Guest column: January in the Garden

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

Our crazy Oklahoma weather has been on full display this month. The temperature is getting up to the 80’s on some days, and it has been very dry and windy. That isn’t typical for this time of year, even in Oklahoma. At least it provides opportunities to get some yard work done without cold north wind and sleet or snow. The following tips are things you can do to get ready for the spring gardening season during this unseasonably warm winter.

Have a plan. Think about what worked in last year’s garden. More importantly, think about what didn’t work. Walk around inside and look out your windows. Do you have a lovely view of trees, shrubs, and flower borders, or are you looking at the neighbor’s storage building? If your view is blocked by a tree or shrub, prune up the limbs so you can see. If you don’t like the view, plant a beautiful native tree or shrub to become a focal point.

Winter planting: Winter is a good time to plant new trees and shrubs or to relocate trees and shrubs in your landscape. You can plant anytime the soil isn’t frozen or too wet. It's also a great time to remove dead or damaged branches and lower limbs that get in your way when you are walking under them or mowing. Remove any mistletoe from your trees now by taking out the entire branch it is growing on.

Winter weeds: If you have a small yard, dig out broadleaf weeds such as clover, dandelions, henbit, and chickweed in lawns and beds. If you have too much to dig by hand, you can also spot spray large areas with a broadleaf weed killer, but you need to catch a day when temperatures are above 70 degrees for it to work well and make sure it isn't windy (which is the tricky part in Oklahoma).

Soil testing: This is a good time to have your soil tested in your vegetable garden, flower garden, or lawn. The OSU Extension Office and Noble Foundation both do testing for a nominal fee and aren't as busy now as they will be later in the spring. The soil is not as wet now as it will be when the spring rains come, either.

Good soil is necessary for good gardening: Healthy soils are essential in any landscape, and organic matter can transform poor soils into a fertile growth medium that supports healthy plant growth while reducing water and fertilization requirements. Take advantage of any opportunity to prepare your beds now so that you aren’t delayed at planting time. You can get the beds ready by mixing in compost and then covering the soil with mulch, leaves, or old hay. This will protect the soil surface and deter weeds from germinating. You cannot work in wet soils without destroying the soil structure and will need to let the soil dry out before you can plant.

Winter color: Evergreens add color to your landscape even in the winter. When planning a new landscape or adding new plants to an established site, remember, the evergreen will be present with its beautiful color all year long. Evergreens are also some of the hardiest plants and will be drought-tolerant, once established. Be sure to water evergreens during winter if it does not rain consistently.

Amaryllis: If you have an amaryllis, take it outdoors on a nice day in February and plant it in a well-drained rich organic soil mixture in sun to part shade, and it will bloom again next spring. Mine has been planted in a bed against a south-facing patio for five years and has gotten bigger with more blooms each year. I counted 15 blooms this past spring, and they were amazing.

Go native: Plant native trees to conserve water, attract wildlife, and beautify your landscape. Possumhaw Holly is a native shrub or small deciduous tree that grows up to 15 feet high. When female possumhaws lose their leaves, bright red berries decorate the barren limbs. For more suggestions on what to plant, check out OK Proven.org and OSU factsheet recommendations specifically for Oklahoma.

Layer on the compost. Compost is called “Gardener’s Gold” and is Nature's miracle cure for almost everything. Adding a new layer of compost now will make your life easier the rest of the season. Compost feeds the plants and the soil, improves sandy or clay soil, keeps soil temperatures cooler in summer and warmer in winter, makes everything look neat and tidy, keeps most weeds from sprouting, and keeps moisture from evaporating in the Oklahoma heat, drought, and wind. As I said, compost is Nature's Miracle. Happy Gardening & Happy New Year!