January Gardening By the Month

“Often when you think you are at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”-Mr. Rogers


(Have a happy and safe New Year!)


blow-22207_6401st WEEK:

Protect tender plants with covers (like N-sulate) or mulch when freezes are forecast.  Remember that plastic and/or cloth over a plant or a greenhouse will heat up if the sun appears.  Be prepared to open it up for ventilation.  (Plastic directly against leaves in a freeze can actually conduct heat away and freeze-burn the leaves.)-BT

Cut off (just) the frozen tops of lantanas, firebush, poinciana, esperanza and other root-hardy plants and perennials at any time.  If the brown foliage and stems don’t bother you, leave them, until early spring, as shelters for birds and as an area for them to search out food.

Do not be too quick to toss plants that appear to be frost-damaged.  If the cold was not severe, the stems might not be damaged.

This also a good time to relocate small trees and shrubs, remembering to remove at least half of the top growth to compensate for root loss.  Still a good time to plant new trees and shrubs to allow roots to develop before hot weather arrives.

Midwinter is a good time to plant fruit trees and pecans.  If you are in heavy clay soil, use an 8′ x 8′ raised bed for fruit trees.  If you have enough room for a pecan, consider the Pawnee variety.  It matures early, has aphid resistance and makes an attractive tree.

Enjoy blooming alyssum, dianthus and pansies.

Plant tulip, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs no later than the first part of this month.  Plant Anemone and ranunculus bulbs late in this month. – NS

For terrific tulips guaranteed, you need to think “heads up”!  Learn how to tell the nose of a tulip bulb from its toes.  Then, plant it nose up.  If you plant it upside down, the plant will waste a lot of energy better spent on flower production. – JB

Take advantage of bad weather (or holiday, any reason will do!) to study Texas A&M’s Plant Answers Web site at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/.

Finish planting spring flowering narcissus bulbs.

Plant cutback perennial areas in the flowerbed with pansies, violas, larkspur or bluebonnets. – EO

Use a water-soluble, complete-and-acid analysis fertilizer such as 30-10-10, to new annual flower transplants for quickest start.

Use (same as above) 30-10-10 fertilizer monthly in diluted (at least half strength) form for houseplants during dark days of mid-winter.

Watch houseplants for signs of mealy bugs, spider mites, scales and other pests.  Use tender houseplant spray as needed.

Use dormant (“horticultural”) oil to eliminate scale insects on hollies, camellias, euonymus, photinias, oaks, and pecans, fruit trees during winter.  Read and follow label directions as they pertain to temperature and rainfall. – NS

Be sure outdoor plants are well-watered.  Cold weather can damage plants that are too dry.  Prune summer-flowering shrubs and vines such as crape myrtle, althea and trumpet vine.

Get cold frames ready for vegetable seedlings and flowering transplants. – LR


st augustine grass png2nd WEEK:

Water your St. Augustine grass lawn deeply if temperatures of 24 degrees are forecast.

Have soil tested for pH level in lawn and raised beds.  Add acidifying iron supplements to acid-loving plants and replenish their pine bark or pine needle mulch.

If the weather has been favorable, this is a good time to fertilize “Texas Gold” columbines, irises, paperwhites and other perennials putting on growth for early spring blooms.  Use organic fertilizer (1/2 cup) or slow-release lawn fertilizer (1/4 cup) per plant.

Spray dormant oil on roses, fruit trees and pecans when we have 2 consecutive days of temperatures over 45 deg.  The oil is an effective control for scale, phylloxera and other wintering insects.  (See earlier note from NS.)

Plant tulips now for early spring blooms.

Acorns or pecans collected now can be planted immediately in containers.  Avoid nuts with holes.  Small oak and pecan trees will emerge in spring.

It is time to replant sweet peas and English peas if the cold weather destroyed the seedlings.  Deer also love the seedlings.

Order seeds for spring vegetable and flower gardens. – CF

Prepare garden beds for spring planting by working in organic matter.

Celebrate the New Year by planting a tree, or maybe “sponsoring” one!  Stop by and visit that tree to see if it is doing better than your resolutions!

Prune, or clean out perennials killed or damaged by frost.

Now is a great time to build walkways and retaining walls.

When pruning and clearing evergreen shrubs, compost or chip the clippings so they can be recycled in your garden.

Fertilize blooming plants such as pansies, dianthus and flowering kale to keep blooms coming.

Use slug bait (or traps) to control snails and slugs on bedding plants.

Finalize vegetable garden in preparation for planting next month.  Consider adding drip or soaker irrigation for more efficient watering.

Control winter weeds with regular mowing or completely removing them (especially the roots, any parts remaining will resprout) by hand or with a weeding tool.

