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January Garden Checklist

Learn what to plant this month, get maintenance advice and troubleshoot your gardening challenges with an expert.

By Kelly Young

What to Plant

Low Elevations

Bare-Root Deciduous Fruit Trees and Roses–Give all dormant bare-root plants a good start by placing them in holes that are 2 feet wide and only as deep as the roots. Remove all packing material from the roots and soak the plants in a bucket of water for two hours before putting them in the ground. Place your specimen in the center of the hole and add water as you replace the backfill. Cover the surrounding area with 3 inches of mulch to protect the roots and conserve soil moisture. If planting blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, grapes, apples, peaches, plums or apricots, always select varieties that require fewer than 400 chilling hours to set fruit in the warm, low desert. Fun fact: Arizona is home to several farms that specialize in bare-root roses. The dry desert climate is perfect for growing disease-free nursery stock. ‘Honey Bee Haven’ is a floribunda type with pinkish orange flowers that smell faintly of cloves. ‘Grateful Heart’ is a hybrid tea rose that blooms enormous red flowers.

Citrus–Support local nurseries and purchase citrus trees that are grown in Arizona. Keep in mind that one lemon or grapefruit tree will supply even the largest household with enough fruit to last the entire season. Because many citrus varieties are cold-sensitive, cover newly planted specimens with frost cloth on nights that temperatures are predicted to dip below freezing.

Cool-Season Vegetables–Transplant artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and head lettuce. Artichokes and asparagus are perennials, so plant them in a spot where they can grow year after year. Sow leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, chard, radish, carrot, snap pea and turnip seeds directly into garden soil.

Middle Elevations

Onions–Plant seeds or sets 4 to 5 inches apart so the developing bulbs have room enough to grow as big as they can.

Middle and High Elevations

Cat-Friendly Window Gardens–Your feline companions may enjoy some fresh greens during the cold days of winter. For wheatgrass, soak wheatberries—available in bulk at some grocers, or order online—in water overnight, then gently press them into moist potting soil. Catnip transplants can often be found at garden centers and pet stores. Grow these tempting kitty treats in pots in a sunny window and water when the soil surface is dry.

High Elevations

January is the coldest month of the year. Anything put outdoors now is likely to freeze to death, so it’s best to wait until spring brings the warmer temperatures that favor root growth and transplant success. Take this opportunity to plan for spring; peruse garden catalogs and order seeds to start indoors next month.

Garden Maintenance

All Elevations

Water Indoor Succulents–The dry air inside our homes, particularly in the dead of winter, can take its toll on even the most drought-tolerant houseplants. If you have been giving your succulents occasional small sips of water, they may benefit from a deep soaking now. Make sure drainage holes in the pots are clear of debris. Bottom-water potted houseplants by placing them in the sink or a tray with a few inches of water, which will slowly be absorbed until the entire soil volume is wet. This may take a few hours, depending on the size of the pot and the initial dryness of the soil.

Low Elevations

Prune Roses–Keep rose bushes compact by cutting canes back to leafless stalks 10-12 inches in length. For a clean cut, use bypass loppers rated for the stems larger than 0.5 inches in diameter. Wear gloves to avoid getting pricked by thorns.

Monitor Fall-Planted Trees–Are the roots of your newly planted trees too deep? They should be found within 1 to 2 inches of the soil’s surface. Check root flares. The trunk should be wider where it meets the soil than it is at a foot above the soil line. If there is no obvious taper, the tree has been planted too deeply and is susceptible to developing girdling roots, which cut

When pruning roses, cut canes back to 10-12 inches in length.

off the flow of water to the tree canopy and the movement of sugars from the leaves to growing roots. Remove excess soil that has accumulated more than an inch or two in depth. Add a 3- to 4-inch-deep layer of mulch to protect roots from damage and slow the evaporation of soil moisture.

Unstake Trees–Tree stakes are intended to be temporary solutions for plants that are unable to stand on their own. Once the root system becomes established, stakes should not be needed. If the tree has been in the ground for more than a year and is still unable to stand without support, consult a certified arborist to explore solutions, which may involve removing the tree and starting over by planting a new one.

Garden Solutions

Five years ago, I planted 200 saguaro seeds. Only one has survived. The tough little guy has been growing in a pot in my sunny kitchen window, but now I’m wondering if it’s time to transplant it outside.

Nurturing a saguaro from seed is a remarkable achievement; kudos to you. Your concern about moving it outside is understandable, as there are countless perils that may befall your precious charge once it is no longer under your protective surveillance. I suggest gradually acclimating the young cactus to the outdoors. Place it outside in a shady spot for a few hours every day. Keep an eye on its moisture level, as the soil will dry out faster than when it was in the kitchen. Bring the plant inside when temperatures dip below 40 degrees. Once nighttime temperatures remain above 40 degrees, transplant the saguaro into an area where it will be shaded by a nurse plant, such as a creosote (Larrea tridentata), jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) or bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea). Water the cactus weekly for the first year and gradually taper off to only adding supplemental irrigation when seasonal rainfall is lacking.

Our landscaper used a pre-emergence herbicide in our Bermuda grass lawn last fall to manage spurge, but now the winter ryegrass seed won’t grow. What can we do to fix the situation?

Without knowing what product was used, it’s difficult to say for sure how long it will persist in the soil. Ask your landscape professional for the name of the herbicide so you can research the active ingredients and their effect on your lawn. You will probably have to wait until next fall to try overseeding the Bermuda grass with rye after heat, microbial activity and time deactivate the chemicals. Tell your landscaper that you intend to grow a winter lawn so he or she can explore other options for managing spurge.

A sugarcane plant that I purchased a few years ago is now much taller than I am and has several stalks. When can it be harvested?

Growing sugarcane is a gardening adventure that yields a sweet reward. The bamboolike plant thrives in the desert heat and will quickly reach a height of more than 10 feet.  For maximum sugar content, harvest the canes in December before the first freeze. Make sure to wear gloves, because the plant is covered in short hairs that irritate the skin. Cut the stalk close to ground level and strip off all leaves. Wipe off any remaining hairs and let the canes “rest” for a few days to let the sugar crystallize before cutting into foot-long segments that are perfect gnawing on and enjoying the sugary juice.


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