January Gardening Tasks
Vegetables -Analyze last year's garden planting, fertilizing, and spraying records. Make notes to reorder successful varieties as well as those you wish to try again. Now is a good time to pour through the seed and plant catalogs and online seed sources for new varieties. An important consideration is improved insect and/or disease resistance. Watch also for heat and drought-tolerant types. Make sure what you buy will thrive in our zone 7b-8a climate!
Make a garden plan for spring and summer. Perhaps a smaller garden, raised beds, or containers with less weeds and insects will give you more produce. Consider planting some old favorites and some of the new varieties as well. Take soil samples if you haven’t already done it. See how your compost pile is doing and stir it as needed.
Fruit trees - Be sure to inspect your fruit trees. Be sure to remove any mummified remaining fruits, and rake up and dispose of old leaves and branches that may harbor diseases over the winter.
Lawns - Mow your tall fescue lawn or over-seeded rye on Bermuda lawn as needed. Mow ryegrass to 1 to 1½ inches. Mow tall fescue to 3-3.5 inches. Avoid heavy traffic on dormant warm-season lawns. Dry grass is easily broken and the crown of the plant may be severely damaged or killed.
Flowers - If you haven’t done it yet, make sure you plant those spring-flowering bulbs you purchased back earlier in the fall, such as daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and crocus. You can start forcing bulbs such as paperwhite narcissus or hyacinth for early blooms. Enjoy the winter color from plants like pansies, snapdragons, ornamental cabbage and kale, hellebores, camellias, and such. Frost or freezes are likely this month and next month. Be ready to cover tender plants to minimize damage.
Trees - Since temperatures are low, you can use dormant oil sprays now to control scale insects on trees and shrubs. During the typical January thaw, water woody plants if the soil becomes dry. Although we don’t see snow every winter, when it happens it can be both beautiful and dangerous to your landscape! Brush snow, especially heavy and wet snow, from evergreens as soon as possible after a winter storm. Use a broom in an upward, sweeping motion. Serious damage may be caused by heavy snow or ice accumulating on the branches.
The winter months when trees and shrubs are dormant are excellent times to plant. Be careful that you do not plant them too deeply. Be sure to plant no deeper than the tree in its pot or root ball and make sure there’s a beginning root flare at the base of the trunk. Don’t backfill tree planting holes with organic matter as it will shrink as it dries, but use native topsoil and be sure you’re generous with topsoil backfill especially near the surface! Fallen leaves provide the carbon ingredient needed for successful composting and also make a good mulch.
While crape myrtles do not require pruning, removing seed pods, crossing and dead branches and small twiggy growth improves the appearance and form of the tree or shrub.
Don’t prune cold-damaged plants yet. Wait until warm weather returns to cut back plants. Prune storm damaged limbs quickly to reduce damage and prevent tearing of the bark. Avoid the temptation to prune on warm winter day. You'll prevent further damage. When pruning large limbs in winter or late winter and into spring, always undercut first. This means to cut from the bottom up, one-third of the way through the limb, then finish by cutting from the top. The undercut keeps the limb from splitting and breaking off, which could damage the trunk and become an entryway for insects and diseases. Do not cut flush to the trunk, the collar or enlarged base of a branch produces hormones that help heal wounds. Do not apply dressings or paint to the wounds!
Bring twigs of flowering trees and shrubs indoors to force blossoms.
Watch out for rabbit or squirrel damage to the bark of trees and shrubs.
Houseplants - Did you receive an amaryllis for the holidays? Keep it in a sunny window. After it is done flowering, the plant will produce leaves. It can be taken outside during the summer and then brought back inside by mid-summer.
Turn and prune house plants regularly to keep them shapely. Pinch back new growth to promote bushy plants. Check all house plants closely for insect infestations. Quarantine gift plants until you determine that they are not harboring any pests.
To prolong blooming, protect holiday poinsettias from drafts and keep them moderately moist. Be certain houseplants are not near frosty or cold window panes or are not subject to cold air drafts! Don’t place plants near heat sources such as heaters, heat registers and such. Group houseplants to increase localized humidity. During the winter most houses are too dry for house plants. Humidity may be increased by placing plants on trays lined with pebbles and filled with water to within one half inch of the base of the pot. If you heat with wood, keep a pot of water on the stove. The added moisture will be healthier for you as well as your plants.
You may notice leaf yellowing and leaf drop on some of your houseplants. This is usually a result of low light conditions or over-watering. Most houseplants should be watered only when the top of the growing medium begins to dry out. Cut back or stop fertilizing houseplants unless they are grown under supplemental lighting. Houseplants with large leaves and smooth foliage, such as philodendrons, dracaena and rubber plant benefit if their leaves are washed at intervals to remove dust and grime, helping keep the leaf pores open.
To clean fertilizer-salt crusted empty clay pots, add one cup of white vinegar to a gallon of warm water and soak the pots for 12 hours. For heavily crusted pots or any pots that still have residues, scrub with a steel wool pad. Set out to dry but store in the garage or another relatively frost-free area.
Miscellaneous - Clean, repair, and organize garden tools during the winter. Repair leaky hoses. Sand and seal tool handles to prevent splinters. Apply brightly colored paint to handles. It makes them easier to spot in the garden. Add statuary, birdbaths and wind chimes to the garden landscape. Keep bird feeders and water supplies filled. Feed the birds regularly and see that they have water. Birds like suet, fruit, nuts, and bread crumbs as well as bird seed.
Add garden record-keeping to the list of New Year's resolutions. Make a note of which varieties of flowers and vegetables do best and which do poorly in your garden. Read garden magazines and books for new ideas for your garden. If mail-ordering plants, make sure they’re hardy in north Georgia. Look for pest- or disease-resistant varieties when ordering seeds for the spring. Beware of “miracle” plants in slickly-printed catalogues. Do not wait until late in the winter to order seeds. Many varieties sell out early.
When using salt to melt ice on walks and driveways, spread it carefully to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Consider using sand or sawdust instead.
If you have some time this winter, paint the handles of garden tools red or orange. This will preserve the wood and make the tools easier to locate next summer when you lay them down in the garden or on the lawn.
Move garden ornaments such as ceramic urns or jars into the garage or basement to prevent damage during the cold winter season. If containers are too large to move, cover them to prevent water collecting in them or turn them upside down during the winter so water will not collect and freeze in them causing breakage.