Vegetable Gardening in January
As is the natural cycle of things, January in the Virginia Piedmont is a period of dormancy and regeneration for our outdoor plants and for gardeners. It is ideally a relaxing time of planning and preparation for the coming spring, with a little bit of hands-on activity just for fun. Here are some ideas for maintaining some continuity while rebuilding energy and enthusiasm:
- If you have mentioned that you are a gardener within earshot of another human or maybe on Facebook, you are undoubtedly receiving a steady stream of seed and gardening supply catalogs. It’s time to recycle all the old ones and review the new ones. Decide what to grow next year and place your orders to assure availability. It makes sense to pay attention to hybrid descriptions and disease resistance. Come summer you’ll be glad you did.
- At the same time, identify old seeds for disposal or test for germination viability.
- If you feel like growing something edible, indoor herbs are a good idea. Best to use fresh potting mix. Moisten the mix well prior to filling a clean container, water after seeding and cover with plastic wrap or similar moisture preserving device until germination occurs. Then add some liquid fertilizer and provide regular care to enjoy fresh herbs before winter’s end.
- Aphids, spider mites, whiteflies and other pests are winter houseplant nemeses. To minimize pest damage, keep new plants separate from plants moved indoors, remove dead/damaged foliage and check plants regularly using a magnifier to watch for pests. Washing with soapy water and placing sticky-card fly traps around plants will help manage pests.
- This is a good time to clean and maintain tools, pots and planters. Both can be scrubbed and then soaked in a 90% water 10% bleach solution. Store off the ground until they are put back into use.
- If you end up with a stack of plastic pots that you don’t need, recycle them. Some local nurseries will take them for their own or community reuse. Lowes has a chain-wide recycling program. Let’s keep plastic out of landfills!
- Ditto for natural Christmas trees. The county has a recycling program for them. There are numerous drop off locations. Trees are ground into mulch which is given to residents free of charge at Darden Towe Park in the spring.
- Used potting soil is best not left in the planter from year to year given the risk of transmitting pathogens to new plants. Ideally, replace it with new material. Composting used potting material after chopping up the root and plant material embedded in it is pretty safe as the heat generated during composting should kill any pathogens and it feels much better than throwing it away.
- While you are into maintenance, it is a good time to look over your garage or garden shed to identify ways to improve organization. Now is a good time to create an improved design, even if it is too cold to comfortably build or install any improvements. Garden shed reorganization is one of my January projects this year.
- Winter is a good time to build a compost batch. Microbial activity slows, but if you’ve gathered leaves into a bin this fall, continuing to add kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps during the winter will provide the nitrogen to boost decomposition as the temperature warms. You should have a nice supply of usable compost for summer planting.
- A key to minimum chemical gardening is to cultivate the most diverse eco-system you can in your yard and garden. Feeding the birds in winter is a good way to keep these helpful predators around for when they are needed. Get some tips on good bird feeder practice in the article Creating a Bird Friendly Garden from the February 2019 issue of The Garden Shed.
- If you burn wood in your fireplace, remember that wood ash is alkaline. It can be mixed with compost or soil but will raise the pH if added in quantity. Not all plants can tolerate alkaline soils. Ornamentals including lilac, weigela, pinks and mock orange as well as vegetables including spinach, beets, corn and cabbage are exceptions. For more info, check the article Wood Ash in the January 2017 issue of The Garden Shed.
- Finally, you can find lots of good reading for a winter afternoon by reviewing past issues of The Garden Shed. A summary of 2019 articles appeared in the December 2019 issue. Or you can go back further using the search key on The Garden Shed’s cover page to find great science-based information on the topics you want to explore.
I hope you find a few items of interest on this list. In any case, enjoy our winter break, even if only to dream about the coming spring.
“Managing Insects on Indoor Plants,” Univ.Minn.Ex.umn.edu
“Plants Grown in Containers: Indoor Containers – Houseplants,”N.C.State Ext.