For The Answer
Week of December 30,2002
Happy New Year! January is San Antonio’s coldest month but it is still mild by most standards and a very pleasant time to garden.
The paperwhites have already begun to bloom. If you have daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and other spring bulbs that have not been planted, get them in the ground. The chances of some success with blooms are greater if planted now than to wait until next autumn.
Keep the lawn mowed to prevent seed heads forming on annual bluegrass and other winter weeds. Don’t waste your water sprinkling now. The St. Augustine, buffalo, Bermuda and zoysia grasses are dormant. The only thing that would benefit are winter weeds. Any water used now translates into sewer bills later. During the winter, SAWS and other water companies determine what the sewer bills will be for the rest of the year. The logic is that the only water used in the winter is water inside and all of that water flows into the sewer and must be treated.
Those of you feeding the birds are having great luck at attracting birds based on the action at my feeders. Sunflower seeds for cardinals and thistle for goldfinches are the staples. If you have squirrel problems try safflower seeds. It comes loose for a tube feeder and in cakes. The squirrels do not like it but the house finches, cardinals, titmice, and chicadees do.
January is a good month to aerate and top dress the lawn. Rent a plug-cutting aerator and apply .5 inches of compost over the lawn after the aeration. It is like a magic elixir! Water penetration, gas exchange, and soil compaction are addressed. It is the best method for lawn care around and it is environmentally appropriate.
There is still time to plant cyclamen for color in the shade and pansies in full sun. Don’t forget to fertilize the plantings of winter annuals. A cup of slow release lawn fertilizer every 25 square feet of bed is plenty.
The retail nurseries have onion plants available. Plant them every two inches in the garden and thin out the plants to every six inches over the next two months. Use the thinned plants for green onions. Onions need to be fertilized heavily for success. Prepare the bed with a cup of lawn fertilizer for every 10 feet of row and add the same amount of fertilizer every four weeks. It is also time to plant English peas by seed.
January is the second best month to prune fruit trees (February is the best). Visit the website plantanswers.com for diagrams showing how to do it. The idea is to open up the middle of the tree to light and air.
It is the best time to prune live oaks and red oaks. The oak wilt disease is not active because of the cold. To be safe it is best to paint all wounds over one inch in diameter. January is also a good month for tree planting. Select a quality species such as live oak, Texas red oak, cedar elm, Chinese pistache, bur oak, and chinkapin oak. Shade trees planted on the South and West side of your house will reduce air conditioning costs.
It is reasonable to cut back lantana, firebush, esperanza, and other root hardy perennials now. Lantana is prone to get coarse and leggy if it is not cut back. Some gardeners, however, wait until the new growth starts later in the spring. The delay provides cover for ground-feeding birds.
We have two dull periods in San Antonio landscapes: January and mid-summer. To counteract the January doldrums, see what is colorful. Plan on planting some of those species in your landscape; your yard will standout from the neighborhood and January will be less dreary. Paperwhites, pansies, and cyclamen were mentioned. Nandinas, possumhaw holly, pyracantha, and standard yaupons with their berries, are also showy.