And the seasons they go 'round and 'round - and 2012 is here! Happy New Year!
January doesn't seem like such a great time to attend to gardening needs, it being so cold and all. But there really are a lot of things that can be done in January that will make a difference in the upcoming gardening season as well as make your garden more attractive in the mean time.
As for me, I just love being outside in South Carolina in the winter - gardening or walking or hiking, it doesn't really matter. The air is so clear this time of year, and the sky is so blue, and the pine trees so, well, green! Any chance I get to look up at a clear Carolina blue sky through pine trees is a treat for me. And did I mention no mosquitos and low humidity (and no wasps)! Some things just stand out better in winter, like tree bark, white Sycamore bark being the best example. And I don't know why but I like seeing those dangling Sycamore and Sweet Gum balls hanging on, or last spring's Tulip Poplar flower brackets pointing skyward high in the tree. Birds are easier to see in winter, especially hawks! Sometimes it's the crows yacking at them that alerts me to look up, but other times it's the Hawks themselves screeching. I've been seeing a group of three Red Tails all around the Forest Lake and Trenholm Road area - not sure if it's always the same three though.
Days getting longer always puts a little skip in my step. It's encouraging at many levels, and knowing that longer day length or shorter night length triggers various hormonal chages in plants makes it more fun to watch the season unfold.
But what I think I like the most about winter outside are the buds, as in tree buds and plant buds. Inside are the tiny leaves and/or flowers, either well-formed in miniature, or at least already differentiated as cells ready to take on full form. What energy the tree didn’t put into its seeds or store in its roots last summer and fall it has packed into these buds. Indeed, as last summer wound down, and the buds started to form which would lie dormant over the winter, the tree “knew” to transfer important energy sources from the leaves to the buds. These buds are rich in energy which is why deer and other animals like to eat them. The softer tissues of the buds are protected from the cold by tough bud scales. These scales leave scars when they fall off, scars which tell stories about how the twig has grown over the last few years.
OK, enough of that. Here are some good things to do in your garden in January...
Apply mulch - Mulch regulates soil temperature and moisture and does a great job suppressing weed growth in the spring.
Remove unwanted vines and trees - English Ivy competes with your shrubs for water and food and is easier to remove in the winter making way for proper bed maintenance in the spring. Although Wisteria is not an evergreen, it does not hide itself very well. It is actually easier to track down and get rid of Wisteria's underground runners (and root hubs) in the winter when access in and out of beds is easier. Green Smilax shoots are easier to see in the winter, and the tubers can be removed just as well in January as in July. Honeysuckle is not evergreen and the bark also gives it away. It can be yanked quite easily right out of the ground. Wild grape vines have very distinctive bark as well. These vines and others are so aggressive that they swarm your other plants in early spring faster than you can shake a stick. May as well get rid of them now. Winter is also a good time to remove some of the more common pesky large shrubs and trees such as Cherry Laurel, Ligustrum, Hackberry, and so forth. Even oak saplings are easy to see and remove, as they often keep some of their leaves in the winter.
Transplant - January is a good time to transplant shrubs.
Plant - January is a great time to plant a tree! Trees are good.
Clean up - One good thing about winter is that it is easier to see and remove those piles of bricks and concrete or rocks in the back of a flower bed, or old rotted landscaping timbers, or old planting pots hiding here and there. May as well get rid of that stuff while you're noticing it. It is a good time to remove dead wood from Azaleas or rake old leaves or old flower petals out from under Camellias.
Prune, Clip, and Trim - Obviously January is not the time to prune plants grown for their flowers (best to wait until after they bloom), but it can be a good time to neaten up ungainly hedges or prune tree limbs that are hanging over your shrubs. Boxwood can be selectively thinned in January and made more ready to fill out come spring. Some shrubs like Camellia Sasanqua that bloom in the fall can be pruned safely in January. Winter can also be a good time for neatening up non flowering hedges. Why be anoyed all winter by ungainly shrubs? January is a good time to trim back monkey grass, get rid of the dying stalks and leaves of last year's daylilies, cut back Ginger Lilies falling all over each other (and other plants), remove old Lantana stems, and so forth. OK, there are opposite views about when to cut back Lantana. Personally I do not think the very slight risk of water seeping into a cut stem and causing rot or fungal problems outweighs the unslightliness of gangly Lantana stems. I am actually not convinced that cutting back Lantana in the winter increases the chance of disease or cold damage, especially if one gives the crown area a good blanket of mulch. Some of the same arguments apply to Ginger Lilies and other plants. If Ginger Lilies are lying over other plants or lawn I would cut them now, and if not I'd wait until late February.
Prepare Soil - January is a good time to start to get the ground ready for a spring planting of vegetables. Bacteria and worms don’t stop working in our mild winters when the soil rarely freezes, and late fall (I think of December before Christmas as late fall) is an active time for worms and bacteria to work on decomposing leaves and enriching soil. Turning the soil in a planting bed, especially if it has some leaves or leaf litter covering it, can be a good way to prep the soil for an early spring planting.
Water - Remember to water in winter. Not only do plants still need water to live, but keeping the soil watered helps ameliorate the impact of a cold snap, just as putting water on peach buds during a hard freeze can help save the buds!
Plan - January is a great time to start thinking about and planning for the spring. Since we begin to get a lot of new growing activity by late February, Spring can sort of sneak up on us here in Columbia and by the time we’re ready for it we may have missed a window of opportunity. Best to get out the garden books and catalogs and start planning now, rather than then.
Of course I am available for these and other garden tasks. PLEASE feel free to forward this link along to anyone that you think could use my services - Columbia, Greensboro, and other select towns in the Carolinas.