January: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Congratulations! We all made through another decade (although technically the new decade doesn’t start until 2021). We gardeners have seen it all—extended heat and drought, a week below freezing, too much rain, not enough rain, eight inches of snow in December, 100 degrees in mid-October. You name it, meteorologically, and we had it. Yet we persist.  Like farmers, we are eternally optimistic … or just plain nuts. Your call. That being said, here’s the “To Do” list for January, weather permitting, of course.

Lawn Care
If you haven’t already cleared the lawn of leaves, exactly what are you waiting for? There won’t be anymore leaves falling until the oaks shed their bottom leaves in the spring. Just do it, already.

Take a really good look at the grass area of your yard and see if there is the possibility of eliminating some (all?) of the grass. Less lawn equals less expense and greater sustainability.* Think about it. It’s your planet, too.

Nope.  Nothing to see here folks.

Maybe some asparagus crowns, but that’s about it for January. I take that back. I have successfully transplanted trees from the nursery in January. Just remember, if it turns dry, they need water even if they don’t have any foliage.

Pruning *
This is it! Your best reason to go play in the yard in January. Trees and shrubs are less traumatized by January pruning. The wounds heal faster from January infliction than in other months. Also, unless you have an actual hedge, please resist the temptation to use the hedge trimmer. Shearing is best left to the English, French or Japanese formal gardens. Hand pruning individual branches will produce healthier and more aesthetically pleasing plants.

So, the plants you brought in off the deck for the winter had “friends” on them and now they are somewhat bothersome? It happens. If possible, take them back out on a nice day and spray them with a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Let them dry, then bring them back inside. If you have to spray them inside, be careful. Wipe up any over-spray. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.

If you have azaleas planted in a sunny location you probably have azalea lace bugs. They will be actively feeding whenever it is much above 40 degrees. Spray them with a horticultural oil and be done with them (at least until hot weather).

What to do when January is too inhospitable to play outside
Three words: seed catalogs, Google. Think about places in the garden where you might experiment with plants you haven’t tried before. Research the plant’s appropriateness for the space. “Right Plant Right Place” isn’t just a catchy phrase. Especially think about natives. Is the sunniest part of your yard right out front? Stick some tomatoes in with the petunias and marigolds, peppers in the perennial bed. It’ll give the neighbors something to talk about until you start sharing the tomatoes. If you have an HOA, my condolences.

Stay warm, y’all. March is closer than you imagine.

*Resources & Further Reading
Bull City Gardener Learning Series – Sustainable Lawns and Alternatives: April 16 and April 18, Learn more: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/

General Pruning Techniques for Trees & Shrubs