The information, dates and techniques in this blog are as accurate as I can currently offer. During the past three decades I have cared for, nurtured and observed tens of thousands of plants. With the help of many gardening friends I have attempted to offer on these pages some useful information to help you with your own garden. Gardening is sharing. Any corrections, comments or suggestions are appreciated and will improve future information.
- (See also Sweet Peas and Wildflowers)
- Many cool-season annuals can be planted this month. Some choices for sun include pansies, violas, Iceland poppies, stock, English daisy, linaria, flowering cabbage, flowering kale and the ‘Bloomingdale’ series of ranunculus.
- In some shade try English, fairy or Chinese primrose, bedding cyclamen or cineraria.
- Because of their quick growth and heavy flowering potential, annuals need more fertilizing than most other plants in the garden.
- Keep deadheading (removing spent flowers) from annuals to help them continue blooming abundantly.
- Fill in any bare spots in your annual beds or containers with transplants.
- Avocados are growing very little, if at all, this time of the year. Certain winter producing varieties may have fruit on them that can be picked this month.
- It is not unusual for your avocado to be dropping many of its leaves this month. New leaves will emerge shortly.This is not a good month to plant or transplant an avocado.
- Do not feed at all this month.
- Rains should take care of all the irrigation needs this month.
- Be sure to keep a very thick blanket of mulch, compost or fallen leaves under mature avocadoes at all times. Avocadoes need a cool root-run for good health.
- In marginal zones continue to take precautions to avoid frost damage.
- Azaleas are now forming buds at the tips of their branches. Feed them aggressively with a high phosphorus fertilizer from now until they are finished blooming (then switch to a standard “azalea” or “acid” fertilizer).
- Good time to plant.
- Bearded iris are essentially evergreen in Orange County. Ignore what most national gardening books may say about them being cut back and going dormant in the winter.
- In Orange County this time of year they will be slowly pushing out new growth, while last years growth fades away. If you pay close attention, you will even notice the gradual transition of last years foliage slowly giving way to the new growth of this year. Remove the outer (older) leaves as they turn completely brown by giving them a gentle tug.
- Soon many of your garden fruits will be in bloom. Insects pollinate many of these, especially apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums. The European honeybee population in southern California has been decimated by a combination of urban sprawl and parasites. Their populations are down by as much as 90% compared to just a few years ago. However, many of our native pollinators, especially mason bees, perform this pollination task admirably. Now is the time to release these bees in your garden and to put out mason bee homes for them to populate and increase.
- Plant flowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Although not many pests are present this time of the year it is a good time to get these plants in the ground so that they are blooming and well established for spring and summer.
- Release predacious Decollate Snails now. These will take some time to establish themselves in your garden, so be patient. Do not use any snail baits, which also harm Decollate Snails.
Bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, etc:
- See also Bearded Iris, Dahlias, Cannas and Tuberous Begonias)
- Purchase summer blooming bulbs. The “second bulb season” in southern California includes such favorites as dahlia, tuberous begonia, gladiolus, caladium, calla, canna, tuberose, most true lilies and Mexican shell flower (tigridia). These dormant bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, and corms arrive at nurseries Gardens during the second half of the month. It is a bit too early to plant some of these but buy them now while the supply is good.
- It is not unusual for Paperwhite narcissus in the garden to be in bloom in January (or even earlier), although most narcissus won’t be flowering for another month or two.
- Start planting gladiolus and lilies now but wait until late February or March for dahlia, tuberous begonia, caladium, calla, canna, tuberose, and Mexican shell flower)
- If gladioli are planted in two week intervals, rather than all at once, you will have a much longer bloom period.
- If you have put any tulips, hyacinth or crocus into the refrigerator for chilling don’t forget about them. This is the last chance to get them planted.
- Some very early bulbs may sneak a few flowers out late in the month, especially if the weather is warm. These include the earliest chasmanthe, crocus, iphieon, leucojum, and narcissus.
