds should be in good contact with soil but not buried too deeply. Very tiny seeds can be sprinkled over the seedbed and gently pressed into the soil surface. Mist gently with water to ensure good soil contact.

Now is an excellent time to purchase warm-season vegetable, flower and herb seeds for the best selection. These seeds can be started indoors and transplanted outdoors as soon as the chance of frost has passed.

We typically use March 15-April 1 as planting dates for warm season crops, depending on weather forecasts for frost. I will discuss indoor seed starting in my next article.

When shopping for seeds, you quickly will find that seeds are an incredible bargain. For just a few dollars, you can grow an array of plants rarely found in the nursery or garden center. This is where my 80/20 rule goes into effect.

Purchase 80 percent of your seeds based on tried-and-true crops that are known to succeed in the Lowcountry.

Consult the Clemson University Home & Garden Information Center www.clemson.edu/hgic for recommended varieties of garden favorites or ask an experienced gardener for their favorites.

Use the other 20 percent to try new and exciting hybrids, heirlooms or anything you just can’t resist.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year in and out of the garden!

Amy L. Dabbs is the urban horticulture extension agent and Tri-County Master Gardener coordinator for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension. Send questions to gardening@postandcourier.com.