Side-dress leafy vegetables and onions with a slow-release fertilizer every two to four weeks. – LR


silver-313347_6403rd WEEK:

This is the beginning of the coldest part of winter (Jan.15 to Feb.15), though it may be hard to believe at times. – me

January is a good month to prune oak trees.  Oak wilt is not active in the coldest part of winter.  Still follow-up with pruning paint (or better, with a latex paint).

Wear old clothes when handling frozen banana stalks.  Their oozing sap stains everything.

Go after “Christmas tree” mulch at the Bitters Rd. Brush Site.

Start tomatoes, peppers and warm-weather seeds now so they will be ready for 1 gal. or larger containers in early March. Place incandescent Christmas tree lights under plant trays, plugging them in nightly, to provide stocky growth. It works!

Harvest brussels sprouts from the bottom of the stalk as they mature.  You will have the healthful greens through late spring.

Be careful not to overwater bluebonnets.  They are very sensitive to soggy conditions.

Watch for caterpillars on cabbage, Texas mountain laurel and bluebonnets.  They can strip plants quickly.  Spray with Bt., Spinosad, Sevin or Malathion. – CF

Prune mondograss and liriope back to maintain symmetry in the foliage and to remove tattered leaves that survived the previous summer.  You don’t have to prune the grasses every year, but, if they need a trim, it’s fine to cut.  Use sharp shears (probably the best choice) to cut through their fibrous leaves.  Don’t let your cutting device tear the leaves or pull them loose.  Finish the trimming before the new growth starts to emerge in late winter.

Nandinas are pruned unlike almost any other plant.  Your ultimate goal should be to have plants that are full and compact clear to the ground.  Even in the dwarf forms, their tendency is to grow tall and lanky.  You should remove the tallest canes at the ground late each winter.  As an example, if a given plant has 10 stalks, cut the tallest 4 or 5 stems within an inch or 2 of the soil line.  That way, as they resprout and grow, the new foliage will fill in lower voids. – NS

Plan new flowerbeds and design drip-irrigation systems for beds to conserve water and provide good moisture coverage. Check old drip lines and emitters for breaks and clogs from mineral build-up.

Select bare-root fruit trees and balled-and-burlapped trees, shrubs and vines from nurseries for planting.

Check for bagworms on narrow-leaf evergreens such as junipers and cedars.  Pull and destroy them (could feed them to birds – me). – LR


cyclamen-11290_6404th WEEK:

Spray selective grass herbicides in wildflower patches to remove cold-season grasses.

Cauliflower that is not covered will turn yellow.  Secure the leaves over the head with rubber bands or clothespins for pure white heads.

Onion plants are available at the nurseries for planting. Plant them 3 in. apart and harvest every other plant for green onions.  Large bulbs will be ready to harvest in May.

Spinach is available in nurseries as transplants. It will provide nutritious greens for salads all winter and spring.

For shady, sheltered areas or containers, consider primula and cyclamen for winter color.

Do not fertilize your lawn now (does not matter how warm it might be or what’s coming up green!).  Only the winter weeds will benefit.  Wait until May 1st.  Aerate and top-dress your lawn with compost (1/2″ for St. Augustine and ¼” for Bermuda grasses) to restore compacted soil.

Bunny Bloom larkspurs should be available now or soon in the nurseries.  Plant them in full sun or in a location that receives morning sun. – CF

Finalize your vegetable garden design in preparation for planting next month.  Consider adding drip or soaker irrigation for more efficient watering.

Work compost or manure into beds in preparation for spring vegetable planting. Back to Nature Acidified Cotton Burr Compost and Ladybug Revitalizer are still two of the best.


Please note, most of the information shared here was obtained from Research-based sources (see contributors acknowledgements below), and from individuals who are considered very knowledgeable on a particular subject.

Many thanks to my contributors:

CF – Calvin Finch, Bexar Co. extension agent for horticulture, Texas Agriculture Extension Service (courtesy S.A. Express-News)

NS – Neil Sperry, Texas horticulturalist, Publisher “Neil Sperry’s GARDENS” and contributor to S.A. Express-News; visit his website at www.neilsperry.com

JB – Jerry Baker, America’s Master Gardener, aka “The Yardener”.

EO – Edna Ortiz, Bexar Co. extension agent for horticulture, Texas Agriculture Extension Service (courtesy S.A. Express-News)

WBC – Wild Birds Centers

LR – Lynn Rawe, Bexar Co. extension agent for horticulture, Texas Cooperative Extension Service (courtesy S.A. Express-News); visit their website at www.bexar-tx.tamu.edu.