Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

The Gentle Gardener

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Are you in the mood for some much-deserved rest after the holidays? Better get out of that mood! If you think there’s nothing to be done in your garden, guess again. January is the perfect time to plant or transplant trees and shrubs; fertilize specific plants; refurbish your gardening tools; trim injured or diseased limbs (unless there has been a hard frost); and much, much more.


Shovel it down

To plant or transplant your trees or shrubs, dig a large enough hole and place some organic material such as peat or compost on the bottom. Make sure you don’t plant them any deeper than the original soil line. It’s preferable to leave roughly one inch of the original dirt ball above the soil line to allow for settling. To ensure you don’t have any air holes, use your fingers to push the dirt tightly around the roots. Tap dancing around the plant may look like a lot of fun but, other than burning off a few extra calories, it rarely compresses the dirt enough. For all the divas out there, there’s a new thing called gloves. Then, make sure that you thoroughly water the plant.

CALL BEFORE YOU DIG • Whether you’re planning to build a major development or just landscaping your yard, Hargray reminds you to make sure to call Underground Service Alert at 811 at least two working days before excavating.

Lime yours

If you’re like me and did not apply lime (as indicated by your soil analysis) to your non-acid loving plants in the fall, now is the time to add it as it can take several months to activate and your magnolias and gerbera daisies will thank you with their prolific blooms. I also apply a light level of fertilizer to all of my roses on the first of each month. The plants thank me with breathtaking flowers and the deer thank me by promptly mowing ‘em down. For acid-loving plants (azaleas, gardenias, camelias, blueberries and most iris) be sure to dump your old coffee grounds and pickle juice around the base of your plants (and you thought pickle juice was only good for muscle cramps – silly gardeners).

Stay sharp

January is also the perfect time to oil and sharpen your tools, especially before you perform any trimming. Ace Hardware will perform these tasks for a fee if your partner is too lazy or it’s above your pay-grade. It’s also a good time to apply a bright yellow or orange to the handles of your tools. Why you might ask? To make them more visible when you drop them. I have lost two expensive pruners in the last month. I’m ready to purchase a metal detector – old squeaky has purchased Stihl stock.

Try to cut back

If there has not been a hard frost by the time this prints (fingers crossed), you can begin trimming injured or diseased limbs with your newly cleaned and sharpened tools which will provide a clean cut. Remove shoots from your crepe myrtles and crossing branches from any of your trees.

Wash it down

My last piece of free advice this month (worth what you paid for it) is to water your plants well the day before a freeze is predicted. Covering your plants may make you feel better and help to protect the leaves but according to the Clemson Extension, it is actually the roots that we need to protect, which is exactly what the water does, even if it’s not intuitively obvious. Happy gardening!


Ask & Answer

DEAR GENTLE GARDENER,
The lemon tree on my back patio is looking a little pathetic. I have it in full sun. Should I bring it inside?
— Hoping for Lemons in Lemmington

Dear Lemons,
Citrus trees thrive in full sun and no wind. So as long as it is out of the wind, you should be fine. While citrus trees require good drainage and do not like soggy soil, they do need water. Most citrus trees that die in the winter are killed by drought, not the cold. Do not mulch around the base of your citrus tree, as this will encourage root rot. Also, make sure that you did not plant your tree too deeply – the root ball should be just above the ground. Going forward, you should fertilize your citrus every month (with citrus fertilizer) beginning in March and continue until September. The leaves will turn yellow if they don’t have enough fertilizer. Little saplings also will appreciate a liquid fertilizer between applications of citrus fertilizer during the growing season.

Got a question for the Gentle Gardener? Email [email protected]