Jan. 2014 To Do List: Middle South

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pruning-man-pruners-SS-560x400With the leaves of deciduous trees on the ground, winter is the best time to examine the “bones” of your garden. Look around to see where you need the kind of structure that evergreens or hardscaping can provide. Also consider what needs to be pruned. Take a break from planting and harvesting and, if it’s not too cold, work on organizing your shed.

Our generally mild winters are good for working outside even in January. Sketch what’s already in your landscape, and then consider what you’d like to keep and what needs changing. Make a list of materials and tools to gather so you’ll be ready when it’s warm enough to get started.

  •  Use a soil test kit or send a soil sample to your county extension office to determine the pH of your soil. You may need to add amendments now, since it takes time for them to work. Lime, for example, takes a couple of months to start breaking down and raising the pH for crops like tomatoes and peppers.
  • Plant dormant bare root perennial vegetables and berries, such as strawberries and asparagus.
  • Pile mulch on top of root crops like carrots if a hard freeze is expected. It will help moderate the soil temperature. The root crops should keep pretty well in the ground over the winter if voles or borers leave them alone.
  • March is the time to set out early crops like lettuce and snap peas, so start the seeds now.
  • Seed potatoes are early to mid-season crops. Get yours at least two weeks before the last frost and get ready to plant. ‘Yukon Gold’ and ‘Norland Red’ potatoes grow well in this zone.
  • Plant bare root or container grown roses. Keep them mulched and watered.
  • It’s time to plant summer and fall blooming perennial bulbs.
  • Sow frost-tolerate perennial seeds now. Start seeds of summer blooming annuals to plant outdoors in March.
  • Dig up and divide dormant hostas, phlox, asters, and other perennials.
  • Prune fruit trees by first cutting out any diseased or damaged wood. Prune out the vertical water spouts, too. Try to encourage strong horizontal branching and a strong central leader for apple and pear trees. Peach trees produce better when pruned into an urn or vase shape without a central leader.
  •  Use row cover or frost protection blankets to protect tender plants from frost.
  • Prune back the old canes (five years or older) on blueberry bushes, leaving 5 to 7 younger fruiting canes. You will sacrifice some berries this spring, but they will be sweeter and larger.
  •  Prepare to plant a fescue lawn this month by tilling and adding a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, like 22-2-2, this month. Follow package directions. Don’t till until the soil is dry. Remove all weeds.

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