With the recent weather our gardens this month are cold, wet and dormant. This is a GOOD THING as shrubs, trees and perennials benefit from a period of true dormancy. Most outdoor garden activity this month is limited to pruning, cleaning up and spreading soil amendments. Some seeds will germinate outside this month if the weather turns warmer. Otherwise sow seeds indoors and put the pots on an electric warming pad to help them along.
If you haven't already done so January is THE time to clean up your garden. If you have bulbs planted in the ground it is imperative that you finish any cleaning that necessitates walking on the flower beds BEFORE the bulbs start coming up...you don't want to crush those little green shoots as they push their way above ground.
Rake up and dispose of any leaves on flower beds, under rose bushes and shrubs. Leaves can harbor fungal diseases and provide an ideal over-wintering environment for insect larvae and disease pathogens. Once clean-up is complete spread a 4 inch layer of soil amendment such as organic compost, earthworm castings, or Amend onto your flower beds and let the worms do the rest.
Soil amendments applied to the soil surface now will decay over the the rest of the winter, and their nutrients will wash into the soil gradually with each rain. Which amendments your soil needs can best be determined by a soil test kit. We have several inexpensive kits at the store. At the very least, all soils can benefit from nutrient-rich compost and mulch. Healthy plant root growth and overall plant vigor depends on a moist and loose soil.
One or two days of rain is all it takes for weeds to sprout. One benefit of the rain is that weeds are easier to pull out when the soil is moist and loose. Placing a two to three inch layer of mulch around trees, shrubs and plants prevents weed seeds from germinating. If weeds are already starting to grow, remove as many as you can and then cover the area with mulch. The goal is to prevent sunlight from reaching the weeds so they will not have fuel to grow. A common mistake is not adding enough mulch for the weed-suppression process to be effective. Once taken root, weeds need only a small amount of sunlight to flourish.Organic mulches break down over time, so if you already have mulch in your garden, replenish with an additional one-inch layer.
Another effective method of preventing new weeds from sprouting is to use a pre-emergent grass and weed preventer such as Amaze.
While your fruit trees are dormant it is time to spray with dormant oil especially if this was not done last month or if it rained within two days of that application. The point is to have the sprayed material on the tree throughout the dormant season, and especially at specific pest growth periods. Choose a day when the temperature stays above 40 degrees and the wind is calm. The next critical time for spraying is about mid-February, when the buds are swollen but don't yet show color. Spraying at the precise period of bud swell is critical--before the buds swell is too early, and after the blossoms open is too late. Once the buds open, the damage has already been done.
This is the big month for pruning deciduous fruit trees. Basic guide-lines for winter dormant pruning are to remove crowded or crossed branches, to open the center for good light exposure and airflow, to repair structural weakness, and to remove vigorous vertical-growing branches (waterspouts). The height or width of the tree can also be reduced. Take care to not leave stubs or to overprune in any single year, as this encour-ages excessive new new growth with more foliage and less fruit. For more information on the basics of pruning attend our class on January 15, given by Jermaine, our expert in all things arborial.
An excellent, inexpensive, and easily-used disinfectant for pruning tools is rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Another way of disinfecting your tools is by dipping them into a 10% bleach solution. Wipe shears with the disenfectant after pruning every several cuts to avoid spreading any diseases. Clean the blades extra well before moving to another tree or bush.
Pruning cuts that are under one-and-a-half inches across don't need protective covering. Paint larger cuts with an off-white or sand-colored interior latex paint that has a matte finish, not a glossy one. Black asphalt substances or dark-colored paint, especially on south-facing surfaces, will concentrate the sun's heat, baking and killing the tissue that the tree is trying to heal.
Prune ornamental trees and shrubs, vines and roses this month. If you are not sure how to do prune correctly attend one of our free classes. (See our tentative class timetable left.)
Sow seeds or plant early spring flowering plants such as Violas, Forget-Me-Nots, Pansies, Sweet Peas Nasturtiums, Icelandic Poppies, and Johny-Jump-Ups.
January is the perfect time to experiment with vegetables not found in typical spring or summer gardens. Vegetables that can be planted now include asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, collards, endive, kale, lettuce, onions, parsnip, peas, spinach and turnips. Year-round vegetables such as artichokes, carrots, beets and radishes can also be planted now.
Keep an eye on the snail and slug population. They love the rain and will be laying eggs in hidden places. Pick them off by hand in the first light of the day or use Sluggo slug bait which is safe to use around edibles.