January in the Garden
Happy New Year!
Before we go any further, this is your yearly reminder to check your shot record and make sure your tetanus shot is up to date. Being gardeners, we stick our hands in the dirt so it’s important to make sure we’re protected from icky things that lurk in our soil.
MULCHING: Mulch, mulch, mulch! The cool temperatures and moisture is the perfect environment for weeds to sprout in our gardens. The best way to stay ahead of the weeds is to mulch or re-mulch around vegetable and flower beds, shrubs, and trees. Any weeds that pop through can be easily taken care of. A little work now saves a lot of work later! Plus, if we do happen to have extreme temperature fluctuation, plants will have that extra protection to regulate water and temperature. Remember, don’t mulch right up to the trunks of shrubs and trees. Leave some space for air flow around the base of plants.
While we’re on the subject of mulch, I make it a habit to spread a layer of worm castings down first before I apply mulch. A little snack for the plants without over-fertilizing. We don’t want to encourage rapid growth while temps are still down.
If you haven’t already recycled your Christmas tree, sweep up all the loose needles and spread them around the base of your acid loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, blueberries and hydrangeas, to name a few.
BARE-ROOT PLANTS: It is bare-root season so it’s time to shop the nurseries not just for roses, but also fruit trees, strawberries, grapes and cane berries (raspberries, blackberries). Whatever you buy, make sure to keep the roots moist before and after you plant, not waiting longer than a week to get them in the ground. When you are digging your hole to plant, soak the plant’s roots in a bucket of water.
Strawberry plants that are more than three years old have passed their prime and should be replaced. Avoid locating strawberries where eggplants, peppers, potatoes, or tomatoes have been grown within the last three years, as they have similar disease problems. Transplant strawberries right at the soil level so roots are buried, but leaf bases are not.
Divide and replant perennials, including agapanthus, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, African daisies (gazania), English daisies (bellis), gloriosa daisies (rudbeckia), and Shasta daisies, daylilies (hemerocallis), delphiniums, dianthus, statice (limonium), and violets.
BULBS: It is already time to be thinking about summer bulbs. Summer blooming bulbs should be in stock now at area nurseries. Look for Cannas, crocosmia, dahlia, gladiolus, lilies, and tuberous begonias.
Seeds to sow outside – ageratums, alyssum, bachelor’s buttons, calendulas, candytuft, celosia, columbines, coreopsis, English daisies, delphiniums, dianthus, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, hollyhocks, larkspur, lunaria, pansies, California and Shirley poppies, salvias, snapdragons, stocks, sweet peas, sweet William, and native wildflowers.
Transplant agapanthus, azaleas, bleeding hearts, camellias, cinerarias, clematis, cyclamens, ornamental cabbage and kale, gaillardias, hollies, primroses, Iceland and Oriental poppies, violas, violets, and wisteria, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, chard, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce, green and bulb onions, flat-leaf parsley, radishes, and savoy spinach. Plant cole crops up to the first set of leaves to prevent their maturing into weak, leggy, less-productive plants.
IRRIGATION: It’s important to pay attention to your watering, especially if we have cold, dry weather as we’ve had these last few weeks. Take care to deep soak the plants you planted in the fall, including your natives. They need to be storing up water for the summer months.
SUCCULENTS: Wintertime is the time for succulents to shine when most everything else in the garden is dormant. Succulents need little water now, especially if we have some rain. Make sure all your pots can drain quickly so remove any trays underneath that retain water. Very cold conditions do more harm to succulents if they are sitting in dampness than if they are dry. When the plants cells are full of water a freeze can damage them by causing expansion of their cells. I lost one last month for that very reason, and another suffered some damage.
INDOOR PLANTS: Finally, give some attention to your indoor plants. The windows are shut tight, our heaters are on, and the plants dry out faster. I like to put my plants outside when it is raining, but timing is everything because if they are left out the sun will burn the leaves and cold night weather will damage them, so it is a bit labor intensive. Alternatively, you can stick the plants in the shower under cool water for a good rinse. The plants will be happier for it. Set out water containers to catch rainwater; use the water to refresh houseplants.
