Gardening Tips for January

Mockingbird stacking a claim to a fruitful yaupon holly.

With the New Year begins a new gardening season, and renewed hopes of a greater harvest, prettier blooms, abundant rain and fewer weeds. As you continue to build on your successes and learn from your failures, one thing to keep in mind is that every year will most likely be different from the previous one. Some things never change, though, such as the routine gardening tasks that make gardening more productive.

When it is too nasty outside to work, there are those gardening catalogs arriving in your mailbox to give you ideas and stimulate dreams of a 2nd garden of Eden in your own yard. Also, take advantage of the winter months to read a good book on your favorite aspect of gardening.   There are so many available, and you can always pick up new hints and ideas to apply to the front or back yard of the house.

Many gardeners use a yearly calendar for jotting down gardening notes so they have a record of what worked, what failed, what bloomed when, etc. Smith County Master Gardeners created the 2013 Northeast Texas Gardening Guide & Calendar which can be used for such a purpose, plus it provides tips and gardening ideas for each month. They are available at several area retail outlets and the Smith County A&M AgriLife Extension office. For more information and locations, go to the Master Gardeners web site at ( and look under “MG Projects”.

How was your summer electric bill? A new year’s resolution might be to lower it with some strategically placed trees to shade sunny windows. Winter is a perfect time to buy and plant trees. This is a slower season for nurseries so you’ll get good attention from the staff for answers to your questions. Choosing trees is easier now because you can examine the branching pattern and easily see scars or other defects. Look for trees that are not root bound in their containers. Choose quality, long-lived tree varieties rather than the fast growing types.

Now is the time to plant asparagus roots, fruit and pecan trees, blueberries, blackberries and roses as they become available at garden stores. All require full sun and well drained soils to be the most productive

January and February are good months to dig and transplant established shrubs and small trees if they need to be moved.

Tree pruning expert preparing to properly remove a large limb. Never leave stubs because they will cause future problems.

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 fork). Do not top your tree. Topping weakens trees, greatly shortening their life span, and ruins the natural beauty of the tree. Hire a pro to do it right! Also, do not top crape myrtles.  If they are too tall for their location, move them rather than prune them, and get a variety that will 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, allowing more light to reach developing fruit, and stimulates new growth for the 2014 crop.

Get your lawn and garden soil tested for its pH level. Soils that are too acidic stunt plant growth and result in unproductive gardens. Liming lawns and gardens now based on soil test results allows time for lime to react and raise the soil pH before the growing season arrives. Soil testing information is available at every county AgriLife Extension office, and online at

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.

Speaking of compost, be getting your spring garden soil ready for planting. Wait to rototill or work the soil until it is just moist, but not too wet or dry. Incorporate plenty of organic matter like compost, and if you have poorly drained soil, create raised beds. By getting the ground ready now, you will be ready to plant in the coming weeks.

Swiss chard is one of the toughest greens, lasting well into the summer and often for a couple of years. And, it can be used as an attractive edible mixed in with your other annuals and perennials.

Vegetables that can be directly seeded in the garden in late January and into February include beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, mustard, radish and turnips.

Start other 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.

Late January and in early February, you can set out transplants of other 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.

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