January Garden Tips
Recent nighttime temperatures have been cold, many nights into freezing; continue to monitor weather forecasts for nighttime lows and protect frost-tender plants such as Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Citrus, Tibuchina, etc. You can use an anti-desiccant such as Cloudcover, and when frost is actually predicted, cover the plants with sheets or lightweight blankets or burlap. A strand of incandescent Christmas lights in a tree is often enough to protect the plant from frost, as well (and you get decoration!) This also might be a good time to yank the plant that can’t stand the cold and replace it with something more appropriate to your climate zone.
- Clear Vegetation as Soon as Possible. Bird nesting season is March 1st to August 31st. It is important not to clear brush and trees during this period in order to protect our bird populations. University of California Master Gardeners of Sonoma County, the Sonoma Ecology Center and the Habitat Corridor Project have joined forces to produce an excellent and informative article on the nesting habits of some of our favorite native birds that might visit your property, and how to manage fire safety requirements while protecting the birds.
- Bareroot shrubs and trees will begin appearing in nurseries; this is a good way to plant many fruit trees and shrubs and roses. If you can’t plant your bare-root plant the day that you buy it, submerge the roots in a bucket of water for 24 hours and plant as soon as you can.
- Roses should be pruned any time between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. Be careful not to compact the soil around the plants with your feet when you prune. Prune hard, down to 3-4 young, vigorous canes per plant.
Feed your lawn with organic fertilizer every six weeks throughout the winter which will keep it healthy but not produce tremendous bursts of growth which will require frequent mowings.
- Clean, oil and store tools such as shovels, hoes, pruners, etc. Use light machine oil on metal parts to prevent rust.
- While you are cleaning, consider spray painting the handles of the tools a fun color. It’s a great way to keep your tools separate from any that you happen to borrow or lend out, and it makes them easier to find in the yard.
- Don’t forget to take care of your mower blades. Your winter gardening break is the perfect opportunity to have your blades sharpened to give your grass that clean cut it deserves come spring. Sharp blades mean a cleaner cut and a better looking lawn.
- Prune pines and other dormant conifers. Don’t trim back individual branches (and whatever you do, don’t top them!) Rather, thin trees where necessary by pruning out entire branches.
- Begin to cut back deciduous ornamental grasses (see accompanying article). You can wait until February or March if you like the existing structure.
- Winter is the season when rats forage—and damage—our plants. If you have had problems in the past or if your neighbors have noticed rats, put out traps early before the rats devour fruit trees, vines, climbing roses and the like.
- Rats favor heavy cover like overgrown ivy. If you have ivy, the best time to prune is winter, because the growth has slowed and the roots are still somewhat soft. If you wait until spring, the ivy will be in full growth season and will quickly grow back, and the roots will have the opportunity to grab hold, which will make it harder to remove.
- January is a great month to think about garden design and plan for spring plantings. The solstice is behind us and the days have started to lengthen; use this remaining ‘indoor time’ to review favorite garden books, make notes and designs and compose plant lists.