Frosted lawns and trees
Cracking crystals in birdbaths
Hunker down in sleep
As holiday decorations are put away and life returns to a chilly normal, January provides some surprising opportunities to benefit your garden with little effort on your part.
If you are like me and enjoy the flavor of fresh asparagus in the spring, this is the time to plant. Before planting asparagus crowns, be sure to select a long term site. My mother discovered a patch of asparagus on her Upstate New York property that had been growing continuously for nearly 100 years! Your asparagus plants will need 2-3 years to get established, but then you will be set for a lifetime of delicious spring stalks that taste better than anything you can find in a supermarket.
Bare root trees
January is also a good time to plant bare root fruit trees. Bare root trees should be planted as soon as they arrive to avoid letting them dry out. When shopping for bare root trees, be sure to inspect the root system and reject plants with knotted or diseased roots. If a tree speaks to you and you simply must have it, cut off any damaged or diseased roots with a sharp tool, cleaning between each cut, and cross your fingers. Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to add special soil amendments to the bottom of the hole before planting.
If you decorated a Christmas tree this past year, rather than kicking it to the curb, you may want to put it to work in your garden. Keep in mind, however, it may not be organic and it might harbor pests. It's your call. Personally, I remove all the lights, decorations and tinsel and let nature takes its course.
Initially, your tree will provide shelter for small birds. I once had a goldfinch escape a hawk for 40 minutes, hopping around the interior of my discarded tree. The hawk finally gave up and the goldfinch survived. Contrary to popular belief, pine boughs do not acidify soil.
While colder temperatures may have slowed the rate at which your compost pile breaks down, you can still keep adding to it from your kitchen and yard scraps. This goldmine of nutrients provides countless benefits to your soil and the environment. Just remember to turn it occasionally. You may also want to protect the pile from leaching rain with a tarp.
January is also the time when seed and plant catalogs start arriving in the mail. Rather than going hog wild and buying everything that looks good in the photos, ask yourself what you want from your garden, how much time you have to invest, and what worked well (and what didn’t) over the past year. The job of those catalogs is to sell seeds. Your job, as a gardener, is to consider your soil, microclimate, and personal preferences. Does an existing bed need updating? Do you want to try your hand at something new? You can use garden themes to help with plant selection:
As you design this year's gardens, try to keep them accessible to all your helpers and visitors.
If you have established trees and roses, January is an excellent time for pruning. The only exception is apricot, which must be pruned in summer to avoid eutypa dieback. Each species of tree has characteristics that make different methods of pruning more effective than others. Proper tree training can increase production while reducing pest and disease problems. This is also the time to start collecting scions for grafting.
Pest and disease prevention
While most pests are gone or dormant in winter, January is a good time to prevent spring infestations and infections with horticultural oil, fixed copper, Bt, and other treatments. If you had problems with soft scale last year, horticultural oil will do the trick. If your nectarines showed signs of peach leaf curl, protect them with fixed copper. Applying Bt in winter can prevent many fungal diseases later in the year. Some of those treatments should be applied when a plant is in full dormancy while others should be applied during the delayed dormant period, so it is good to know the difference. Also, be careful about mixing products. Applying them too close together can cause more harm than good.
In most places, January soil is best left alone. Wet or frozen, this is not the time to be digging. Your plants and soil will benefit from mulch, however. Mulch holds the day’s warmth and improves the soil for spring plantings and new growth. Just be sure that mulch stays several inches away from trunks and stems, to prevent fungal disease and pest infestations.
January is also the perfect time to clean, repair, and sharpen your garden tools. Start by cleaning them with bathroom disinfectant to kill off pathogens and remove debris. Then, use a wood file, rasp, or tool sharpener to bring back that clean edge. Finally, apply some mineral oil to prevent rust. Your tools will last longer and work better with just a little bit of care. This is also a good time to clean your pots in preparation for spring. Be sure to wash all your pots and unused containers with a household cleaner, such as Lysol, to prevent the spread of disease.
Start your gardening year with clean, sharpened tools, a little preventive work, and a plan for a successful growing season! Happy New Year!