Stockings are put away, cookie tins hold little more than crumbs, and the Christmas tree has literally been kicked to the curb—once again, the holidays are past and we look ahead to the broad horizons of a new year. In this season of rest for gardening, now is the time to dream and to plan for a successful year of growing once again.
First, January is a great time of year to begin perusing seed catalogs and planning for what you want to grow in your garden or on your deck this spring and summer. Later this month, local garden centers will begin to stock up on garden seeds as well, and while it’s still too early to plant anything from seed—some of our worst winter weather the last few years has come in February—there’s no harm in beginning to pick out the seeds you’ll need.
Second, take some time this winter to familiarize yourself with some of the common insects and diseases you may have to deal with in the coming year. Powdery mildew, aphids, budworm, sooty black mold, scale, mealybugs, red thread, black spot…all of these and more are common issues I help customers with on a daily basis, and some that you may face in the coming year, especially given the mild conditions we’re experiencing in this El Niño winter.
While an expert at a garden center is more than happy to help you diagnose a problem (remember, please bring in any samples safely sealed up in a container or plastic bag), you may be able to prevent the problem in the first place by learning how the insect or disease becomes an issue and taking steps to prevent it in the first place with proper care. Winter’s short days offer plenty of opportunity for reading, so buy a book or peruse educational websites and get educated.
Third, if you grow fruit trees or bushes, late winter (typically late January to mid-February) is the best time to treat your plants with dormant spray to kill any insects or diseases that may have overwintered on your plants. For insects, I recommend spraying with an organic horticultural oil like Bonide All Seasons Oil, which will smother any insects or insect eggs present on the branches. To treat for diseases, use a copper or sulfur dust or spray to eradicate spores which may pose a problem this summer. As with anything, in growing successful, healthy plants you’ll find that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Fourth, another way you can ensure success in the garden for the year to come is to pull weeds as soon as you see them pop up. As long as the weather stays mild, many weeds will continue to grow, so take advantage of the moist, soft soil—after all the rain we’ve had recently, the weeds are practically floating!—and pull any weeds that may be growing, especially those you see starting to go to seed.
Finally, give yourself a chance to dream! The most rewarding part of gardening is seeing plans come to literal fruition, and it all starts with a dream. Get outside during a sunny break this month and walk around your yard, noting where you want to fill a hole in a flowerbed, carve out a new garden space or set some pots of flowers or herbs. Before long, the season for planting will be upon us, and with it all the joys of watching plants grow once again. Enjoy this month of dreaming and planning!