January Gardening Tips for the Southwest
January is typically the coldest month in the Southwest, but if you don't mind the chill, there's plenty to do indoors and out in the garden.
It's the ideal time for planting! Getting bare-root woody plants into the ground now means they'll be established before hot, dry winds arrive. Prepare a new vegetable garden area by loosening soil 8 to 12 inches deep with a digging fork or rototiller. Add compost to existing vegetable beds.
Get the following in the ground:
Bare-root fruit trees: peach (try 'Desertgold' or 'Tropic Snow'), low-chill apple ('Anna' or 'Dorsett Golden'), plum ('Satsuma' or 'Santa Rosa'), and apricot ('Castlebrite')
Cool-season flowers: snapdragon, pansy, primrose, sweet alyssum, sweet pea, aloe, ice plant, sage, desert milkweed, and penstemon
Herb seedlings: garlic chives, lavender, rosemary, and thyme
Vegetable seedlings: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and lettuce
Herb seeds: arugula, borage, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, and parsley
Vegetable seeds: beets, carrots, lettuce, mustard greens, peas, and spinach
Test Garden Tip: Wondering if you're planting something too early outdoors? Watch inventory at local garden centers. When they stock a plant, it's usually the right time for planting. Ask if you're unsure.
January is the time to start seeds for several garden favorites, too:
Herbs: calendula, catnip, feverfew, and sage
Flowers: bedding geraniums, biennials, and perennials
Vegetables: eggplant, melons, peppers, and tomatoes
Winter Garden Activities
Tending to outdoor landscape tasks this winter ensures a pretty yard all year long.
Prune dormant plants now. Make cuts when temperatures are above freezing. Improve the bushiness of heavenly bamboo by cutting the oldest stems to the ground. Don't prune spring-blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, until after they flower. Don't prune roses or grapes until after all danger of frost is past. Another exception is oleander; wait until early spring to tackle that.
Protect aloes -- which, in low-desert areas, may be flowering now -- from frosty temperatures. Also protect cold-sensitive plants, including desert rose (Adenium), spurge (Euphorbia), and subtropical cacti.
Fight insects such as gray aphids, which plague winter vegetables and herbs. Remove these bugs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. Watch for cabbage loopers (small, pale green caterpillars with white stripes) on vegetable cole crops. Remove by hand or use Bt sprays (Bacillus thuringiensis).
Water wisely by turning off irrigation timers, watering new landscape plantings if rainfall is scarce and winter wildflowers if seasonal rains haven't yet arrived. Test Garden Tip: Follow the 1-2-3 rule of watering: Soak soil 1 foot deep for perennials, vines, and groundcovers; 2 feet deep for shrubs; 3 feet deep for mature trees.
Fertilize cool-season lawns (bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass) if they don't have a rich green color. If the color is off, use a nitrogen-rich product containing iron, zinc, and sulfur. While you're at it, apply crabgrass preventer -- it's most effective used now.
January Garden Planning Tips
When winter days are too cool for outside work, spin some garden dreams and make plans for the coming season.
Order seeds and plants. Place orders early for seeds and new plant introductions. Remember to also order seeds for fall planting, including lettuces, greens, larkspur, annual poppies, and wildflowers. You may be unable to obtain those seeds later in the year.
Grow succulents. These water-thrifty beauties thrive in containers. Try something new for you -- it will reward with a multiseason show. Use a soil mix that's 1 part quality potting soil and 1 part pumice.
Learn something new. Tackle a new technique that will improve your gardening abilities. It's easy to find how-to videos online or at a library. Or contact your local botanic garden, garden center, or extension office to learn what educational seminars are being offered this year. As you grow your garden, grow yourself, too!
Check out the scenery from key interior windows. Spend some time looking and pondering. Do you need to add early-season color, structure, or maybe a colorful summer shrub? Make plans now to improve the view.
Plan for Indoor Color
Paperwhite narcissus: When these bulbs finish flowering, snip off blossom stems and any dead leaves. Tuck paperwhite bulbs into a pot filled with soil that contains a slow-release fertilizer. Place near a sunny window. When danger of frost has passed, transplant bulbs into a protected spot in the yard. Watch for flowers next spring.
Amaryllis: You can keep amaryllis from year to year, and as bulbs grow larger, they'll bear more flower stems -- and more blooms. Follow these steps:
- When flowers have faded, snip blossom stems at the base. They'll release a watery sap; take care not to drip this onto delicate surfaces.
- Keep the pot near a sunny window through winter. Water when soil is dry.
- Move plants outdoors in spring after all danger of frost has passed.
- Fertilize and water plants through summer.
- In early to mid-September, stop watering plants. Bring them indoors and let all foliage die back.
- Allow plants to rest (no water, no sun) for six to eight weeks.
- Green shoots will appear after the rest period. At this point, begin to water again.
- Place pots near a sunny window, and get ready for blooms.
- Keep up with weeding and watering as needed, especially new plantings.
Lawn Fertilizer -- Fertilize cool-season lawns, that is, lawns planted with ryegrass, bluegrass, and fescue. Apply crabgrass preventer to all lawns now. And try our handy lawn fertilizer calculator so you know exactly how much to buy and apply.
- Take the lawn mower in for a tune-up and blade-sharpening or do it yourself, being sure to change the oil and clean or change the filter as needed. A great tip is to buy an extra mower blade. Blades need to be sharpened three or four times during the growing season, so you can always have one on hand while the other is at the shop -- or on your workbench -- getting sharpened.
- Resolve to mow your lawn regularly and at the right height. It's the best thing you can do to control weeds and keep grass thick and healthy. Now, during cool weather, mow cool-season lawns such as bluegrass, ryegrasses, or fescues at 2 inches or so. (Raise the mower to 3 inches once the temperatures start hitting the 90s F.) Mow warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, and zoysia at 2 inches all growing season long.
- Keep up with the harvest of cool-season crops, such as peas, lettuces, and spinach. It will encourage more production.
Garden Journals -- If you haven't already, start a garden journal or file. Tuck into it names of plants you like, magazine pictures, plant labels and seeds, and anything else that suits your fancy. If you're feeling crafty, make your own journal.
Landscaping and More -- While you're doing your garden planning, check out the entire section on garden planning and landscaping at BHG.com. It covers everything from assessing your landscape needs to putting it down on paper to choosing the best plants for you.