Smith County horticulturist
As you continue to build on your successes and learn from failures, keep in mind that every year will be different from the previous one.
Some things never change, though, such as the routine tasks that make gardening more productive. When it is too nasty outside to work, gardening catalogs begin arriving in the mail to give you ideas and stimulate dreams of a second Garden of Eden in your own yard.
Take advantage of winter months to read a good book on your favorite aspect of gardening. Many are available, and you can pick up new hints and ideas to apply.
Many gardeners use a yearly calendar for jotting down gardening notes to have a record of what worked, what failed, what bloomed when, etc. Smith County Master Gardeners created the 2013 Northeast Texas Gardening Guide & Calendar, which can be used for such a purpose. It provides tips and gardening ideas for each month.
The calendar is available at several retail outlets and the Smith County A&M AgriLife Extension office. For more information and locations, go to the Master Gardeners web site (scmg.tamu.edu) and look under “MG Projects.”
Choosing trees is easier now because you can examine the branching pattern and easily see scars or other defects. Look for trees that are not root bound in their containers. Choose quality, long-lived tree varieties rather than the fast growing types.
Now is the time to plant asparagus roots, fruit and pecan trees, blueberries, blackberries and roses as they become available at garden stores. All require full sun and well drained soils to be the most productive.
Late January and into February are good months to dig and transplant established shrubs and small trees that need to be moved.
If your shade trees need pruning, January is a good month to accomplish this. Remove damaged, rubbing, crowded, dying or dead limbs. Do not leave stubs but rather remove limbs at their point of origin (at the fork). Do not top your tree. Topping weakens trees, greatly shortening their life span, and ruins the natural beauty of the tree. Also, do not top crape myrtles. If they are too tall for their location, move them rather than prune them, and get a variety that will grow to the size and height needed.
This is also a good time to prune fruit trees. Peaches and plums need about 1/4 to 1/3 of their limbs removed. This accomplishes several things: it keeps the harvest within reach, thins crowded branches, allowing more light to reach developing fruit and stimulates new growth for the 2014 crop.
Get your lawn and garden soil tested for its pH level. Soils that are too acidic stunt plant growth and result in unproductive gardens. Liming lawns and gardens now based on soil test results allows time for lime to react and raise the soil pH before the growing season arrives. Soil testing information is available at county AgriLife Extension offices, and online at soiltesting.tamu.edu.
Speaking of compost, it is time to get your spring garden soil ready for planting. Wait to till or work the soil until it is just moist, but not too wet or dry. Incorporate plenty of organic matter such as compost, and if you have poorly drained soil, create raised beds. By getting the ground ready, you will be ready to plant in coming weeks.
Vegetables that can be directly seeded in the garden in January and into February include beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, mustard, radish and turnips.
Start other vegetables indoors now for planting later this winter and early spring — broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce and parsley. Later in January start tomato, pepper and eggplant from seed for transplanting in March.
In late January and in early February, you can set out transplants of other cold hardy vegetables, including kale, collards, cabbage, onions, spinach and broccoli. Be ready to cover them in case of a really hard freeze. Give them a shot of water-soluble fertilizer at planting time, and then every couple of weeks until they get well established.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/etg.