CITRUS: This is the time of year when citrus trees are providing their highest yield of fruit, but it’s also the time when buds are forming on trees providing the basis for next year’s harvest. It’s time to fertilize citrus trees. They need about one pound of “actual” nitrogen per year. Split the fertilizer into equal portions and apply once a month (or every other month) until June. Don’t plant new citrus, avocado and all subtropical edibles until spring because of possible frost damage.
CYMBIDIUMS: Cymbidium orchids should be sending up bud stalks now so continue to feed with a low nitrogen fertilizer until the buds open. I’ve been feeding most of my cymbidiums on a monthly basis, and now the one plant has sent up budding stalks, I’m assuming the rest won’t be too far behind. A friend, and successful flower show winner in orchids, advised me that his secret to having beautiful blooming orchid stalks in time for April flower shows is to begin fertilizing in January and continue monthly.
Pest & Disease Control
Stay vigilant against snails and slugs by raking up decaying leaves and other garden debris. I enjoy a good snail hunt at night, but I still have to put out snail bait in strategic spots to stay ahead of the problem. It is very disheartening to find your seedlings disappear overnight!
Petal blight is a chronic problem for camellias, so pick off the dying flowers promptly and make sure to keep the ground under the bushes cleaned up.
ROSES: The late Phil Ash, legendary San Diego rosarian icon, and a very entertaining speaker, was the person who made me sit up and pay attention to roses. I didn’t “get” roses until I heard Phil give a talk many years ago. He explained roses in a way that totally made sense to me, taking the mystery out of the care, and making it doable for me. These are his rules for “Whacking Back Roses” which is worth reprinting each January:
Irrigate the day before you prune.
- You want to wind up with fresh, healthy canes in an urn shape.
- Canes old and tired? Dead brown, non-producing, in the way? Whack them off.
- Canes crossing over in the center or blocking airflow thru the rose? Cut them out.
- As a rule, cut 1/3rd to 1/2 half off.
- Bud-eye looking out. Bud eye is found just above where leaflet set is attached to cane. Leaflet set points in the direction the bud eye will grow.
- When in doubt, whack it off! Roses survive!
- Remember, the new growth which starts at bud eye can be no thicker than the cane where cut. It will never get fatter.
- Take off ALL leaves, bag them, and discard. Clean up thoroughly around the plant.
- Apply two dormant sprays (lime sulfur or copper spray) a week apart to kill any leftover pests and pestilence. Read the label on the product and wear protective equipment.
- Floribundas: leave twiggy. Climbers: KEEP the long canes, cut 6 – 10 “stubs off them.
ROSES: Roses are heavy feeders and especially after you’ve pruned them, they are going to need food. It’s time to apply Ada Perry’s Rose Fertilizer to your roses. Ada was a legend in the San Diego garden world and developed this mixture many years ago. Walter Andersen Nursery is the exclusive supplier to Ada Perry’s. The bag says apply in January and June. Easy-peasy! If you want to mix your own, you can copy the organic mixture in Patti Million’s little book, ‘A Year of Million Roses’. The mix is as follows: 1 cup bone meal or superphosphate (0-20-0); 1 cup cottonseed meal; ½ cup blood meal; ½ cup fish meal; & ½ cup Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). Easy enough, but you might have to buy bigger quantities of all these ingredients than you can use in a reasonable amount of time so either share with a friend or, better yet, streamline your life and just go buy a bag of Ada Perry’s.
FROST DAMAGE: If you have advance warning of a frost you can hang mini outdoor Christmas lights which will radiate enough warmth to help protect plants against the damage of frost. If we do get freezing weather and your plants are affected, don’t clip dead growth until you see new growth in the spring. The dead growth doesn’t look great but cutting it off will stress the plant even more, so leave it alone.
The seed catalogs are coming in the mail and it is a lot of fun to see what is new in the plant world for us home gardeners. While there are a wide variety of seeds available at the local nurseries, the seed catalogs offer even more choices for you. It is time to start ordering seeds for the warm season flowers and vegetables. When the seeds arrive you can start planting them indoors right away so you will have seedlings ready to transplant in spring when the weather warms up.
Credit where credit is due: This monthly garden chores compilation comes from a lot of resources, past and present, including: Sunset Magazine, Union-Tribune, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Home & Garden, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, miscellaneous tidbits found on the web, in the library, from fellow gardeners, and personal experience in the garden.