- Bedding cyclamen, although not generally referred to as a bulb, are in full bloom throughout Orange County
- Many ornamental oxalis are winter blooming, non-invasive and naturalize easily. These are in full bloom now.
California Native Plants:
- Still time to plant. This is a good month to plant most California native plants. California native plants like to be planted in the cool fall and winter months, which is the beginning of their growing season.
- This is the beginning of the one of the prettiest times of the year for many of our California natives. Many of these are blooming and growing well now. A hike through our native coastal hills during this month and next will remind you of just how much our native plants enjoy this time of year.
- If you have not visited a California native plant garden before, now through March would be an excellent time to visit. A couple of the best are Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Clairemont and The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in Santa Barbara.
- Most sasanqua camellias are still either blooming or finishing up their bloom for the year. Feed these varieties with an “acid” or azalea/camellia” fertilizer as soon as their bloom cycle has finished.
- A few early blooming japonica varieties will also be in bloom this month. This is a good month to begin shopping for these varieties. The selection will be good and you will soon be able to see them in bloom. Since Camellias are actually dormant (not growing) while they are in bloom, this is a perfect month to plant them.
- Last chance to prune most of these. Cut the canes that bore fruit earlier this year all the way to the ground. Do not prune the new canes that sprouted from the soil this spring; they will produce next seasons crop.
- If you didn’t do it last month, subtropical raspberries, like “Bababerry”, should be pruned this month. Since these bear mostly on new growth, prune all of the canes to about three inches of the soil. Suckers, adjacent to the main plant, can be dug up easily now and transplanted for additional plants or to give to friends.
- Plant new berries from dormant bare root plants.
- Purchase dormant canna roots now. These dormant roots arrive at nurseries during the second half of the month. The selection is good this month so shop early, but wait until about the end of February or early March to plant them.
- Cannas in the ground should have their top growth cut to the soil about now. They can also be easily dug up and divided this month.
- Citrus are doing very little, if any, growing this month. There will probably be fruit developing on such varieties as grapefruit, lemon and lime. A few late bearing tangerines (also called mandarins) may be ready for harvest now. Navel Oranges are probably ready and Grapefruits are almost ready. Try one, but if the sugars aren’t developed wait another month and try again.
- This is a good time to shop for citrus, but keep them in their nursery containers and wait at least a couple of months to plant them.
- Citrus pests like whitefly, aphids, scale and mealybug are usually aided through a mutual, beneficial relationship with ants. Keep ants out of your citrus at all times. Start now by cutting back any limbs that touch the ground or a fence or wall. If ants are crawling up the trunk of the tree apply Tanglefoot (a sticky, waterproof substance) to stop them.
- Most clematis in our climate bloom on their new growth. Because of this, like roses, they need an annual wintertime pruning. Now is the time to do this pruning. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, so check with us on your particular hybrid for the best advice.
- Do not fertilize this month. Reduce or eliminate watering as well.
Dahlias (tuberous types):
- Tubers should be out of the ground by now and quietly resting somewhere in the garage of other cool, dry location.
Deciduous Fruit Trees:
- This and last month are the usual time to perform the annual dormant pruning. Before making the first cut, check with a good, well-written reference on the particular technique for your specific variety. Improper pruning seriously damages many fruit trees and each variety requires a different approach.
- About the first of this month should be your second application of dormant disease control. This may be either a Copper Sulfate or a Lime-sulfur product (do not use Lime-sulfur on Apricots). Both of these are organic products. Applying these products should be an annual chore, repeated every year to avoid infestations of such diseases as Peach Leaf Curl, Shothole Fungus, Apple Scab, Brown Rot, and many others.
- Most ferns are still pretty much sleeping right now. No need to fertilize and irrigations can be minimal. Although in Orange County, most of these will still be evergreen, they are growing slowly, if at all.
- (See also the information under the individual plants)
- Most plants will not need much fertilizing this month. However, there are a few exceptions:
- Camellia, azalea and lilac are all setting buds now for spring bloom. You can encourage this spring bloom with a high phosphorus fertilizer applied now.
- Feed cool-season lawns (fescue, ryegrass and bluegrass) now.
