It has been a cold, wet winter. Bad barometrics has kept me seriously indoors. Short of "Downton Abbey" marathons and returning Xmas gifts, there is little to draw my attention. Mostly, I am loath to wander through the garden. I’ve already seen how the get-up-and-go zinnias got up and went, the mallow shriveled like burnt cheese on pizza, one holdout bud of iceberg rose refuses to open until I balance the checking account.
Even in Zone 9, winter can defeat you. In our house,we have lost no fewer than two newsboy caps and a pair of gloves; all the take-out menus disappeared; the iphone won’t power on since we downloaded a camera app (though I am sure we can power on the microwave with the static electricity from my hair).
What to do? Well, gardeners here are some projects to start in January.
PRUNE: If we get a dry couple of days, clean the pruners with rubbing alcohol and get outside and start cutting. It’s easier this time of year as many trees have lost their leaves and it’s a breeze seeing the branch formation. Criss-crossing branches on smaller trees (such as plum or lemon) and rosebushes should be eliminated. And as much as it may pain you, remove all the leaves from roses and cut back the canes. While you’re at it, clip those leggy bougainvillea vines and buddleia.
“Basic guidelines for winter dormant pruning are to remove crowded or crossed branches, to open the center for good light exposure and airflow, to repair structural weakness, and to remove vigorous vertical-growing branches,” advises Yvonne Savio Program Manager and Master Gardener Coordinator for Los Angeles County's University of California Cooperative Extension. “The height or width of the tree can also be reduced. Take care to not leave stubs or to over prune in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit.”
“And,” Savio adds, “Prune crape myrtles severely.”
(When it comes to certain perennials, such as buddleia, lavender, sage, mallow, resist cutting until spring).
DIVIDE: If you have noticed any puddling around perennials, make sure to improve drainage. In fact, if they are overgrown, you can divide and replant now such perennials as Agapanthus, day lillies, delphinium gazania. (Do not divide sweet peas...they don’t like being fiddled with.)
PLANT: When there is little chance of a hard frost, certain wildflower seeds can be sown in January including California poppy, nasturtium, snapdragons, sweet peas, salvia, sweet William. Add vines and vegetable seeds to the garden, including grapevine, boysenberries and strawberries and veggies such as carrots, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, parsley, and Asian greens, which can go in the ground at the first hint of a week where the temps at night don’t dip below 45.
Also, in the next week or two, you can get a workout by digging deep, wide holes for bare root fruit and nut trees (exceptions are citrus and avocados) and strong-limbed woody trees (exceptions include the jacaranda). New tree installations should be done no later than March 1. A hint: avoid trees in nursery buckets where the roots are circling around one another.
MULCH: Packed with nutrients, mulch keeps the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, help plants retain moisture, reduces erosion, cuts down on weeds and provides nourishment thanks to its healthy population of micro-organisms.
Mulch marks humans’ attempt to mimic Nature. The ecosystem replenishes itself with leaf cover found on forest floors, for example, or with the spent blooms of wildflowers and decomposing fallen fruits. Go crazy, you want three to four inches of mulch. Tip: do not however over mulch new trees.
STEAL THIS IDEA: Get your seeds organized with a DIY project perfect for indoors. Use an old typesetter cubby or cigar box and organize your seed packets or try tin craft cans with plastic see through lids to store bulk seeds in.