Your January Gardening Checklist

By Skip Richter, Senior Editor

Vegetables and Herbs

January Checklist | Vego Garden

The weather is generally mild enough in the southern two-thirds of Texas this month to set out transplants of cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, kohlrabi and cauliflower. Water the transplants in with a diluted fertilizer solution or a mix of fish emulsion and seaweed. Repeat this feeding two more times about 10 to14 days apart to get the new plants off to a good start. Although these vegetables are quite hardy, when a freeze threatens, cover them to protect against damage.

Cool-season greens (including lettuce, spinach and many of the Asian greens) can be seeded outside in southern areas or started as transplants in northern areas for planting outdoors when they are larger and the end of winter is a few weeks closer. In southern areas, plant seeds of arugula, chard and cilantro either in protected beds or as transplants for setting out later after the plants are stronger.

Plant cool-season peas and fava beans in early to mid-month in South Texas and in mid-to-late January in the central third of the state. Choose fast-maturing varieties and keep the soil moist. Cover plants during freezes to avoid setting them back. Make an early seeding of root crops (including beets, radishes, turnips and carrots) in the southern two-thirds of Texas.

Now is the time to set out bulbing onion transplants also. Don’t buy the round, marble-sized bulbs but rather the bundles of transplants that are about pencil-sized or a little smaller. Set them with the base about 1-inch deep in the soil. Water them in with a soluble fertilizer and repeat the fertilizing twice more 7 to 14 days apart.

January Checklist | Vego Garden

Plant asparagus crowns in January in all areas of the state. Artichoke crowns or transplants can be planted in the southern half to two-thirds of the state depending on how much of a gambler you are! The plants cannot take a very hard freeze, so be ready to protect your artichokes whenever temperatures are forecast to fall into the upper 20s or lower. The goal is to get them established and ready to grow as early as possible for the most production at harvest time.

Consider building a cold frame if you don’t have one, or learn about creating a low tunnel with bent sections of PVC pipe and clear plastic or row-cover fabric. These season extension structures will help you not only get an earlier start on the season but can also result in better growth and increased yields.

Start tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants indoors for setting out after the danger of frost is past or, if you’re a gardening gambler, a few weeks to a month early, under the protection of a low tunnel or other cold-protection cover.  Keep transplants in as much light as you can and brush your hand gently over the plants once or twice a day to help promote stocky growth.

Perennials and Annuals

January Checklist | Vego Garden

Cut back winter-killed top growth on perennials to tidy up the planting. Trim this dead material off a couple of inches above the soil line. Sub-shrubs such as Salvia greggii that don’t die back to the ground should be cut back by half to promote new spring growth and a more compact plant form. Ornamental grasses can be cut back to about 10-inches high. If the clump has grown wider and the center is declining, or if the grass plant is not sending up flower/seed stalks as much as it used to, then consider dividing it next month.

Fertilize cool-season flower beds this month to maintain plenty of nutrients in the soil. The farther south you live in Texas, the more active the plants will be growing and the more some added nutrition will be needed.

Gardeners in the northern areas can experience some seriously cold weather — enough to damage otherwise hardy annual color beds if they are not covered to hold in the soil’s warmth around the plants. Further south, where there are more options for cool-season color, a hard freeze is just as threatening to some of these less hardy flowers (such as alyssum, snapdragons, stock, calendula, nasturtiums and dianthus). So be ready to protect the plants during a cold snap so you can keep the color going all winter long.

Dianthus and other cool-season flowers should be mulched well to prevent weeds and keep winter rains from eroding the soil.

Maintain a mulch cover over the soil in flower beds to deter weeds and prevent winter rains from washing away the soil. A 2-3 inch mulch of shredded leaves or 3-4 inch mulch of pine needles is usually adequate. Semi-tender perennials, such as ginger, will benefit from a thicker blanket of mulch to protect their crown or rhizomes from the cold.

