January jaunts jump start the garden

Ce Cowart Schlicher | WCMG

It’s the start of a New Year. We may or may not have made resolutions of things concerning the garden. January is often thought of as a time for just planning for things to do in the garden in the spring. Nothing could be further from the truth!

January is an excellent time to get a lot of things done. It’s a superb time to plant new trees, especially bare-root fruit and nut trees. It’s the perfect time to get a soil test done (more on that next week). Depending on when a bulb blooms, it may not be too late to either get some in the ground or in a pot. It is definitely the time to do late winter pruning. And speaking of pruning, it’s time to sharpen your tools or find someone to do that for you. It’s a great time to look around for new tools that you might want to use.

The start of 2020 is a good time to identify and prioritize what needs to change in your yard. Do you need to move a plant (now might be the best time). Do you need to budget money to replace a plant? If you are going to replace a plant or two, do you need to take a look at redesigning that spot. Remember, landscapes change over the years.

This is an excellent time to evaluate your lawn. Remember the soil test I mentioned earlier? If your lawn hasn’t been performing up to par the last couple of years, you might want to take a look at what’s changed in the landscape. Often we forget that as our trees grow and age, they cast a deeper shade than most lawns can handle. You have a couple of choices here. You can prune and open the canopy of the tree to allow more light to filter down to your grass. Or, if the tree has just become larger and fuller, you may want to remove the lawn to the drip line of the tree. This will save you a lot of labor and headache trying to force grass to grow where the tree is trying to compete with water and nutrients. The simple solution is to remove the scraggly lawn and place a nice ring of good quality mulch around the tree. Remember, no volcano mulching, please!

January is an excellent time to check your water outlets. Whether you are still dragging hoses around (like I am) or have an irrigation system, now is the time to check the plumbing for pressure, clogs, etc. Open the end of your drip irrigation line system and flush out any sediment. After this, close the system back up and run water through again to check for leaks and clogged emitters. Don’t forget to check the emitters for a uniform drip rate.

Check water hoses for cracks and clogs. If you haven’t already put them up for the winter, at least put them in a place that will ensure that they don’t crack when we have a late freeze (we usually do in early March). I’m guilty of buying cheap hoses, and having to replace them almost yearly. Last year, I spent a little more money and bought better hoses. I ended saving money in the long run.

Just because you put up your Christmas decorations doesn’t mean that it’s time to put up your cold/freeze protection. Check to make sure your protective cloth doesn’t have any holes in it, and that you can get to it quickly if we have a couple of nights that dip below the freeze mark. This is also a good time to look at the old sheets, plastic tablecloths, etc. to be repurposed as freeze guards. Instead of throwing away torn sheets or plastic tablecloths with holes in them, I use them as freeze protection for my tender plants. Never cover a plant with just plastic! Use the sheet or cloth over the plant, and then place the plastic over the sheet or cloth. Actually those fitted sheets with elastic around them are perfect for covering groupings of potted plants on your deck. We have a couple of king-sized, fitted sheets that ended up with tears in them, and they are perfect for covering a grouping of potted plants.

In the vegetable garden, a few days of temperatures hitting close to 70 degrees may bring out some unwanted pests such as aphids or certain unfriendly caterpillars. On these sunny January days, turn your plant leaves over and do a ‘bug check’. Insecticidal soap for aphids or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) for caterpillars can put a stop to produce pilferers pretty well. I’m a big fan of rubber gloves and the smooshing technique for aphids as it’s a little early for our Ladybug larvae to be out.

Speaking of ordering things (like Ladybug larvae to eat aphids), if you haven’t pulled out your seed, bulb or transplant catalogue(s), now is the time. Order sooner than later, because the best varieties sell out first. I’m looking at an heirloom sunflower to put in the Walker County Demonstration Gardens as well as some new pollinator plants for the bees and butterflies. Always make sure that the seed or transplant will work in our Zone 8b. More importantly, make sure that it will work in your soil (plug for a soil test again!).

For more information on ideas to start this month in your garden, give the Master Gardeners a call on Thursdays at the Walker County AgriLife Office at 936-435-2426. We are ‘in’ until noon most Thursdays. The Demonstration Gardens are free and open to the public. You may also email us at walkercomg@gmail.com

The Walker County Extension Office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.