A GROWING CONCERN: Start off on the right foot with garden chores

JANUARY JUST KEEPS marching on. I realize I’ve been a little neglectful in not giving the annual January to-do-list, and that is just not right. So here it is, a list of 12 jobs to keep you busy until I give you another list next month.

1. Garden alert: Rot. Cold gray, rainy days are here to stay— for a few months, anyway. Now is the time to make sure perennials are cut back and the big old leaves stripped away and mulched. Check all perennials for signs of rot or mildew. Do this check every 7 to 10 days as we proceed through winter.

2. Pruning. As I have harped about for several weeks, it is winter and we have had cold along with snow and ice. These are the ideal conditions for pruning. Begin to make your list of plants to prune. Cut them out of the driveway, off the house and below the windows. Personally, I would first spend time sharpening the blades, oiling moving parts and performing maintenance on handles and ladders. Also, if you don’t have a Felco pruner, you should consider one now.

3. Heavy shape-pruning/tree-thinning/bad branch removal. January is the month to take down that big branch over the house, remove a precarious tree leaning over the neighbors fence or cut off a dead limb. Now is the optimum time because a tree’s sap is not flowing, bugs are absent and many tree diseases are dormant. Always be sure to first cut a deep notch under the branch moving upward before cutting down. That way, you won’t strip the bark down or stand. Do not cut flush to the trunk.

4. The compost pile. If you have a compost pile this time of year, it has its own concerns. First, make sure you stir or turn over the pile. Decomposition has heat as one of its functions. If every few weeks you stir the pile, the outside crust of your compost pile won’t just sit there and turn moldy. Too much moisture can also be detrimental. Too much water can radically slow down the process. Check your pile carefully. Does it sit in a well-drained area where rains just saturate the heap? For most folks, a tarp over the pile every other week or during a massive downpour, does a perfect job of shielding against excessive moisture. Air is another mandatory element of composting. Do not put tarps or plastic directly on top of your compost. Keep a few inches between the cover and the pile.

5. Roses. Now is the required time to strip all remaining large leaves from your plants. Even if they have buds on them and new small foliage, do not (again, contrary to rose books) prune them. Our weather is much too mild here. Stripping the leaves will help set dormancy without stimulation. Remove old leaves from the soil surface. That is how rust and black spot disease re-enters roses. Finally, add a new couple inches of fresh mulch, and never ever put the disease leaves in the compost pile.

6. Make a cold frame. In this climate, cold frames are most people’s greenhouses. Cold frames on the North Olympic Peninsula allow us to grow vegetables, flowers, trees or shrubs all year long. We can also condition the plants being started so they will make the transition out to the garden perfectly this spring.

7. Puddle problems. January is the perfect time to fix drainage problems because you can see them and the effectiveness (or not) of your work. While the rains are here, dig ditches, lay drain pipe or create french drains and dry wells, because standing water kills grass and perennials. Work done will give your yard weeks to grow back for the summer season.

8. Indoor plant care. Your heat has been on for a while. Your windows are closed. This means dust is building up on your house plants. Take your indoor plants into the shower and rinse them off with lukewarm water. Next, pinch off their tips, clean up the old stems and twigs, scratch up the soil and give them a light application of fertilizer. Do not do this to violets.

9. Mulch/cover/smother. Add inches of organic material now. This needs to happen because we are already getting early blooms from tulips and daffodils. This is too soon be a good thing. Cover these bulb plants (not crocus, snowdrops for species iris) immediately with a couple of inches of soil or mulch. This method can also be used to smother weeds. Also throw 4 to 6 inches of mulch over any vegetable areas. Top this off with some ammonium nitrate (21-0-0).

10. Collect and buy supplies. Soon, garden chores will be pulling at us, so be prepared. Make your list and in the next four weeks, buy all of those items. You will need fertilizer, bone meal, sterilized germination soil, root tone, sterilized pots, peat moss, labels, mason bee houses, stakes and ties, trellises, perlite soil soup, insecticidal soap, germination mats, new plastic for the greenhouse, shovels, dirt and rocks. Use this list as a model but add your own particular needs to it.

11. Weed alert. The warmer soil temperatures have caused your grass to begin growing, and along with that, nasty and unwelcome weeds are showing up everywhere. We are one step away from total weed take over. Go out and take care of the problem now with a hand trowel, glove pulling hands, hoe or rake. The weather isn’t warm enough for Roundup applications, but hand removal when they are so small makes easy work out of wet soil conditions, releasing weed roots with little effort.

12. Check your gutters. Check your gutters one more time this week, the wind having blown more leaves while you were sleeping overnight. Be safe on your ladders, use small buckets and wear full rubber gloves to protect your hands. Do this early in the day while you’re still fresh. Accidents are more likely to occur later in the day when you start feeling fatigued, so plan your work on ladders when you’re more charged up.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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