- January is the most likely month for frost damage in most Orange County gardens, although December, February and even March may produce frost days as well.
- Frost protection strategies include:
- Moving potted plants to protected areas
- Covering tender plants with old sheets or special “frost cloths”, but do not let these touch the foliage. Also, be sure to remove these covers first thing in the morning, as heat will build up very quickly underneath them.
- Stringing sensitive plants with miniature outdoor Christmas lights. These radiate heat.
- Wetting the foliage. Once the temperatures get to freezing, the water will freeze on the surface of the foliage and insulate the leaf. It really works!
- If frost does occur, do not prune it off right away. Leaving the damaged foliage in place helps the plant protect itself from additional frosts. When new growth begins in spring then trim the plant back to just above where the live growth is beginning.
- If you cut your fuchsias back in November (in coastal areas) and have been feeding them, you should be pinching the tips of the new growth. Keep feeding and pinching every couple of weeks through the end of March and then let them bloom. You’ll have a full and glorious plant with hundreds of flowers.
- If re-potting is needed, the best time to do this is at the same time as the annual cut-back.
- Your gardenias may look a little yellow and almost certainly will not be blooming. Don’t worry, they will revive with the onset of warmer weather about March or April.
- This group includes Ivy geraniums, Zonal geraniums (also called “Common” geraniums), Martha geraniums and the various scented geraniums, but does not include true geraniums (sometimes called “Hardy” geraniums), which are discussed under Perennials.
- Martha types have completed their progressive cutting back now. Don’t cut them any more until the fall, but begin pinching the tips regularly to create fuller plants and ultimately more flowers.
- If you didn’t do it in December, prune this month. Pruning techniques vary according to the age of the plant and according to whether it is a cane or spur bearing variety. Consult a reference such as the Sunset Western Garden Book before pruning.
- Prune kiwi vines.
- This is a good month to plant grapes. With some searching you may be able to find dormant bare-root plants now. These are a great value, but do some research to be sure that you select a variety that is appropriate for your climate.
- About the first of the month should be your second application of dormant disease control. This should be a Copper Sulfate product, which is organic. Applying these products should be an annual chore, repeated every year to help control some very common fungal diseases.
- Cool season groundcovers are still growing and blooming well.
- On sloped areas this is not a good time to do any significant planting. Winter rains and erosion are too much of an issue.
- California native groundcover plants, like Ceanothus and Arctostaphyllos (Manzanita) are growing nicely now in the cool, moist weather. This is a good month to plant these natives, but be careful on slopes.
- Warm-season groundcovers are just sitting through the winter now. No fertilizing, and no pruning at this time of the year.
- Plant cool-season herbs like cilantro, parsley, chervil, salad burnet, chives, garlic chives, arugula, fennel, dill, and sorrel.
- Many annual or short-lived herbs that can be planted now include anise, arugula, catmint, catnip, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, garlic chives, lovage, parsley, salad burnet and sorrel.
- Many other herbs are essentially year-round in our mild climate and can be planted at any time of the year. Some of these include chives, comfrey, feverfew, lavender, lemon balm, lemon grass and rosemary.
- Hydrangeas are at about their saddest of the entire year this month. They should have already been pruned (in about August or earliest September) and will be nearly completely dormant right now.
- Contrary to some references, do not prune hydrangeas in the winter. Hydrangeas bloom on one-year-old stems. Pruning now will eliminate most of next year’s flowers.
- If you want to try to get blue or lavender flowers on your otherwise pink plant you need to start applying Aluminum Sulfate to the soil now. White flowered varieties will not be effected and not all pinks will be effected the same.
- Toward the first of the month apply a pre-emergent weed control to prevent Poa Annua (annual bluegrass) from germinating. Your first application of this pre-emergent should have been in September.
- Feed cool-season lawns (fescue/Marathon, bluegrass, ryegrass). These grasses are still growing and will need regular feeding with a high quality, slow release fertilizer.
- Remember, cool-season lawns should be mowed about a half an inch lower in the winter than in the summer.