Continue planting cool-season color in South Texas, where freezes are few and far between. Set out transplants and fertilize with a soluble fertilizer solution.

Trees, Shrubs and Vines

January Checklist | Vego Garden

Shear overgrown shrub hedges just before new growth starts to emerge.

Mid-to-late winter is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Choose your species and varieties carefully since they will be long-term investments in your landscape. Consider adaptability to your area, mature size and whether the species prefers sun or shade, as well as wet or well-drained soil conditions. This is the only season when bare-root plants are available. Bare-root plants are generally less expensive than container- grown ones, but not all species are available.

Think about a plant’s mature size when planting it. The plant may look very small now, but when it grows will it rub against the home’s shingles or eaves, or be in power lines, or overcrowd another plant, or (in the case of a shrub) block a window or encroach on a walkway?

Don’t put compost in the planting hole when planting your woody ornamentals. Roots may not readily grow out of the amended soil of the planting hole to establish in the surrounding soil. In clay soils, amending the planting hole can result in an “underground bathtub” that holds water, leaving roots without oxygen and resulting in loss of the plant. If the plant is a shrub, woody vine or a very small tree, it may be advisable to amend a very large area with several inches of compost before digging the hole. But always refill the hole with soil you dug out to make the hole.

Large trees are going to extend their root systems throughout the soil in a very wide area. They either are adapted to the soil conditions or they are not. Making amendments to a small area, in an effort to promote growth and establishment, is a waste of time and effort.

Firm the soil in around the root system, watering the planting hole well as you refill with soil to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Finish with a 4-foot wide circular berm of soil to hold water and help provide good deep soakings during the plant’s critical first few months.

Gardeners in the warmer parts of the state should complete their pruning and training chores this month. Read up on the best way to train a young tree or prune an old one before starting in on the task. Pruning can also begin in the northern two-thirds of the state, but it is also okay to wait until next month in those areas.

January Checklist | Vego Garden

Don’t paint pruning wounds unless you are pruning an oak tree in an area where oak wilt is a concern. In that case paint all wounds immediately after making them. If tree branches are removed properly, the resulting wound will heal fast.

Fruits and Nuts

Now is the season to plant bare-root fruit and nut plants. Set plants at the same depth they were previously growing. If you look at the trunk, you can see the original soil line where the bark changes color slightly. Refill the hole only using soil dug from the hole and not additional amendments. Firm soil in around the roots, watering the hole periodically as you refill it to settle the soil and remove air pockets.

Container-grown fruit and nuts can also be planted now. Follow the same instructions as mentioned for container-grown ornamentals and make sure to not plant them too deep or too shallow. When purchasing fruit plants, check whether or not the type you are planting needs a second variety for pollination.

If you live in South Texas, where spring comes very early, or if you have a lot of fruit trees, you may want to begin pruning this month. Otherwise wait until next month to prune. Just complete the task prior to the onset of new growth.

Plum and peach trees should be pruned to have an open bowl shape.

Lawns and Groundcovers

Keep leaves raked up off of the lawn, especially with St. Augustine lawns. They don’t go truly dormant but will continue to capture sunlight during warmer days of winter. A covering of leaves will shade and weaken the grass beneath a tree during the one time of the year when it has access to direct sunlight.

Thin turf areas in the shade may benefit from some tree pruning to increase the amount of light that reaches the grass. The difference between deep shade and bright or dappled shade may be the difference between the lawn living or dying in those areas.

Timely Tips

January Checklist | Vego Garden

Mowing season is still a couple of months or more away, but now is a good time to have the mower blade sharpened. Keep your pruning tools sharp and well-oiled to deter rust. Wiping oil on the surface of shovels, hoes and other such tools will also help deter rust. Sand wooden handles and apply an appropriate wood oil to extend their useful life.

Peruse seed catalogs and make orders early in the month before supplies of the more popular items run short. Think about your spring, summer and fall gardening plans for vegetables and flowers so you can be ready to plant when the time comes.



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