January in the Garden


There is work to be done, even in the dead of Winter.

by Charlie Thigpen

Even in Winter there is work to be had

If you take pride in your landscape, your New Year’s resolution should be to garden regularly throughout the year. Doing a little bit at a time and properly maintaining your landscape beats having to tame an overgrown and unkempt garden. A groomed landscape makes your home look better and will improve its value. When walkways, paths, patios and decks are clean, you want to use them and spend more time outdoors. In Birmingham, we are blessed with several pretty days, even during the peak of winter, which allow us to go outside, stretch our legs, breath in cool, crisp air, and do a little yard work.

Mulch Time

A winter blanket of mulch can neaten up a garden and keep it healthy. Since all the leaves from the hardwoods have fallen, it’s the perfect time to put out pine straw or shredded bark. On steep banks or slopes be sure to use pine straw. Bark floats during heavy rains and will wash away on inclines. A thick layer of mulch will help protect and insulate tender plants during cold January and February nights. It will also help keep springtime weeds to a minimum. Fewer weeds mean plants won’t have to compete for food and water.

Pick Up the Fallen

With all the bad weather and storms last year, it seems like every time the wind blows limbs tumble. The storms did snap, crack and weaken branches that can fall when the strong winter winds exhale. Look for limbs that have fallen into shrubbery and ground covers. If you have a fireplace or fire pit you can save a few twigs, limbs and pinecones to use as fire starters.

The Cutting Edge

If you haven’t clipped back the ornamental grass or browned perennial foliage, you might want to break out the pruners. Look for dead branches on evergreen trees and shrubs and  cut them away. It’s also a great time to oil and sharpen your garden tools. Some of the more expensive and well-constructed pruners have blades that can be replaced when needed. Don’t buy cheap clippers if you do a lot of pruning. Well-made, sharp clippers make a huge difference and will slice through foliage and small limbs, reducing hand fatigue and blisters. Good pruners are always one of the most frequently used tools in a properly maintained garden.

Get Out and Groom

Check on your flowerbeds and planters. Deadhead or remove the spent blooms on your violas and pansies. Pinch off all wilted flowers and any small seedpods. These cool-season annuals can get a little leggy, so don’t be scared to pinch plants back to keep them compact and full. Don’t forget to also remove the spent flowers on snapdragons. Check the foliage on red mustard, kale, chard and parsley. When temperatures drop below freezing for several nights, their foliage might get winter burn and turn limp. Cutback the affected leaves and new bunches of new fresh foliage will quickly appear.

Not too Late to Plant

Now’s a great time to plant perennials, shrubs or trees. This allows new plantings to settle in, acclimate and enjoy the spring rains that will help give them the strength and energy to endure summer’s heat and stress.  It’s also a good time to transplant perennials, shrubs and roses. And you can start ordering, buying and planting seeds for your spring and summer garden. Seed starter kits allow you to jumpstart your spring gardening indoors.

Don’t wait for March and April to get outside. Start doing a few chores now to make your garden look better, and then you’ll have more time to enjoy your spring garden instead of being overwhelmed by it. Happy New Year and happy gardening. •

Charlie Thigpen is a horticulturalist and the owner of Garden Gallery in Pepper Place.

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