Columnist’s month-by-month garden guide: January • Stephanie Hudak, gardening columnist
Lots of people ask when they should cut back their roses, when they can prune their shrubs or fertilize their lawns. So I thought I would share some monthly highlighted events that should occur in each month; and January is the perfect place to get started.
We are very fortunate to live in the South where Mother Nature is very lenient with us. For 10 months or more we can get some manner of blooms, and in those two remaining months, we will have berried shrubs along with those fragrant winter bloomers like Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle). Our open winters make it more difficult to grow shrubs that need hard cold to force their blooms, like lilacs; although there are a few varieties that have been bred to deal with our heat and humidity. Check out ‘Miss Kim’ lilac if you miss that beautiful scent from your home place.
Even though we don’t often get hard freezes here, it is a good idea to check around your plants for soil heaving; and add additional leaves or straw around tender plants, but never cover cold-loving plants such as peonies. If we should get ice or heavy snow, resist the temptation to shake it off the branches. Japanese maples have particularly fragile branches and they will break off easily, destroying that beautiful shape you paid for.
We inevitably will get a mild spell when you can sow hardy annuals like poppies and sweet peas. Other annuals can get a head start in a cold frame or indoors. If the ground isn’t frozen you can move perennials if you need to, although I’d rather be indoors planning the new garden. There is still time to plant viable bulbs, provided you have given them “chill time” in the refrigerator or purchased “pre-chilled” bulbs (BrentandBeckysBulbs.com does sell them).
All trees and shrubs can be moved or new ones added during their dormant period when they can spend time recovering before the demands of spring growth. While the winter rains are good for them, keep that in mind when moving plants. You don’t want to be working with wet clay soil.
Pruning has always raised questions. You can prune shrubs that bloom on “new growth” such as butterfly bushes and smokebush, that give you blooms in summer and fall. But leave the spring bloomers alone or you won’t get any pretties this spring. With the exception of the yellowwood tree, you can trim back other trees in your yard now. But by no means trim the conifers until new growth begins.
After you have ordered your new vegetables seeds and are waiting for them to arrive, it is time to apply compost or aged manure to your rows. You can plant snow peas and onion sets in late January; start seeds like cabbage and collards indoors for planting in March, but hold off on those tomato seeds until February. They will stretch and get leggy before it is time to plant them after the last frost.
If you think you will need the help of a landscaper, this is a great time to make an appointment before they get into their busy season. And if you haven’t already done it, check out your tools. Clean and sharpen the hand tools and check the running order of the power equipment and get it repaired before the mad rush in spring.
For pure joy, force the branches of early flowering shrubs. Give them fresh water and a sunny window and you will be rewarded with bright colored flowers. And please – don’t forget to feed the birds.
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero
Printed in the January 10, 2013 edition