The Ornamental Garden in January
January is a time for new beginnings. It’s the perfect time of year to take stock of your ornamental garden without the distraction of foliage. It’s a good time to recall what worked or didn’t work in last year’s garden and to imagine all the possibilities for the new growing season to come. What better time to get started on the new year’s garden than right now – in the dead of winter.
First, assess your landscape. While the garden is dormant, take a stroll through your property and really look at it with a critical eye. Are there projects you need to tackle, such as taming an erosion problem on a steep slope? Do you need to correct a poor drainage problem? Are you thinking about installing new plantings? Or do you want to improve the “bones” of your garden? Are there fences that need to be either mended or replaced? Think about any changes you would like to make over the coming growing season and use this time to devise a strategy and a schedule for each project. If you need the help of a contractor, now is a good time to contact one for a consultation before the spring gardening “rush.”
Inspect all trees and shrubs for any that need attention in February or March. In addition to plantings that need to be shaped, pruned, or thinned to control size, look for suckers (shoots that grow from the roots of a tree), branches that rub together, watershoots (weak shoots that sprout from tree branches), and broken, dead or diseased branches.
Inspect perennials for frost heaving. This applies particularly to plants that were newly planted this past fall. Frost heaving (alternate freezing and thawing cycles) can push a plant out of the ground. Firmly re-position any heaved plants back into the soil and add a layer of mulch around the crown. This will help protect the roots from freezing temperatures and from drying out.
As you stroll through your yard, avoid stepping into your ornamental garden beds. Otherwise, you may inadvertently compact the soil.
There’s very little outdoor work that you can do in January. So take advantage of your gardening “down time” to perform all those chores that weren’t completed during the growing season. Now is a good time, for example, to inspect, clean, sharpen, and oil your gardening tools. This includes shovels, hoes, pruners, saws, loppers, and hedge trimmers. Don’t forget to inspect your wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, and any other gardening equipment or tools you own. While you’re at it, make a list of any tools you want to add to your inventory and any that need to be replaced.
Clean and sterilize flower pots that you are storing for future use. This will prevent the potential transfer of disease pathogens to new plantings. Use a stiff brush to remove dirt and debris from all pot surfaces. Then soak the pots in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water for 15 minutes. Rinse, dry and store pots.
Inspect tender bulbs and tubers such as dahlias, canna lilies, elephant ears, or gladiolas that you are overwintering in your garage or other cool location. Check to make sure the temperature in the storage area is above freezing. Also inspect the bulbs or tubers periodically to make sure they are still plump and free of mold. If they appear shriveled, spray them with just enough water to barely moisten them.
Harden off a live evergreen tree that was bought for Christmas by moving it to a partially shady spot. After a week or two, move it into full sun. Keep the root ball moist and do not allow it to dry out, particularly if there is a long stretch of dry weather.
Gently brush snow away from shrubs and trees after a snowfall to minimize breakage. If branches are coated with ice, don’t attempt to remove it. Just let it melt.
Be careful when using de-icing products on walkways, steps, or other icy surfaces. They may damage nearby plants. Try using sand instead. If that’s not a reasonable solution, calcium chloride does less damage to plants than sodium chloride.
Last but not least, gather up all those gardening catalogs that have appeared in the mail this winter, curl up with them in your favorite easy chair, and indulge yourself in dreams of gardens to come.