January To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Camellia japonica offers one of the first flowers of the new year. (Image credit: NC Cooperative Extension)

We made it!! 2023 is here and so is this writer thanks in large part to the support of family, good friends, just plain stubbornness and healthy (?) doses of Coffea arabica, dark roast. Horticulturally speaking, 2022 was a bit of a disappointment at this house. The tomatoes, despite efforts to the contrary, fell victims to the cursed voles again. They are not the least bit intimidated by chicken wire buried under the garden soil. It has to be hardware cloth. The Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) didn’t fare well in the prolonged dry spells that comprised summer 2022. The plants that did survive with only minimal applications of expensive water included annuals Zinnia sps., gallardia (Gallardia pulchella), marigolds (Tagetes sps.), cosmos (Cosmos bipinnata) and sunflowers (Helianthus sps.). Perennials that didn’t succumb included purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), various daylilies (Hemerocallis sps.), balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) and iris varieties. One of my favorites, corn flower/bachelor buttons (Centurea montana) isn’t at all drought tolerant. And I really love that blue. So sad.

(Left to right) Reliving the beauty of the AGC in bloom in 2022 and celebrating the drought-tolerant balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), marigolds (Tagetes sp.), and blanket flowers (Gallardia pulchella). Taking photos of your garden throughout the season allows you to revisit them during the long days of winter and remember what plants were top performers in the garden. (Image credit: Gary Crispell)

We have ordered (You haven’t ordered seeds yet?!?) some interesting Helianthus varieties and a Southeastern pollinator mix. Que sera, sera. You know I’ll keep you posted. So, by now some you have despaired of seeing a calendar here due to the loquaciousness of this writer. For those of you who have persevered there are things to do in January other than sit by the fire with a warm beverage and a good gardening book watching it snow no more than what God will melt in a day. What?! That’s the perfect amount of snow. You watch it come down and turn the world white. Then you can enjoy it for awhile knowing that by noon tomorrow it will all be gone with no further effort on your part. It don’t get no better ‘n that, friends. Ok, ok! Here’s your calendar. Sheeesh.


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.


Bypass pruners are one of the most popular tools for pruning and if maintained properly allow for accurate and clean cuts. (Image credit: NC Cooperative Extension)

This is it. Your best reason to go play in the yard in January. Trees and shrubs especially 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 esthetically 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 just be careful. Wipe up any overspray. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.

Lace bugs and tell-tale damage on an azalea in January. (Image credit: J.R. Baker)

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).


Three words: seed catalogs, Google.1

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.



1–We strive to provide you with quality research-based information. There are a few tips you can employ to tailor your internet searches ensuring you are receiving scientific data. One is to type in the subject you are searching for and NCSU (Soil Test+NCSU). Other ways are to include “site:edu” in your search (“soil test” “site:edu”) or “extension” (“soil test” “extension”) These methods of searching can help lead you to research institutions and cooperative extension sites that provide sound advice for your gardening concerns.

Resources and Additional Information

For tips on general pruning techniques and detailed instructions on bloom time, pruning timing and type of pruning for specific plants, visit North Carolina State’s sites below.



Want more information on caring for azaleas through lace bug control? The following NC Cooperative Extension site is a great resource.


To learn more about how to achieve “right plant, right place” in your landscape, check out University of Florida Extension and Clemson University’s Home and Garden Information Center’s resources as you make your 2023 garden plans


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