A new year is upon us, giving us a renewed hope for the future. We especially hope for more abundant rainfall, having gone through a terrible year of drought. This winter rainfall has been enough to resupply the soil, but our lakes are still low, and many cities have implemented water rationing due to a pessimistic outlook for 2012.
Even though winter has securely settled in, the month of January is really the start of a new gardening season. There are several potential items on the gardening checklist, regardless of what type of gardening endeavors you enjoy.
Now is a perfect time to evaluate your overall landscape design while the garden is dormant. Trees, shrubs and groundcovers make up the bones of your landscape. View your yard from the house and from the street. Some shrubs and vines may be overgrown for their location and need to be replaced or thinned out. Formerly sunny areas 10 years ago may now be shaded, resulting in leggy, unattractive plants. Your attractive house may be almost hidden by shrubs and trees that have grown too large for their locations. And, if you anticipate selling your home in the future, remember that quality landscaping increases your home’s curb appeal, and potentially its value.
The dormant season is also a good time to inspect shrub and groundcover areas for young tree seedlings planted by squirrels and birds. Pull them while they are young. They come out much more easily when the soil is moist, and a pair of pliers or vice grips gives you the grip needed to pull out deep rooted seedlings. We had a bumper crop of acorns this year, so anticipate lots of oak seedlings.
Vegetables. Now is the time to get the soil ready for the spring garden, if you have not already done so. Work several inches of compost into the soil, and if your soil is not very well drained, create raised rows for better drainage. Raised beds also warm up faster in early spring, promoting better root growth and plant establishment. Don’t rototill wet soil as this can mess up its structure.
Crops to be directly seeded in the garden in January and into February include beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, mustard, radish and turnips.
Start vegetable indoors now for planting later this winter and early spring – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, and parsley. Later in January start tomato, pepper and eggplant from seed for transplanting in March. Use a commercial peat-light soil mix in clean containers, and place in a warm, bright spot. Cover the tray with a clear piece of glass, plastic or saran wrap until the seeds have sprouted. At that time, place the trays in a cooler, sunny window or close under bright fluorescent lights to keep the seedlings from stretching.
Late this month and in early February, you can set out transplants of cold hardy vegetables, including kale, collards, cabbage, onions, spinach and broccoli. Be ready to cover them in case of a really hard freeze. Give them a shot of water-soluble fertilizer at planting time, and then every couple of weeks until they get well established.
Fruits and Nuts. This is the time of year to purchase and plant fruit and pecan trees. Both bare-root and container grown plants can be planted now, and container plants also later in the season. Almost all types of fruit and nuts require very good drainage for long term performance. If water stands very long on the site after a heavy rain, then find another location.
Winter is also the time to prune peaches and plums to keep them productive, and the harvest within reach. Recently planted trees should be pruned each winter to develop a strong framework for future crop loads. Cut the dead canes out of the blackberry patch for easier harvesting and increased air circulation.
Check for Insects. January and February is the best time to check shrubs, shade and fruit trees for scale insects. Scales appear as small, motionless bumps on the trunk, stems or leaves of plants. Camellias and euonymus are 2 plants that frequently have scale pests on the underside of their leaves. Fruit trees like peaches and plums will get scales on their branches, and may be difficult to detect unless you look carefully.
Scales may be white, tan or brown. If you crush one of these bumps with your fingernail, it will produce a bit of “juice” if it is a scale and it’s alive. If you are in doubt, take a sample to your local nursery for help in identification. Spray with a horticultural dormant, superior or summer oil when temperatures will not be below 40 degrees F for 24 to 48 hours. Carefully read the label for other precautions and directions for use. Follow recommended rates to avoid damaging plants. Some plants are sensitive to horticultural oils and should not be sprayed. The label will also give you this information. Be aware that the scales will not drop off the plant right away, even if they are dead.
Soil Testing. This is a good time to get your soil analyzed for nutrients and pH levels through a soil testing laboratory. Results are usually returned within a couple of weeks, and you will then be able to incorporate any needed amendments at the same time you are preparing the ground. Soil testing forms are available online at soiltesting.tamu.edu and at all county Extension offices.
Mark your calendars for upcoming conferences:
- East Texas Spring Landscape & Garden Conference (Tyler Rose Garden Center) – February 11
- East Texas Turfgrass Conference (Tyler Rose Garden Center) – February 2
- East Texas Fruit & Vegetable Conference (Tyler Rose Garden Center) – February 28
More details will be provided as we get closer these events, or go to “Programs” at the EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu website.