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January is usually our coldest month. This year December has been very cold with 5 days of below freezing temperature in most neighborhoods. Most of the root hardy perennials such as lantanas, esperanza, plumbago, poinciana, four o’clocks and crossvine froze back. They can be cut back to the ground now or next month. The advantage of letting them stand for another five or six weeks is that they provide feeding areas and they may provide some protection for unfrozen stems from the next freezes.
In the vegetable garden, January is a good month to plant onions. The cole crops (cabbage, broccoli and relatives) should be going strong. Fertilize them every month and harvest the heads before they pass their prime. After mid-month you can plant English peas and potatoes.
The cold weather in December knocked most blooms from petunias, snapdragons, stock, calendula and dianthus. They will have another bloom period beginning in February. Pansies, ornamental kale and cyclamen made it through the cold spell and are blooming well in many locations. Do not forget to apply slug and snail bait to gardens with low growing plants like pansies. Growth slows down in periods with freezing temperatures and they can be very vulnerable to the pests.
The wildflowers benefited by the cold spell because the last of the warm weather weeds were knocked down. Rescue grass, henbit and other cold weather weeds provide completion but every bit helps.
Most Bermuda, zoysia and buffalo grass lawns are dormant now. St. Augustine grass in protected areas may still be showing some green. Mow monthly if the winter weeds show up but no watering or fertilization is necessary.
If your trees need pruning, January is a good month to do it. Arborists and tree service companies are usually not busy and you can receive a relatively good price. Obtain two or three bids on necessary work and select a firm with a history of good work. Live and red oaks do not usually need much pruning but this would be a good time because the cold weather has reduced the danger of oak wilt spreading through the fresh wounds. The coldest part of winter and the hottest part of summer are the best times to prune oaks. To be safe, have your contractor paint the wounds all year round.
Firewood can spread oak wilt. Protect the trees in your neighborhood by only purchasing or obtaining wood that dried through one summer. Only the red oak wood (Spanish oak, Shumardi, blackjack and Texas red oak wood) has the potential to form the fungal spores when the weather warms. Live oak is safe. Since most of us cannot tell the differences between the woods, treat all oak firewood as dangerous if it is not dried out. Two other options to protect your trees are to use all the firewood up this winter or seal the leftover wood in plastic early in March. Visit the Texas Forest Service Oak Wilt website at http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/forest/oakwilt/default.asp for more information.
What a difference a month makes. Last month the birds were going fine, thank you, gleaning seeds and insects from our landscapes – now they are spending considerable time at our bird feeders. The American goldfinch and lesser goldfinches are filling every perch on my thistle feeders and it seems to be the same all over San Antonio. The cardinals, doves, chickadees, titmice and house finches are feeding heavily on sunflower and safflower seed. Feed suet and woodpeckers, wrens, starlings, kinglets and even myrtle warblers will often utilize the material. They are generally insect eaters. Consider providing a water source. A birdbath can attract large numbers of birds. It is difficult finding water during dry cold weather. Provide a water feature with shallow sections and moving water and you will attract all the birds at the feeders plus warblers, orioles and other migrating species.
January is still a good month to plant trees and shrubs. The new season’s fruit trees may show up this month at some nurseries. Watch for sales on last year’s stock of trees and shrubs. The weather is great for working in the yard, especially if you are planting a tree purchased at a bargain price.