By Francisco Nava
Your Garden and the New Year
Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward and below
I count as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)
January was named for the Roman god Janus, known as the protector of gates and doorways which symbolize beginnings and endings. Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking into the past, the other with the ability to see into the future.
Traditionally a time for fresh starts, January is also a time for renewed energy and grand plans for the year ahead. We cast off the old and welcome the new.
What to do in your garden in January
Tidy up. Clean pots, tools, and greenhouses.
Plan your yearly garden. Order seeds and plants. Review what worked in the past year and what did not. Plan changes and try another approach to see improvement. Draw up a garden plan to help you decide the quantities you will need. Plan vegetable plots with good garden rotation to prevent pests and disease buildup in soil.
Prune roses to just above a bud and remove any crossing or dead branches. Cut back ornamental grasses to within a few centimeters above the ground. Clean up perennials like sedums by cutting down old stems. Remove any faded flowers from winter pansies to stop them setting seed. Prune apple and pear trees. Leave plum, cherry, and apricot trees alone for now.
Harvest parsnips and leeks. Remove any yellowing leaves from winter brassicas as they harbor pests and diseases.
What to plant in January
It’s cold at night and in the early morning but warms up nicely in the afternoon. Every few years there are January rains, called cabañuelas, but don’t count on them. At the viveros, look for ageratos, snapdragons, tibouchina, hydrangeas, zinnias, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, veronicas, gazzinias and vincas, pansies, petunias, stocks, and bergenia. For the flower garden, from seed try Brugmansia (syn. Datura) (Angel’s Trumpet), corydalis for its attractive foliage, michauxia with its exuberant, white flowers, and Lady’s mantle for future flower arranging. Continue watering when necessary, remembering that the native plants know it’s the dry season. Plant bare root roses, sweet peas, and bare root fruit trees. Plant amaryllis bulbs for flowers in spring. And plant lettuce, asparagus, spinach, and beets.
Continue weeding and mulch as much as you can.
Most seeds are viable from three to five years, with some exceptions. You can perform a viability test for your seeds by placing ten seeds on a moist paper towel and placing it in a plastic bag, keeping the towel moist for approximately a week. Count the seeds that have germinated and multiply by 10. This yields the viability of the seeds. If three of the ten seeds germinate, you have 30% viability. If eight seeds germinate, then you have 80% viability. The 80% seeds you can use, throw out the 30% seeds. Aside from viability seeds also have vigor, which is the ability of the plant to thrive after germination. Keep both of these in mind.
In early spring or late winter you will see fewer insects and diseases, so your plants and vegetables should get off to a good start.
“To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.”
—Jean Paul Sartre
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