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January 2013 Garden Tips

Garden tips for January from Islander and Master Gardener Linda Dodds

January 2013!  A new calendar year and an opportunity to review how last year’s garden grew and design this year’s garden.

During the usually cold and wet month of January I take some time to think about how my last year’s garden thrived or failed.  If a plant did not thrive, I ask myself several questions.  Did the plant received enough or too much water and did it receive too much or too little sunshine?  Did it grow too large for it’s area or was it hidden by larger plants?  Was the plant’s color compatible with it’s surrounding plants, blend in when you wanted it to be a showpiece?  Was it planted at the right time of the year, planted correctly and of course the very necessary question of whether it was a plant that would flourish in our local growing zone?  It’s almost impossible to grow a bird of paradise or other tropical plants outside in our area so don’t waste your time unless you want to go to extreme measures to protect them from our cool winter months.  Or even having to move them indoors to protect them from the cold.  If you go through those simple questions and determine that you have covered all the bases needed to have that plant, tree or shrub flourish, you will be surprised at how well it can fight off disease and have less bug damage. Compost and perhaps some alfalfa meal is about the only fertilizer most of your plants should need.   As the old saying goes…Right plant in the right place will make a huge difference in plant care and maintenance.  I was lucky enough to receive a soil tester this past Christmas from a garden club member, so spring will find me out determining the soil acidity of my garden areas and planting or amending the soil as needed.  I’m really excited about the prospect of poking my tester all over my acre of land.

Now for the fun part of planning your 2013 garden.

Be creative, whimsical and even if you have a very small space to add it, put in something bright, silly or out of the ordinary.  Perhaps along the bend in a path, you could place a figurine, a colored ball or a piece of whimsical art.  A bowling ball set atop a piece of re bar makes great plant protectors  from sprawling hoses  and a couple of old bowling pins situated down a line from the ball gives your yard a sense of humor.  A brightly painted old chair surrounded by shrubs makes a lovely place to sit and read a book on gardening.  An old tool shed can be painted up to be a lovely place to show off baskets of potted geraniums or old garden tools.  Going through garden books and magazines can stimulate a lot of ideas for adding a new area to your existing gardens.  If you like a tropical look, there are plants that simulate a tropical look.  Musa bajoo banana plants look tropical but are very hardy and will come back every year.  Tropicana’s have brightly colored huge leaves with iridescent fall flowers and ferns will add  a lacy and soft feel.  Water is an element that can easily be added to any garden whether you only have a small space for a colorful pot with a bubbling insert or  full fledged pond with a waterfall.  And you can even simulate a water feature by adding a dry stream.  Just take a good look at nature and follow the bends in the terrain to create a waterless stream with larger rocks flanking the sides.

For vegetable gardens, it’s a good idea to rotate your plantings so the same plants are not planted in the same spot as the previous year.  The bed where beans grew is a perfect place to plant tomatoes or cucumbers as beans and their roots produce nitrogen that will help feed your next plantings.  An important rule of thumb is to not replant nightshade plants in the same area.  An example would be to not plant potatoes or tomato plants where the other had been planted the previous year.  Rotate, rotate and rotate!

Any day that is not miserable outside is a good time to go out and check for broken branches and blown over plantings.  Broken branches need to be cut off at the joint and shrubs and trees may need to have some staking done to realign them to grow straight.  Weeds never stop growing so as you walk by, they are easily pulled up in the softened soil.  Next month you can think about planting peas and spinach if the ground isn’t too soggy.  More on early spring plantings next month.