For The Answer
By Calvin Finch, PhD, SAWS Conservation Director, and Horticulturist
Week of January 5, 2004
The leaves have been slow to fall this year from the oaks. If you have red oak, live oak, chinkapin, and lacey oak they are just falling from many trees. Pecan, mulberry, ash, tallow, cedar elm, and chinaberry fell earlier. There are several environmentally appropriate options for leaves. The easiest tactic is to just let them decompose on the lawn. They return nutrients and improve the soil. To speed up the decomposition, run the lawn mower over them. If you prefer to rake the leaves, use them as mulch or in the compost pile. In no case is it appropriate to bag them for the landfill; it is a waste of valuable organic material and valuable landfill space.
Your lawn does not need much attention in January. Mow once if the winter weeds have grown up. Only irrigate if we do not get any rain over a three-week period. Apply about one-half inch of irrigation to keep the roots from drying out. Remember, winter is when your sewer bill is determined for the full year; the more water you use in the winter, the higher the sewer bill all year. Late in the month it is a good time to aerate and top dress with compost. Rent the type of aerator that cuts plugs and lays them on the surface of the lawn. I do not recommend the type of top dressing that includes sand unless you are trying to fill holes. Sand is a filler. Pure compost top dressing is the same price as sand diluted material so use the “pure stuff”. Apply it thin, about half an inch over the surface. It takes a cubic yard of compost for every 650 sq. ft. of lawn.
If spreading compost is not your thing, call Oak Hills Top Soil & Mulch in Boerne (830-249-3575) and they will blow it on the lawn with a reverse vacuum cleaner for about $55-$60/cubic yard (includes labor, material, and delivery).
In the vegetable garden plant onion plants, potatoes, and English peas. Keep the greens fertilized with 1 cup of lawn fertilizer per 10 feet of row. Harvest broccoli before the flowers open. Pull leaves of spinach, mustard, collards, and turnips as you need them. Carrots, rutabagas, and turnips should be ready to harvest this month.
The cold weather in December ended the blooming of most petunias, snapdragons, and calendula. They will make another show in February and March. Keep them watered every week. The pansies and cyclamen bloomed on through the cold spell. Do not forget to control the slugs, snails, and pill bugs with slug bait. They will also have to be watered every week or 10 days and fertilized monthly. The paperwhites and daffodils bloom in January. If the weather is mild the sweet peas should put on some foliage. It is not too late to plant a crop of sweet peas early this month.
Most nurseries will receive their fruit trees this month. Select varieties that tolerate our warm winters. For peaches I recommend June Gold, La Feliciana, Texstar, and Florida King. The most reliable plum is Methley. Santa Rosa is another good plum. Select Anna and Dorsett Golden for apples. The best pears are Warren, Le Conte, Orient, and Kiefer.
To maximize production and longevity, the fruit trees should be planted in the middle of a raised bed formed by four, eight-foot raised railroad ties. Fill the beds with landscape mix from your favorite soil supplier. The mix should have 25 to 33 percent compost. Irrigate the fruit trees with drip irrigation for the best results.
January is a good month to apply dormant oil to fruit trees and pecans to help control scale, phylloxera, and other insects. Spray the trunk and branches as high as you can reach to dripping when a period of weather where the low is 45 degrees F. or higher for three days or more.
January is also a good month to plant shade trees, understory trees, and shrubs. Select the plant that has a mature height and width that matches the space available. The label should describe the final size or get a good resource book like Neil Sperry’s Texas Gardening. Internet users can visit plantanswers.com for information about recommended varieties and size.