- Except along the immediate mild coast, warm-season lawns (bermudagrass, St. Augustine, zoysia) are pretty much sleeping now.
- If you over-seeded your warm-season grass with Annual Rye last fall you should be feeding it all through the winter, since it is actively growing and enjoying this time of the year.
- Rust can be a periodic problem on cool-season grasses, especially in the cool damp weather of winter and earliest spring. Regular fertilizing is usually adequate to control the issue.
Orchids (outside grown):
- Cymbidiums may be setting buds or even blooming. Continue feeding with a high phosphorus fertilizer through the end of their bloom period.
- Some ornamental grasses are best cut to the ground each year and allowed to grow fresh foliage. But be careful, not all grasses appreciate this treatment. Some that do are: Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata), Japanese Forest Grass (Hackonakloa), Fountain grasses (Penisetem), Deer Grass (Meulenbergia) and Miscanthus. These should be cut to just above the soil line any time during the cool winter months.
- (See also Bearded Iris, Bulbs/Rhizomes/Tubers, Cannas, Dahlias, Fuchsias, Geraniums, Ornamental Grasses and Tuberous Begonias)
- Other than those cool-season perennials that are still blooming well (mentioned below), there is no need to fertilize these plants for at least another month or two.
- Many perennials are now semi-dormant and waiting for warmer soils and temperatures. There is not much to do this month with these perennials.
- Be sure not to accidentally damage any completely dormant perennials by cultivating or digging where their dormant roots are.
- A few cool-season perennials are contradicting the dormant sleepy period of their siblings. In between the raindrops and clouds these will be doing their best to try to bloom and beautify the garden. These might include alstroemeria (except in cold inland gardens), armeria, euryops daisy, forget-me-not (myosotis), hellebore, marguerite daisy and viola (perennial types).
- Frost sensitive perennials, like felicia daisy, heliotrope, lamium, some lavender, pelargonium, pentas, plectranthus and scaevola, may be damaged by nighttime frosts at this time of the year. Protect them as needed.
- Removing spent or old flowers regularly, especially from the cool-season perennials, will help them to produce more new flowers.
Pests & Diseases:
- (See also the information under the individual plants and Beneficial Insects)
- Snails and slugs . . .
- Protect Evergreen Pears (Pyrus kawakami) from fireblight.
- Control Argentine Ants (the little black ones) now.
- Trap gophers now before the breeding season begins next month.
Places to Visit:
- Gardens that look terrific almost any time of the year include Sherman Library and Gardens (Corona del Mar), The Fullerton Arboretum (Fullerton), Los Angeles Arboretum (Arcadia), Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens (San Marino) and Quail Botanical Gardens (Encinitas).
- The UC Irvine Botanic Gardens are nearing their blooming peak this month. Enjoy the spectacular blooming aloes, Mediterranean bulbs and many South African plants that are in bloom now.
- Mediterranean and California native plant gardens are entering their peak bloom season shortly. Rancho Santa Ana, in Claremont will begin showing some color this month.
- Attend any of several rose pruning demonstrations throughout the area.
- (See also the information under the individual plants)
- Keep them indoors in a well lit area. As long as you are watering them properly and they are away from heater vents and other drafts they should look ok. Don’t worry if they have dropped a few yellow leaves at the base.
- If you do take them outside don’t cut them yet. Instead, keep them away from frost and cold nights.
- No fertilizing is needed this month.
Records, Catalogs, Books and Organizations:
- Most serious gardeners keep some sort of a journal of their garden activities. Usually these are set up in month-by-month sequence and include random notes about the garden each month, additions and deletions to the garden, what is blooming, suggestions for the future, a record of fertilizations and notes about the weather. If you don’t have a journal, well-stocked nurseries should have two or three different versions in stock.
- If you don’t have at least one gardening wall calendar, this is your last chance. The L.A. Times Garden Calendar by Robert Smaus is the most beautiful and informative.
