January is the time to put your garden to bed. It is tempting to leave any gardening chores until the first signs of spring but your Spring to-do list will be much shorter if you have completed some of the following winter tasks:
Do a final removal of old annuals, weeds, and any slimy plants. Some perennial flower stalks should be left above ground as they may be providing vital food and overwintering spots for pollinators. Remember, brown is a beautiful color too!
Leave evergreen perennials, such as lavender or Hellebores alone except for removal of dead leaves and branches. Some perennials are partially evergreen and for these it is best to remove the dead/damaged leaves only. If it looks happy – just leave it.
Clean out fallen leaves, especially where they have collected on the crowns of perennials which could rot the plants. Then shred the leaves with a mower (if you have one) and either reapply them to the beds as compost/mulch in a layer of 2-4 inches, or compost the leaves elsewhere. By the way, the topic of our next speaker at the next Environmental Committee program is composting.
Put an extra layer of mulch and/or shredded leaves on plants that are border-line hardy in our area. Examples are camellia, fig and crape myrtle.
Add compost in the garden beds as it will provide the kind of gradual nutrition that is helpful for plants; do not use synthetic fertilizers on your plants. Applying synthetic fertilizers is like giving your children a steady diet of candy resulting in too much energy and then they experience a sudden crash.
On your woody plants, cut any dead, diseased or damaged branches. Although most winter pruning for late blooming shrubs and trees is not done until late February, plants such as Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) can be cut back now.
Do not prune spring blooming woody plants that have already developed flower buds such as azalea, magnolia, or dogwood – they should be pruned after flowering, before the development of flower buds.
Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica and ) are best pruned in spring.
Hydrangeas fall into two categories. First are those that bloom on old wood and should only be cut back after blooming, because otherwise you are cutting off the flower buds. This include the Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla and cvs. and Hydrangea serrata and cvs.). For hydrangeas that bloom on new growth, they are pruned in early spring and can be cut hard. These include the Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens and cvs.) and the Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata and cvs.). If old flowers on Hydrangeas are looking ragged it is no problem to remove them on any type.
Take a serious look at your garden right now. How does it look in the winter? What do you think it needs? The possibilities are endless. Perhaps more evergreens or more winter fruit. Do you need to fill in gaps or improve your hardscape? Write notes, study catalogues, and call landscape designers in winter when you might get their attention and possibly even get a winter deal!