January is pruning and planting time for trees, shrubs and roses.
When frost is forecast, cover frost-tender plants with a sheet or some light covering — not plastic — by 8 p.m. and remove by 9 a.m. the next day.
The covering should extend to the ground. Young trees should have trunks wrapped, and if a freeze is forecast, cover the foliage.
A mature citrus tree, older than 6 years, will survive with minimal damage. Only fruit on exposed outer limbs will be affected. Wait to prune off frost damage until after the new spring growth appears — about March, prune off that which remains brown and brittle.
DISEASES AND INSECTS
The gray aphid population explodes in the winter. Hosing off with a forceful spray of water or soap from a spray bottle is an effective method of control. For a bad infestation, simply pinch out the infected area. In the case of totally infested cabbages and other vegetables, it may be wise to simply remove the whole plant.
If your cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli look like someone shot them with a load of buckshot, looper worms are the culprit. Examine these plants closely under the leaves, especially near the base, and treat with Sevin, Dipel or Thuricide, or just pick off the worms and apply the foot-stomp method. It is 100 percent effective and natural.
Reddish-purple growth on eucalyptus and browning or pale green needles on the Aleppo pines are weatherinduced and will correct themselves with a spring green-up.
Stem-end rot of citrus is mostly cosmetic and only rind deep; just cut it away and enjoy the fruit. Blossom-end rot of citrus will spoil the fruit and is caused by a fungal infection. Premature coloring and fruit drop is the best sign of infection. The rot is not always evident on the outside of the fruit. Eventually — frequently not until after harvest — a dark, slightly sunken spot appears on the blossom end of the fruit. This rotten spot may eventually cover one-fourth of the fruit. The tips of several segments show a dark rot, and the juice of the entire fruit has an unpleasant taste. Just pick off and discard the infected fruit.
Check your nursery or garden center for bedding plants. If you missed fall flower planting, it’s not too late to have a beautiful spring garden; plant them now. Curled parsley from seed or transplants mixes well with flowers for an interesting look.
Don’t forget that planting flowers and veggies in pots and bowls on your patio, entryway and courtyard are great ways to show off special textures, foliage and flowers. Coleus, caladiums and ornamental cabbage are eye-catching plants that show off multicolored leaves and grow well in shaded areas.
Plant seeds for beets, bok choy, carrots, chard, collard greens, lettuce, leek, mustard, green onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach or turnips. Plant transplants of artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kohlrabi and lettuce.
If you still need to prepare your soil for a spring/ summer garden, for 100 square feet, mix 3 to 5 pounds of soil sulfur OR 5 to 10 pounds of gypsum (but not both); 2 pounds of ammonium phosphate (16-20-0); 3 to 5 pounds of Ironite; and 3 to 5 inches of organic matter like mulch, compost or manure. Work this into the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. A big rototiller will till about 8 inches deep, and a spading fork will dig to about 12 inches. The organic matter, mulch, manure or compost is very important. If you cheat in your soil preparation, your harvest will show it. Be liberal with mulch and organic matter.
A better method of vegetable gardening is to grow them in planter boxes 6 inches high using a soil of 1 /3 compost, 1 /3 peat moss and 1 /3 vermiculite. Get and follow the book "Square Foot Gardening," which should be your handbook for vegetable gardening. It uses 25 percent less space with greater success than the row-andfurrow method. I have converted my own garden to this method.
FRUIT AND SHADE TREES
Plant fruit trees now — I mean as soon as you read this, because they go fast. The first two weeks of January are best, but the last two weeks will do if you can get them. Plant bare-root trees before they leaf out. Planting potted deciduous trees anytime is fine.
Dig a hole three to four times the size of the root ball. With the earth that you will put back in the hole around the roots, mix in 2 to 3 pounds of Ironite and 2 to 3 pounds of treble super phosphate (0-45-0). Make sure the soil-line root ball or the trunk is at least the same height as it was planted before and water as you backfill to settle the earth and remove air pockets. Make sure the bud union is well above the soil line; otherwise, shoots will come up below the graft and the graft will be defeated.
There are several reasons to prune. One is to improve the appearance of ornamental trees and shrubs. Another is to develop a fruit crop and keep the tree productive for many years to come. Sawing or lopping off large limbs meets neither of those purposes. Ideally, when you have reduced a tree’s size and improved its appearance, it should still look like it hasn’t been pruned.
When it comes to pruning shrubs, throw away the hedge shears! Shaping shrubs into round balls destroys their shape and blooming potential. What’s more, shearing causes the lower part of the shrub to become bare and twiggy. Eventually, only the top of the plant is crowned with leaves. Only rows of formal hedges should be sheared, not individual shrubs.
If shrubs need to be pruned for size control, then selective cutting back and removal of the longer branches is recommended. Removing them will maintain or reduce the size of the shrub while preserving its natural form. Too many people have pruned their shade trees as if they were peach trees and have spoiled them.
Palms should never be pruned to look like pineapples. Palms with only the top three or four fronds remaining have been pruned excessively and improperly. Only the lower leaves — the ones that have turned brown or are yellowing — should be removed. Correct pruning of palms is a once-a-year job. Palm tree fronds should not be pruned more than a 180-degree fan pattern. Palm tree pruning should be done by cherry picker equipment, not by spike tree climbers. The spike injury to the palms is permanent and will shorten the life of the tree. Choose only tree trimmers that have the proper equipment.
Correct pruning keeps palms healthy and looking their best. If you want to learn more about the correct pruning of desert plants, I highly recommend "Pruning, Planting & Care" by Eric A. Johnson. It is a guide to pruning plants of the arid West, with lots of color photography and step-by-step instructions. It can be purchased at many local bookstores.
For a more detailed approach to correct pruning of fruit trees, read chapter 13 of "Desert Gardening Fruits and Vegetables" by George Brookbank or the pruning section of "Sunset’s Western Garden Book." I highly recommend all three of these books for your reference library. Most nurseries or bookstores have them.
Fertilize once a month with Ironite for that dark green lawn and less mowing, or use ammonium nitrate, 34-0-0, 1 pound per 1,000 square feet. The ammonium nitrate will react sooner, but you will mow more often. Ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) is not very effective in cold weather; we will switch to that in May. If you did not overseed your Bermuda, water the dormant Bermuda at least once a month. It is not dead, just asleep, and needs water to stay healthy. But don’t fertilize until late April or May.
More information about the book "Square Foot Gardening" is at