- Buy Pat Welsh’s “Southern California Gardening”. Completely revised in 2000, this 330 page book is as essential as a spade and a pair of pruning shears. Written in a monthly format and specifically for southern California gardens. Pat Welsh is perhaps the queen of southern California gardening and every gardener should have a dirty, dog-eared version of this terrific book somewhere near the garden. The other two “essential” books for our area are “The New Sunset Western Garden Book” (revised in 2000) and “52 Weeks in the Garden” by Bob Smaus.
- This is the best month for your annual rose pruning. Anytime during the month will suffice, but the middle to latter part of the month is the favorite.
- Apply a dormant disease and insect spray to the canes and immediate soil around your newly pruned roses.
- Rake away old mulch and add fresh mulch under roses. Immediately after the pruning is the best time to do this.
- If you prefer, add a small amount of Epsom Salts under freshly pruned roses. Many gardeners believe this encourages more cane development on roses.
- Plant bare root roses now. The selection is the best of the year currently.
- (See also Azaleas, Camellias, Gardenias, Hydrangeas and others)
- Winter blooming shrubs, like bird-of-paradise (strelitzia), pink powder puff (calliandra), cape honeysuckle (tecomaria) and Australian fuchsia (correa), are in full bloom now.
- Cut back Butterfly Bush (Budddleja) hard this month. A good rule of thumb is to cut it back about 75%. If you are trying to manage the plant in a small space try cutting it back even more and then pinch the new growth every few weeks through spring to create more branching. This will keep even full size varieties to about five feet.
- Try to avoid shearing hedges now. New growth is very slow and these cuts will be quite noticeable.
- We have included this section, because as you know, or will discover with more experience, a good garden begins with the soil. Investing in the soil, managing the soil and protecting the soil are not afterthoughts in a successful garden, but the foundation. Healthy soil is living and breathing, teaming with earthworms, microorganisms, beneficial fungi, bacteria, microbes and other invisible life. This section, possibly the most important topic of all, provides some helpful guidance to good soil care.
- The soil is often pretty wet at this time of the year and sometimes even soggy. Try to keep from walking on this wet soil, which compresses it and reduces its ability to drain quickly and its oxygen content.
- A thick layer of organic mulch, averaging about two inches should be maintained on top of the soil just about year-round. Applied now, this thick layer of mulch will moderate the soil temperatures, reduce weed growth, and improve both soil life and soil quality.
- We do not suggest the use of very high analysis fertilizers in a garden, especially high levels of phosphorus. Examples of fertilizers to avoid are synthetic versions with formulations like, 10-55-10, 10-30-10, etc. We don’t even suggest the popular 15-30-15 formula. These formulations will inhibit or even destroy much of the soil life that is so vital to a healthy, sustainable soil.
- We also suggest that you not use soil-applied systemic fertilizer/insecticide combinations (especially popular with roses). These are very damaging to soil life.
- Use insecticides only when necessary and even then use the least damaging product available. Many of these products move into the soil and interfere with the invisible soil life.
- If you can, begin a compost pile or purchase a compost bin. Leaves, clippings, kitchen produce scraps, and many other ingredients can be composted and returned to the garden. Home compost is one of the very best ingredients you can add to your soil. The benefits are huge in the areas of disease suppression, increasing beneficial microorganisms, improving soil structure and texture, nutrient retention and nematode suppression.
- Plant transplants from 4” pots or color packs (4” pots will have much better root systems and will usually easily out produce color pacs this late in the planting season).
- Pinch out the first two or three sets of flowers that your young plants will produce to encourage better root develop and a stronger overall plant.
- Plant Alpine varieties now.
- (See also Avocados, and Citrus)
- Continue to take precautions for frost damage to sensitive species (see comments under “frost).
- Do not fertilize until at least spring.
- Do not prune during the cool winter months.
- Many subtropical fruits are sensitive to too much moisture around the roots during cool weather. Water very carefully, little if at all during the winter.
- Except for the ‘Beaumont’ variety, keep checking for fallen Macadamia nuts. Pick them off the ground weekly, which may continue for up to three months. The ‘Beaumont’ variety will be picked directly off the tree in March.
