By Peyton Ellas
UCCE Master Gardener
Happy New Year! Hopefully this is a month of continuing snow, rain, fog and misty mornings. That’s just what our climate-adapted gardens want. Although growth slows down in the cold soils of winter, growth continues underground. Our winter and early-spring blooming shrubs, bulbs and perennials love all this frosty damp weather and the opportunity to develop a healthy root system. And what moisture is not used can be stored deep in the soil for later use.
PLANTING: Although we can plant year-round, we usually delay most planting until the (relatively) warmer days of mid to late February. The exception is plants purchased as “bare root.” January is the traditional month for bare root planting of everything from roses to fruit trees, berry and grape vines, and some vegetables. Here are some tips:
- Bare root fruit trees – Apples, apricot, cherries, figs, pears, plums and many others are now available. Check their pollination requirements; not all fruit trees are self-fertile, and some will require a cross pollinator. Notice the number of chill hours required. Our winters usually average 700-800 chilling hours.
- Bare root roses – Hybrid teas, floribundas, climbers, miniatures and shrubs are available. All do very well in the San Joaquin valley.
- Bare root berries and grapes – Plant grape vines, cane boysenberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. There is nothing like fresh-grown berries, and they are so easy to grow.
- Vegetables – Asparagus crowns, artichokes, horseradish, lettuce, peas, and rhubarb can be planted now. Hold off planting new citrus or sub-tropical plants because of the potential for frost damage. Better to wait until spring.
MAINTAINING: We have less to do in January, but there are a couple of chores that are perfect to do this month. One of them is spraying roses, deciduous flowering trees and deciduous fruit trees with winter horticultural oil to smother overwintering insects like spider mites, scales, mealy bugs, and peach twig borers. Spray the branches, crotches, trunk, and the ground beneath the tree’s drip line. Hold off spraying if rain is forecast, or if the temperature is below 45 degrees, and never spray oil on walnut trees. If you didn’t spray your peach or nectarine tree for peach leaf curl in November or December, spray now with a copper-based or a synthetic fungicide. You don’t have to apply horticultural oil if you are lucky enough not to have these specific pests, but if you’ve had a problem every spring, summer or fall, be proactive now and keep your trees and roses healthier year-round.
The other main chore of January is pruning deciduous trees, shrubs and roses. Keep pruners & loppers sharp. Sterilize the pruners or loppers in between plants. Use a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) or white vinegar. Remove all broken, diseased, or crossing branches first. Two basic cutting techniques are used in general pruning: thinning and heading. Thinning cuts remove entire branches, resulting in a more natural look. Thinning cuts are also used to allow more air circulation and light into the interior of the tree, and are the cuts to make first. You might want to take a break midway through and step back to examine the tree from a short distance. You want to end up with a tree that looks balanced and well-structured. Heading cuts shorten branches and should only be used on small branches. Use heading cuts judiciously to shorten over-long branches. You can take off about a quarter of the previous season’s growth on these newer smaller branches if you want to keep the tree smaller. Make sure to cut back to an outward facing bud to direct new growth away from the interior of the tree. Prune from the bottom up and from the inside of the plant to the outside. Don’t be too nervous about it. Healthy trees will recover and regrow.
January is also a good month to apply pre-emergent herbicide. Read and follow the package directions carefully. If you don’t choose to use chemical weed control, lightly till your young seedling weeds frequently to keep your garden beds fairly free of weeds, and hand pick the remainder. You may also replenish mulch this month or top dress with finished compost. Finally, don’t forget to monitor or turn off your irrigation controller. You will want to deep water if we have an extended dry period, but don’t waste water and all the resources it takes for the water to get to the sprinkler or drip emitter if we don’t need it.
CONSERVING: One of my favorite winter chores is chipping the brush pile we’ve created all year on our rural property. It always feels like a gloomy foggy day is perfect for putting in the earplugs, putting on the cap and gloves and firing up the chipper. We use these non-diseased trimmings and leaves as a natural mulch in many of our flower beds, and we add a little of the smaller trimmings to the compost bins. If we don’t get to every pile, we call it a bird shelter and don’t fret. Another winter job is to make new bee nesting boxes or repair older ones as needed. Often our older ones have filled tubes, meaning they are “in use.” We also check to make sure spiders or earwigs aren’t hanging out nearby waiting to eat the bee larvae inside the tubes. To learn more about this great way to support solitary nesting native bees, visit the Xerxes.org web site.
As we are make plans and goals for the year, we consider how we are creating and managing our patch of the earth. If we farm, can we plant a hedgerow? In all types and sizes of gardens, can we use “least toxic first” pest control methods, tolerate a little wildness in parts of the garden, grow some plants just for the birds, pollinators, lizards, toads or even small mammals, tolerate some damage in order to keep the chain of life healthy? Your garden, even in January, should be busy with natural activity. If no one visits except the weekly gardener, you are missing out: the garden can be and do so much more!
The UCCE Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions each Saturday at the Visalia Farmer’s Market in the Sears parking lot from 8 to 11 a.m. They will also be at Ralph Moore Rose Garden (Hall and Main) and Tulare County Courthouse Roses in Visalia from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18; and the Old Grangeville Church in Hanford from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20.