January Gardening Guidelines

by Keith C. Hansen, Extension Horticulturist, Smith Co. – Tyler, Texas

It’s a new gardening year, and hopefully, all your gardening efforts will be fruitful and enjoyable. It may be chilly outside at this time of year, but winter weather is perfect for a number of gardening tasks. Although you may not think of it this way, just consider how much better outdoor chores, like soil preparation, planting, transplanting and pruning, can be done without getting drenched in sweat while toiling in hot summer temperatures. So, here are a few items the gardener can accomplish in January.


If you are considering digging and moving a plant from one spot to another in the landscape, this is the month to accomplish this job. Most plants move best when they are fully dormant as a result of prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Small and young plants are the easiest to move successfully since there is less shock and they recover from root loss rather quickly. Remember to selectively remove some top growth to compensate for the inevitable loss of some of the roots. Once the plant is moved, water it thoroughly and apply a few inches of mulch over the root area.


The ground doesn’t freeze in East Texas, and many things can be planted at this time of year. At the top of the list are fruit trees and vines. These plants are dug by growers while they are dormant and shipped bare-root. The quicker you make your selection and get them in the ground, the faster they will establish a root system, which means better growth in the spring and summer. Don’t let them dry out! Roses and other dormant, deciduous flowering plants are also available this month. Actually, most container-grown nursery stock can be planted during the winter, weather permitting. You can also be preparing the soil now for new flower, rose or shrub beds by mixing in plenty of organic material like compost and fertilizer. This way the soil is ready for immediate planting when the plants arrive.

Start seeds indoors now for planting in late winter and early spring: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, parsley, petunias and begonias. Tomato, pepper and eggplant seed should be started in late January for transplanting in March. Late January is also the time to start transplants of marigolds, periwinkles and other summer flowers. Use a commercial peat-light soil mix in a clean flat. Place in a warm, bright spot. Cover the tray with a clear piece of glass or plastic or saran wrap until the seeds have sprouted. At that time, place in very bright light to keep the seedlings from stretching.

Plant asparagus roots as they become available at garden stores.


January and February are the months to accomplish pruning of fruit trees. Annual pruning keeps the harvest within reach, thins crowded branches, thus allowing more light to penetrate developing fruit, and stimulates new growth for next year’s crop. Peaches, plums and apricots need this annual pruning. The dormant season of winter is also the time to do any needed pruning of shade trees to correct major problems such as cleaning out dead wood, removing lower limbs and crowded branches to allow more light to reach the ground, and removing hazardous branches which threaten property.


Regularly fertilize pansies to keep them actively growing. Houseplants can be fertilized with reduced rates of water-soluble fertilizer this month. Do not over-water houseplants, and make sure that water does not sit in the saucer under the pot after watering.


Birds of all kinds appreciate a constant source of seed, suet and water during the winter. You’ll enjoy all the activity in your yard while providing a valuable service for our feathered friends. Just remember that once you start feeding, you should keep it up through the winter. This is a good time to get your lawn and garden soil tested for its pH level. Soils which are strongly acid stunt plant growth and result in unproductive gardens. Liming lawns and gardens now allows time for lime to react and raise the soil pH before the growing season arrives.

Compost piles should be turned at least once during the month. Leaves are abundant and should be shredded before adding to the pile. Add animal manure or clippings from winter rye for a source of nitrogen. The pile should be at least 3 cubic feet in volume to help hold in the heat generated by decomposition. Check the pile for moisture level. It should be neither too wet or too dry. Add water if it is dry; add more coarse, dry matter if it is too wet.


Check the East Texas Gardening Program Calendar for the East Texas Garden Lecture Series, held February – June and September – November. Check the Programs link or call the Smith County Extension office (903) 590-5980.

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