January Gardening Calendar

Rain, frost and possibly temperatures to 70 degrees make January a variable month. Normally, frosts are fairly light in coastal areas of Humboldt County, but about every ten years there is a big freeze that takes a heavy toll of subtropical plants.

If Humboldt County's January weather keeps you indoors, you can take the opportunity to do a little armchair gardening. It's a pleasant time to sit by the fire with your seed and nursery catalogs to dream, plan, and order. Try a few new plants this year.

If the sun does shine and temperatures rise a bit, there's plenty you can do outside to get a head start on spring. This is the time to prune, weed, fertilize, plant bare-root trees, shrubs, berries, and even some vegetables. Shop for flowering evergreens: azaleas, camellias, pieris, and early rhododendrons. As a tempting foretaste of blossoms to come, cut branches of flowering almond, flowering quince, winter jasmine and forsythia to force their flowers indoors.


Planting of BARE-ROOT materials is at its peak. Roses head the list with fruit, nut, flowering and shade trees a close second. Cane berries, rooted grape cuttings, wisteria, flowering quince, forsythia and other spring-blooming deciduous shrubs are also available at nurseries. Nursery people will be happy to advise you regarding staking and support for trees and plants of your choice.

It's best to plant immediately upon arriving home from the nursery, but if you can't, temporarily lay plants on their sides in a shallow trench or in a half barrel and cover with moist sawdust or soil (called heeling in). If you can't do that, have the nursery put a sold tag on it and leave it there.

Plant pansies, primroses, violas and Iceland poppies. Other ANNUALS will flower just as early if you wait until February to set them out. Make the first planting of GLADIOLUS corms.

In the VEGETABLE garden, plant bare-root perennial edibles such as artichokes, asparagus, grapes, and cane berries. If the soil is dry enough, set out nursery seedlings of broccoli and cauliflower. You can also plant onion sets and seed potatoes and sow seeds of beets, carrots, leeks, lettuce, parsley, peas and radishes.

If you want large gallon-size tomato plants to set out in March, start them now and grow them in a bright and cool site. Dr. Jim Baggett at Oregon State University has developed tomatoes that do quite well in Humboldt's cool coastal areas, including a variety called Oregon Spring and a paste tomato called Oregon Pride (Territorial Seed Company, available at Pierson's and McKinleyville Feed). Good salad tomatoes are Early Cascade and Sun Gold.


Protect FROST-TENDER plants on dry, still nights when it's clear enough to see stars. Move container plants beneath overhangs; cover other plants with boxes or plastic. Remove fallen LEAVES from lawns, low-growing heathers and groundcovers. Wet, matted leaves, especially the large ones from plane trees and bigleaf maple, may cause small plants to die back or turn brown.

PRUNING operations should be scattered over both January and February. Fruit and nut trees should be done in January. Roses should wait until February to prevent a chance of frost damaging new growth. Don't prune spring-flowering plants until after bloom, including flowering trees (except cherries, which are not pruned).

Cut above a bud facing the direction you want a branch to grow. Make smooth cuts and don't cut into the main trunk's collar. Don't put a thick covering on the cuts. Putting a 'Band-aid' on them will make you feel good, but it may protect bacterial and fungal growth on the inside. Plants are very capable of sealing off the cut from living tissues and even large cuts are best left alone. It's OK to put a little black or brown paint on the cut to camouflage it. E-mail humgardens if you have specific questions or better yet, pick up a pruning guide at the Extension Service on Humboldt Hill.

The main ROSE task this month is clipping all foliage and rotted buds from climbing and bush plants, to help push them into dormancy. The clipped leaves and any on the ground should be raked up and disposed of to eliminate insect eggs and disease spores that may be wintering on them.

When the pruning is completed, all deciduous trees and shrubs, including roses, should be dosed with a DORMANT SPRAY. Use what your nursery recommends, or use Bordeaux solution, lime sulfur, or oil at winter strength. Choose a clear, wind-free day, and if possible wait until the early morning dew has dried. Apply the solution to the branches and the trunk, making sure you get it into all the crevices. Apply it also to the ground underneath the plant or tree. Sprays are ineffective if rain falls within 24 hours of the application.

