January is usually a fairly quiet month in the garden. Peek planting time is still a few months away, and colder winters temperatures have most of us preferring to stay inside with a good book or movie instead of working outside in the yard. Now is a great time to curl up with the many plant catalogs that may be arriving in your mailbox this time of year. Make some plans. Start a gardening journal, if you haven't already, and fill it with designs for new planting beds and plants you'd like to try out this spring. Make note of what has worked for you in the past, and what hasn't. Then, when the time is ready, you will be that much ahead of the game. Even though January is not a prime planting time, we have been blessed so far this year with an extremely mild winter. So much so, that if you haven't yet put in all the trees and shrubs you were wishing to this past fall, it's not too late to do so now. As long as the ground isn't frozen, go ahead and plant now. Be sure to regularly water your new transplants to help them get established and build strong root systems before the heat of next summer kicks in. Give them a 3-4" layer of mulch around their roots to help protect them from the elements, too.
Here's a few other gardening tips for the month of January.
Care for Your Bulbs
If you're going to be preparing a new border for bulbs, now is a good time to mix compost, lime, or other soil amendments into the bed. Don't dig if the soil is too wet and clings to your shovel. If that's the case, wait a few days for the soil to dry out some first.
If a few warmer days of winter have produced new shoots from your bulbs to appear, don't worry. The leaves are quite cold tolerant and don't require any special protection. If they are damaged, expect new leaves to emerge later.
Do maintain a blanket of mulch at the feet of your bulbs. Without it, repeated freezing and thawing of the ground can lift the bulbs out of the ground, leaving them to dry out or be harmed by the cold.
Lawns usually require little care at this time of year. Keep your eye out for winter annuals popping up, such as common chickweed and henbit, and hand-pull as necessary. To reduce winter damage, avoid walking on a frozen lawn. And although this is not peek planting time, sod can be installed anytime the soil isn't frozen. Newly sodded areas should be moist for the roots to "take". Water immediately after sodding to wet the soil to a depth of 3 or 4 inches. Don't let the soil dry out until the sod has "knitted" into the soil.
Do not fertilize at this time.
If mowing is necessary, remove no more than one-third of the grass height. Now is a great time to get the blades on your mower sharpened and ready for spring.
Except for the removal of dead, damaged, or diseased branches, avoid any major pruning until after the coldest part of winter has passed. Pruning now will stimulate new growth which can yet be damaged by harsh winter weather. Before you prune out a limb that looks dead, scrape the bark and look at the underlying tissue. A green layer indicates live tissue.
If you haven't already pruned your ornamental grasses back, wait a bit longer. As long as they haven't been damaged by weather, wind, ice, or snow, just enjoy their glorious winter foliage.
These few winter gardening tips should help keep your yard in good shape for now. Next time I'll be back with tips on starting your perennial, vegetable, and herb seeds indoors for transplant later. Until then, for all your planting and care tips, remember that our friendly experts are on hand seven days a week with answers for all your gardening questions.