January Gardening Notes

An arctic outbreak of cold air is predicted for next week. If it remains dry, be sure to run your irrigation several days prior to the arrival of cold air to minimize freeze damage to plants in your yard. Drought-stressed plants are more prone to severe freeze injury. However, watering during a freeze won’t help that much, and can damage plants with ice buildup. Take steps to protect marginally hardy plants – move potted plants to a protected area, apply mulch where practical, and protect pipes and irrigation systems. Don’t leave the hose outside full of water!

It’s time to start vegetable and flower seeds indoors now for planting later this winter and early spring – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, parsley, petunias and begonias. Later in January start tomato, pepper and eggplant from seed for transplanting in March. Late January and February is also the time to start transplants of marigolds, periwinkles and many other summer flowers.

Use a commercial peat-based soil mix in a clean flat, and place in a warm, bright spot. Cover the tray with a clear piece of glass or plastic or saran wrap until the seeds have sprouted. At that time, remove the covering and place the trays in a sunny window or close under bright fluorescent lights to keep the seedlings from stretching.

Plant asparagus roots, fruit and pecan trees, blueberries, blackberries and roses as they become available at garden stores.

January and February are good months to transplant established shrubs and small trees if they need to be moved to another location. Keep in mind that very old shrubs are difficult to move and you are probably better off starting afresh with young, vigorous, healthy nursery stock.

Regularly fertilize pansies and other cool season flowers to keep them actively growing and blooming.

Late January and February is the best time to control scale insects, eggs and overwintering insects on fruit trees, camellias, euonymus, hollies and young shade trees. Scales are small, motionless insects protected by a waxy coating, and when present in large numbers on stems and branches of peach and other trees and shrubs they can cause damage.  Dormant season (horticultural) oil spray is a very efficient and safe way to control scales by suffocating these insects. Thorough coverage of limbs and twigs with spray solution is important for complete control. Spray with dormant, superior or summer oil when temperatures will not be below 40 degrees F for 24 to 48 hours. Carefully follow all label instructions. Of course, do not spray if no insects are present.

If your shade trees need pruning, January is a good month to accomplish this task. Remove damaged, rubbing, crowded, dying or dead limbs. Do not leave stubs but rather remove limbs at their point of origin (at the crotch). Do not top your tree. Topping weakens trees, greatly shortening their life span, and ruins the natural beauty of the tree. Also, do not top crape myrtles.  If they are too tall for their location, move them rather than prune them, and then get a variety that will only grow to the size and height needed.

This is also a good time to prune fruit trees. Peaches and plums need about 1/4 to 1/3 of their limbs removed. This accomplishes several things: keeps the harvest within reach, thins crowded branches, keeps the center open which allows better air circulation and more light to reach developing fruit, and stimulates new growth for the 2012 crop.

Birds of all kinds appreciate a constant source of seed, suet and water during the winter. You’ll enjoy all the activity in your yard while providing a valuable service for our feathered friends. Just remember that once you start feeding, you should keep it up through the winter.

This is a good time of year to get your lawn and garden soil tested for its pH level. Soils that are too acid stunt the growth of many plants, and result in unproductive gardens. Liming lawns and gardens now allows time for lime to react and raise the soil pH before the growing season arrives.

Compost piles should be turned at least once during the month. Check the pile for moisture level. It should be neither too wet nor too dry. Add water if it is dry; add more coarse, dry matter if it is too wet. If it is not heating up, and the materials have not broken down, it may be that the pile is too small, or there may not be enough green material to provide nitrogen to feed the decomposition process. Compost piles need to be at least 3 x 3 x 3 feet to generate good composting activity.

Mark your calendars for upcoming conferences:

  • East Texas Turfgrass Conference (Texas A&M – Overton) – February 3
  • East Texas Spring Landscape & Garden Conference (Tyler Rose Garden Center) – February 12
  • East Texas Commercial Fruit & Vegetable Conference (Texas A&M – Overton) – February 15

More details will be provided as we get closer these events; also see “Educational Programs” at the East Texas Gardening website.

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