Fertilize actively growing annuals, including vegetables.

Feed CITRUS trees this month and again in February. Apply an acid fertilizer to RHODODENDRONS and AZALEAS.

If you had CRABGRASS or other weed problems in your lawn last year, apply a pre-emergent herbicide toward the end of the month. To tackle those big perennial weeds, use a small spray bottle and put a squirt of Roundup on them. Wait to plant grass seed until warm weather is definite.

Have the lawn mower tuned up and sharpened and see that other tools such as trowels, spades and hoes are clean and sharp.

Winter Bouquets

Humboldt's winter gardens can yield a surprising array of materials for pleasing and imaginative indoor arrangements. You can create wonderful evergreen bouquets that may include no flowers at all - just buds, berries, fruits, and seedpods. For a more floral look, mix the winter bloomers listed below with evergreen foliage.

For the longest-lasting arrangements, choose mature foliage with waxy or leathery leaves (soft new growth soon wilts). You may have to freshen them with new berries or flowers, which foliage will outlast by several weeks.

Use the list here as your inspiration for planting this winter or spring, so that next winter your garden will yield plenty of distinctive greenery, flowers, and fruit. For additional specialties, check your local nursery.

FLOWERS... acacia, azalea, camellia, Christmas Heather (Erica canaliculata), hebe, laurustinus, princess flower, sweet hakea, tea tree (Leptospermum 'Ruby Glow')

FOLIAGE... camellia, citrus, conifers (including false cypress and juniper), eucalyptus, grevillea, heavenly bamboo, hebe, hop bush, Japanese aucuba, pittosporum, podocarpus, Viburnum davidii

BERRIES, BUDS, CONES, OR FRUIT... black alder (bare branches and cones), citrus, conifers, cotoneaster, heavenly bamboo, holly, Japanese aucuba, pittosporum, pyracantha, Viburnum davidii

Poinsettia Care

Okay, what do you do with that thing after Christmas? It looked great for about six weeks but now it's an embarrassment. Well, the best thing to do is toss it out. You are not likely to be able to duplicate the conditions that the professional growers have at their disposal, and besides, a nice new one next year is only a few bucks. But if you really want a challenge and be able to boast to your friends, here it is:

When the leaves begin to drop, gradually give less and less water until the soil is almost dry and the plant sheds all of its leaves. Then store the pot in a cool (55 to 65 degrees) place, with or without light. Water only enough to keep the stems from shriveling. When warm weather arrives outdoors, cut the stems back to a 4-inch height. Repot, using new potting soil. (The tops can be rooted in moist soil to make new plants; use pieces 6 to 8 inches long, inserted 4 inches deep and right side up). Sink the pot into the ground in a sunny place outdoors. Water well all summer. Feed a complete fertilizer once a month because it is a voracious feeder. You can prune up to mid-July if you want to control the plant's height or induce branching so you will have more (but smaller) bloom.

In autumn, before night temperatures become chilly, bring the plant indoors and gradually to a sunny window. You may want to put it in a closet at night because poinsettias set their buds at the time of year when nights are longest. During October and early November, if it is kept in a room where lights are turned on after sunset, it will be thrown off schedule.

Poinsettias are not poisonous to people, but their juice may be mildly irritating to the skin or the stomach. They are in the Euphorbia family and are related to the Crown of Thorns and also the Gopher Plants seen in the magazine ads (NEW MIRACLE PLANTS REPEL GOPHERS! THREE PLANTS FOR ONLY $11.95 plus $3.75 shipping and handling.....) and also growing wild in many areas here. The Gopher Plant stems do have a poisonous, caustic milky juice; this juice needs to be kept away from the skin and especially the eyes, since painful burns can result. Conceivably the gopher would beat a hasty retreat after an encounter with this plant.