January Tips For the Ornamental Gardener

January Tips For the Ornamental Gardener

  • By Susan Martin
  • /
  • January 2021-Vol7 No.1
  • /


The world hasn’t stopped blooming in January! As described in the January calendar for the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, look for:


The average coldest temperatures in Charlottesville occur in January. Historically, January is also the driest month. Therefore, our tasks should include:

Check for frost-heave. The freeze-thaw cycle can push the crowns of perennials or other shallow-rooted plants up out of the ground. Take a walk around and gently set perennial plants back into the ground. Push mulch back around the plant, or if not mulched, set some leaves or evergreen boughs around it.

Water! Be especially careful that newly planted trees, and fall-planted perennials and shrubs have enough water. The guideline for watering newly planted trees during the dormant months (November-March) is about one gallon per inch of caliper (trunk diameter at 12″ above the ground) per week. It is recommended that the weekly watering should be spread over 2-3 days, if possible. For newly planted shrubs, a rough guideline is about 10 seconds with the hose per gallon of plant. If your shrub came in a 3-gallon container, water 2-3 gallons per plant, or about 30 seconds with the hose. These are approximations. The important thing is to not let plants dry out, without over-watering. If we have a wet January, extra watering will be less of an issue.

Protect evergreen shrubs and trees from heavy snow and ice damage.  See the December issue of The Garden Shed for ways to prevent damage, and how to handle heavy snow and ice removal.

Don’t forget the birds! In addition to planting bushes and trees that provide berries, we can also provide extra food and water from November-April to help the birds when natural food sources are less plentiful.

According to Cornell’s Project FeederWatch, bird feeders should be cleaned once every two weeks. Take the feeder apart and remove any visible debris. Then, soak the feeder for 10 minutes in a diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water), or soak for one hour in a weak vinegar solution (1 part white vinegar to 4 parts water), and then scrub with a clean bottle brush. Rinse thoroughly and let dry completely before refilling with seed. Make sure that water sources are not frozen, and set them in an open space at levels that help provide protection from predators.


The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event,  February 12-15, 2021, and report their sightings online at birdcount.org.


The beautiful structure of deciduous trees against a blue winter sky is an awe-inspiring aspect of a winter garden. Bare limbs covered with snow offers another, starker kind of beauty. This bareness also reveals the garden’s structure, both its winning design elements, and some elements you may consider wanting. Use this time to decide what types of changes you’d like to make. See this article from The Garden Shed, “Reflections on the Winter Landscape,” for design ideas and plant recommendations.



Cyclamen persicum Photo: Susan Martin

There are many household plants to consider, but I have been enjoying red-blooming cyclamen as an alternative to poinsettia for the holidays. The genus, Cyclamen, contains about 20 species which are all native to the Mediterranean region. Hardy cyclamen species are small perennials for shade or part shade. The houseplant, or florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), is a tuberous potted plant that flowers during the winter months. It has lovely, heart-shaped green foliage mottled with silver, and blooms in shades of white, pink, rose, purple, and red. The flowers are available in single, double, fringed, crested, and frilled forms. Cyclamen has a mounded growth habit, and ranges in size from 6-16” in height.

Cyclamen prefers cool temperatures and bright indirect light. Ideal daytime temperatures are 60- 65°F with night temperatures around 50°F. Bud failure can occur when temperatures reach above 70°F. Avoid placing cyclamen plants near heat vents, as this will cause the soil to dry out too quickly. Cyclamen prefers to be kept moist, but not soggy. Water when the potting medium feels dry to the touch, and always water along the edge of the pot, or from below, to avoid causing the tuber to rot. Like poinsettia, cyclamen can be made to bloom again next season if rather persnickety requirements are met, but many people discard them after their 4-week bloom is finished


Cyclamen Mites and Broad Mites

Cyclamen mite (Stenotarsonemus pallidus), and broad mite (Acari) are microscopic mites that can be serious pests of a wide range of plants including: African violet, cyclamen, begonia, snapdragon, impatiens, gerbera, ivy, and many indoor tropical plants. The mites are generally not detected until after they have caused significant damage, and then only with the aid of a dissecting microscope. Cyclamen mites avoid light, and prefer high humidity and cool temperatures (60° F.), the same cool temperatures that cyclamen plants prefer. Feeding by the mites causes stunted growth with leaves generally curling upward. Leaves become stiffened and brittle. Flower buds fail to open, or flowers are deformed or reduced. Broad mites are even smaller than cyclamen mites and generally go undetected until symptoms appear. They reproduce most prolifically at temperatures between 70-80° F. Typically, adults cause deformed leaves which usually curl downward, and reduced flowering. Bronzing or purpling of the leaves commonly occurs on the underside of leaves where the mites feed.

Broad mites (Acari) on cyclamen Photo: Missouri Botanical Garden

Mites can easily spread from leaf-to-leaf contact, or from hands and clothing. The first line of attack is to separate infected plants, then spray the entire plant, especially the undersides of the leaves, with a stream of water from a hose or a sink sprayer. Cyclamen mites and broad mites are very sensitive to heat. They seem to be more difficult to control in winter than in summer, probably due to cooler temperatures. Submerging infested plants into water held at 110°F for 15-30 minutes will destroy these mites without damaging the plants. It can be difficult, however, to control a constant temperature. Insecticidal soap may also be used. You may decide to discard infected plants to keep the mites from spreading.





With the shortest day of the year behind us, it won’t be long until spring. Let’s enjoy this quieter time of the year and look for the beauty that January brings. Notice the beautiful blooms of hellebores, winter jasmine, native and nonnative witch hazels, snowdrops, early-blooming daffodils, and some species of mahonias. Notice the garden structure that’s revealed in winter, and note changes you’d like to make. Be mindful that the garden and the wildlife it shelters still need attention. Keep the bird feeders filled and cleaned; put out water; prepare for the Great Backyard Bird Count. While snuggling inside, check the December 2020 issue of The Garden Shed for a great list of garden books to enjoy.


Past January Issues of  The Garden Shed:

2016, 2017,  2018,  2019,  2020

“What’s in Bloom,” Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, https://www.lewisginter.org/visit/gardens/whats-in-bloom/january-blooms/

Weather Atlas, https://www.weather-us.com/en/virginia-usa/charlottesville-weather-january#climate_text_1

“Tips for the December Ornamental Gardener, The Garden Shed, https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/december-tips-for-the-ornamental-gardener/

“Safe Feeding Environment,” The CornellLab, Project FeederWatch, https://feederwatch.org/learn/feeding-birds/safe-feeding-environment/

Great Backyard Bird Count, https://www.birdcount.org/

“Reflections on the Winter Landscape,” The Garden Shed, https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/reflections-on-the-winter-landscape/

“Cyclamen,” Clemson Cooperative Extension, https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/cyclamen/

“Cyclamen Mite in the Greenhouse,” University of Kentucky Entomology, https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef422

“Cyclamen Mite and Broad Mite in Ornamental Plants,” NC State Extension, https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/cyclamen-mite-and-broad-mite

“Cyclamen and Broad Mites,” Missouri Botanical Garden, https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems/insects/mites/cyclamen-and-broad-mites.aspx

“Books Every Gardener Should Have,” The Garden Shed, https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/books-every-gardener-should-have/

Feature Photo: Sinking Hellebore (Helleborous foetidus) by Robert Flogaus-Faust, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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