January can be an odd month on the Central Coast. It can be cold, wet and rainy or warm and sunny. You can go from wearing shorts one day to protecting tender plants from frost the next. The most important thing to keep in mind about January is to be flexible and be ready. Make sure frost protection material is at the ready for those nights when the temperature dips below 32°. My neighbors place four stakes around the canopy of their tiny avocado tree so that they can easily throw a blanket over it without having it touch the branches. Planning like this makes it less of a chore. Sometimes the last thing you want to do after a long day is tuck the plants in, but often, it only takes one really chilly night to do some serious damage.
On the other hand, I keep reading predictions that we could have a wetter than normal winter which is good news. But it seems like it’s been so long since we’ve had real rain that we’ve forgotten what we need to do. Too much rain can slow down and stop the process of our compost piles so we need to make sure to cover those. Try to keep empty pots and containers overturned so they don’t collect water and empty basins that do. It sure doesn’t take long for mosquitoes to breed. Mulch, mulch and more mulch is the key to keeping areas weed-free. In areas where you don’t have sufficient mulch, you may need to do some pulling. If you are going to go the herbicide route, keep in mind that they work best at temperatures above 72° and look like they are doing nothing at temps below that. If the weather dips after you have sprayed, wait until the next warm spell before spraying again. I have seen annual grass hang on for several weeks during 65° temperatures to be dead in three days after the temperatures shot up to 73°.
What to Buy
January is a great time to shop for camellias and roses. This is when nurseries tend to have the freshest selection of camellias and the best variety. Bare root roses have arrived at the nursery and now is a great time to add to your collection or start a rose garden. When you shop bare root roses you not only get the best price of the year and the best selection, but planting them while they are dormant allows them to get a head start on spring. Look for roses that have a nice vase-shaped crown with good sized canes. Avoid plants that have cracking at the crown, squishy stems or any signs of disease.
Bare root fruit trees also arrive here early to mid January. Again buying your fruit trees bare root not only saves you money but gives you the best selection. Just be careful about varieties you find at big box stores. I have seen fruit tree varieties that will not fruit in our climate for sale there. Research before you buy or shop at a local indie for a climate appropriate selection. For most of the Central Coast you want to look for varieties that need around 500 chill hours or less. Check out this post for tips on buying the best fruit tree for your garden.
What to Plant
If you still haven’t put in your cool season/winter garden you still have time. Plant kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts from nursery starts. You still have time to put in beets, carrots, radishes and bunching onions from seed. For annual color you can’t beat pansies, snapdragons, stock and Icelandic poppies. You even still have time to toss out some California poppy seeds. With continued winter rains, they should pop up in no time.
What to Do
Lastly, the chores. Mulch, mulch and more mulch. If you have to weed a flower bed, you don’t have enough mulch on it. It’s that simple. So if you find yourself pulling weeds, add some more mulch. A yearly layer of mulch might seem like a pain in the butt but its benefits to the garden bed are immense. What breaks down and seems to disappear is greatly adding to the quality of your soil. Since most of what we have around here is either sand or clay, anything helps. A good layer of mulch will help suppress the weeds and in the warmer months helps retain moisture. We may be getting rain now, but it will get dry. And with increased water rates around the county, you will want to save as much as you can.
Prune roses and dormant fruit trees. If you are not sure what you are doing attending a pruning meeting of the California Rare Fruit Growers can help. Nothing beats seeing it done in person. If you can’t do that a well-illustrated book is also helpful. I like How to Prune Fruit Trees, Twentieth Edition. Its simple line drawings and descriptions are clear and it covers a variety of fruit trees and berries. Clean up and remove any diseased leaf litter (especially with roses and peach or nectarine trees) and once again, give them a good layer of mulch.
Check those indoor plants. Dry, stale air is the perfect environment for spider mites to flourish. Look for webbing beneath and between leaves with no visible spider (spider mites are tiny and are difficult to see without a magnifying glass). Also look for yellow speckling in leaves. This is caused by the mites chewing at the leaves from underneath. You can treat with a horticultural oil, like Neem oil. I find the easiest way to spray a houseplant is to place it in the shower. (Just make sure to clean up any oil so no one slips.) Also giving your houseplant an occasional trip the shower can also be helpful in the early stages of spider mite infestation. The small bodied bugs can be easily washed away. And make sure to vacuum the area near the houseplant paying special attention to baseboards and windowsill. Mites love all the nooks and crannies.
Garden seed catalogs of course! What better to do on a rainy Saturday than pour over seed catalogs for new and unusual varieties. Need some catalog suggestions? Check out my Pinterest board, Seed Catalogs to Order.
Comments are always appreciated and gardening questions welcome. You can leave them in the comment section.