While there is still some cold weather ahead of us, early blooming narcissus and the bright red blooms of quince remind me that January is the unofficial beginning of the spring garden season in the south. There are several garden tasks that can be done in January, but the main two are tomato planting and tree work. When the weather allows, take advantage of the milder temperatures to do some of your more labor-intensive tasks like moving perennials, working compost into your beds and spreading mulch.
Vegetable and Herb Gardens
If you want to be successful with tomatoes in the south you have to beat the heat! Tomato production declines rapidly when daytime temps are in the 90s and night time temps are in the 80s. The best way to do this is to plant large, healthy tomato plants that already have flowers on them as soon as your last frost date passes. Since it takes about three months to get a large, healthy plant, the time to plant those seeds is now. There are a million ways to start tomato seeds, but the long and short is, get those tiny seeds into some sort of potting media now.
Tomatoes require more care than most of our southern vegetables. If you want to have your best tomato year ever you will need to tend them every month. Here is a great article that lays out all the key tasks you should be doing each year to produce your best tomato crop ever.
Perennial and Annual Bloomers
There is still time to plant transplants of pansy, viola (Johnny Jump Ups), snap dragons and ornamental kale and cabbage. If you can find them, you can also plant dianthus and alyssum transplants. Water these in with a dilute liquid fertilizer product to get them established quickly in your beds and pots.
Fruit and Nuts
Fruit trees are finally dormant across the Gulf South. This means that now is the best time to plant new ones, prune established ones and continue pest control on all of them.
Skip Richter, Extension Horticulturist, Brazos County, once said that if all trees were trimmed properly, we would never have to use anything larger than a set of hand pruners to do it. What this means is that the best and easiest way to prune is to research the growth habits of a particular tree species and then start shaping them when they are very young.
I will venture to say that pruning is the most misunderstood task in a homeowners garden – and the one that has the biggest consequence if done incorrectly. If you want to learn more about properly pruning your trees, you will want to check out his Texas Gardener article entitled “Keys to Proper Pruning”.
If you moved some of your plants indoors for the winter, be sure to give them as much light as possible. Not only are light levels in the house lower than the great outdoors, shorter days during our winter season mean most indoor plants tend to be a little light starved. If possible, move the plants outside on pleasant days or place them in front of south facing windows to catch the most sun.