Gardening Notes For January

January always begins with the festivities of the Holliday Season, but the reality of short and often cloudy days, cold temperatures and a sleeping garden soon return.  This year is certainly no different, although there is no frigid weather on the horizon!  We now have the leisure of working in the Garden when the time or the weather suits our schedule, since it is a time when the garden stands still.  Continue your journals while taking note of the temperatures, snowfall and rain amounts and the sightings of visiting birds, all while enjoying your favorite winter beverage.

Things to do: 

  • Plain your vegetable and annual gardens!  As seed catalogues begin to appear in the mailbox, keep your design handy so you do not buy more seed than is needed.
  • Reread your journal from the past year.  Take note of some of the major problems you encountered in 2016 (or even 2015) that can be resolved in 2017.
  • Study the winter bones of the garden.  During the calm of winter, give thought to improvements that can be made for a more colorful winter garden, such as the planting of Red Stemmed Dogwoods or Willows, views that need to be screened, etc.
  • Take care of your tools!  Sharpen, clean, oil and otherwise repair saws and pruners.  Sharpen the cutting edge of spades and lawnmower blades, repair the handles of shovels and wheelbarrows or any other tool placed on the ‘to be fixed’ pile.  Compose a list of tools to purchase that are in a state beyond repair.
  • Start to evaluate pruning needs.  Typically, most pruning is completed in January through late March, with the heaviest pruning reserved for late February and early March.  January is the time to evaluate plants for heavy cuts, and to begin structural work, shaping and thinning of small trees and shrubs.  All rubbing or potentially rubbing branches should be removed as well as any necessary shaping.  Suckers (vigorous shoots originating from the roots) should be removed and water sprouts (vigorous shoots originating from branches) should be thinned.  If you have any remaining questions, consider taking the pruning class at Rutgers Gardens on March 4, from 9-12am!
  • Cut some branches of winter blooming Witchhazels (Hamamelis hybrids), Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox), Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) or Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) to force and enjoy indoors.
  • If snow is absent, start cutting back Hellebore Hybrids (Helleborus x hybridus) towards the end of January.  Helleborus niger ‘Joseph Lemper’ has already begun to bloom, and if a warm February is to follow, it will continue to initiate blooming. It is easier to remove the foliage when the buds are not present.
  • Check any potted plants that you have in a warm garage or basement for watering needs.  Keep them on the dry side so they do not begin to push vigorous growth.
  • If you have Colocasia or Alocasia tubers stored in a peat, potting soil mix or wood chips for the winter, lightly water the mix periodically to prevent desiccation.  Or, if they were left in their containers, water them lightly and check for spider mites, especially in the case of any Alocasia that were brought indoors as house plants.  If you do have spider mites, wash the leaves thoroughly with regular tap water – obviously, this is more easily accomplished if you can bring the plant outside on a warmer day.  If the temperatures remain cold, you can simply wipe down the leaves and stems with a moist rag.
  • By and large, most of your houseplants need to be kept on the dry side during winter, as too much water will cause root or crown decay.  Put your Poinsettias, Amaryllis or Cyclamen in a sunny southern window and water when the top of the soil becomes dry. 
  • If you have Coleus, succulents or other easy to root annuals in containers, you may wish to start cuttings of new plants in late January, building up your supply for the summer garden.  With succulents, you can often place a leaf or a cutting on a table and over a period of several weeks, it will sprout roots, following which, it can be potted.
  • Repair fences!  Perennials, vegetables, vines or other plants that resent foot traffic typically surround many fences and prevent access during the growing season.
  • Set-up and fill bird feeders.
  • Remove snow from hedges and tightly grown plants to prevent breakage, should it actually snow this year!
  • Most important – pour yourself a cup of good tea or a glass of wine to celebrate your garden accomplishments of 2016.  Personal accomplishments deserve a personal reward and no one knows those accomplishments better than you!