January: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

And so ends another year of pandemic.  The light we saw in the tunnel in July turned out to be the Omicron Express and it has run over everyone.  Enough, already!  Just go away…please.  Sure, gardening is essentially a solo sport and it is generally done outside, but the part that is missing is the getting together over coffee and petit fours, or tea and crumpets or beer and nachos to tell our stories.  So many stories.  Save ‘em up, friends.  Surely this can’t go on forever.  (Can it?)

In the meantime, let’s go out and make some more stories.  Look, it was 70 degrees on New Year’s Day and it snowed on the 2nd.  Ya gotta love North Carolina weather.  Not a big deal, as there is only so much you can do outside in January anyway.  Let’s just do it so we can get back inside by the fire.


Complete the annual leaf removal ritual.  There’s nothing left on the trees except for some oaks and beeches which will be there until Spring.

Here’s my annual January PSA about reducing the amount of turf in your yard.  It is the most environmentally unsustainable planting in your yard (unless you have a mega planting of Chinese wisteria or maybe kudzu).  Dump the lawn and reduce the amount of phosphates, nitrogen, and pesticides washing into your/our drinking water.  The Earth thanks you in advance for your efforts.


Nope!  Well, there’s the wood ashes you can put on shrub and bulb beds if the pH is low (<6.0) and you would know this from the SOIL TEST you had done last Fall.


This exercise is largely dependent on soil moisture right now.  If it dries some you can transplant trees and shrubs.  Roots will grow as long as the soil temp is above 40 degrees.  Last week it was 60 degrees.


January is a fine time to prune, especially non-flowering plants.  Flowering plants should be pruned 4-6 weeks after bloom time.  Hand pruning is recommended.  I mean you aren’t going to take the yard-of-the-month award away from Biltmore, so unless you really have hedges, leave the hedge trimmers in the shed.  And if you do have hedges, wider at the bottom and narrower at the top for optimum growth.


So, the plants you brought in the house in October were hosting guests that you now find objectionable.  It happens.  Their friends don’t necessarily have to be your friends.  Treat them with a light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap and if you can hustle them outside to do it, so much the better.  Otherwise, be very careful and always read and heed the label.


‘Tis the season of the seed catalog.  You know this because your mailbox is inundated with them.  There is always GOOGLE and the many fine articles on the NCSU Plant Toolbox with which you can entertain and inform yourself.  (You might even be able to pick up an education hour or two, but Dr. Troth will have to approve.)  Do some research and see if there might be a NC native plant or two that would fit into your landscape plan.  (I’m sure you have one of those!)  Make soup from the bounty of your summer/fall garden and share it with a neighbor and if the meteorological prognosticators use the “S” word, skip the French toast trio of bread, milk and eggs and stock up on hot cocoa mix.  Chocolate will get you through anything.

*Resources and Further Reading

How to Prune Specific Plants

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)