- Still time to plant sweet peas from seed, but don’t wait much longer.
- Plant from color packs for an even quicker bloom.
- Tie them up or help them attach themselves to the netting, poles or fence.
- The earliest (non daylight sensitive) varieties will already be in bloom if you planted them in August or September. Be sure to keep old flowers pruned off regularly to encourage more buds.
- (See also Avocados, Citrus, Deciduous Fruit Trees and Subtropical Fruits)
- Still a good time to prune most trees (except for tender sub-tropical trees like Ficus, Coral Tree, Avocado, Citrus, etc.). Few birds are nesting in trees at this season.
- This is an especially good time to prune coniferous trees like pines and cypress, since their pests, various bark beetles, are not active this time of the year.
- For Sycamore and Ash trees infested with summer fungal diseases this is the time for an application of a dormant fungicide. Consult an authority for the specific fungicide need for your situation.
Tropicals & Subtropicals:
- (See also Avocados, Citrus and Subtropical Fruits)
- Continue precautions for frost and cold weather damage on sensitive species (see comments under “frost).
- Do not fertilize until at least spring.
- Do not prune during the cool winter months.
- Many subtropical plants are sensitive to too much moisture around the roots during cool weather. Water very carefully, little if at all during the winter.
- Tuberous begonia tubers are arriving in nurseries this month. It is too early to plant them, but it is a good time to buy them, while the selection is good. Store them in an open box with dry peat moss, perlite or sawdust. Place the box in a cool, dark location until it’s time to sprout them, in March.
- Still time to plant cool-season vegetables. Use transplants or seed to start arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, peas and spinach. Start beets, carrots, parsnip, radish, rutabaga and turnips from seed only.
- Fava beans will begin producing this month. To aid their production, cut off the top couple of inches of each growing tip. This will divert some of their energy from growing leaves into “bean” production.
- This is a good time to plant a second crop of onions, garlic and shallots (the main crop should have been planted in October).
- Now is the time to purchase and begin planting of larger perennial vegetables like rhubarb, artichoke, horseradish and asparagus. Bare-root plants should be available now. Horseradish can be quite invasive, so keep it in a container.
- If you prefer to grow your summer vegetables from seed rather than transplants (the selection is much greater from seed), this is a good time to shop for these; but most of these won’t go into the ground for about two more months. If you’re getting a head start with them on the windowsill, you can start in about a month.
- Feed cool-season vegetables regularly and control weeds before they get large.
Water & Irrigation:
- (See also the information under the individual plants)
- Rainfall should do just about all your watering for you.
- Automatic sprinkler systems should still be set on “manual” and only used as needed.
- Rain should do most of the work for you this month.
- Check potted plants regularly and especially baskets under eaves that do not get the benefit of our winter rains.
- Although later than suggested, there is still a chance to plant wildflowers from seed.
- Keep the young plants or germinating seeds watered during dry spells.
- Weeds will grow abundantly in a wildflower garden. Weed the area regularly or they will easily overwhelm the flowers.
- This springs flower buds can now be found on the plant. They are much fatter than the nearby leaf-only buds and may be on short, stubby, woody growths called “spurs”. Be sure to preserve these as the same spur will often bear flowers for several years.
- Pruning established plants: If you didn’t last month, this is the time of your final pruning until after the blooms are done and new growth begins this spring. The plants should be leafless now, which makes the job a lot easier. First, notice the new growth that occurred last year. The point on the stem where last year’s growth began and the prior years ended should be easy to locate by noticing the obvious change in the stem/bark color. Now, cut all of this unwanted new growth to two or three buds above last years resting point.
- Training young plants: If you didn’t last month, tie in place any long, twining stems in the direction that you want them to grow. Prune off any wayward stems completely at their source and eliminate stems that are hopelessly tangled. Make sure that the support you are training the plant onto is very strong, as wisterias are heavy plants.
- No need to fertilize now and rains should take care of any irrigation needs, except on very newly planted plants.