winter_veg_1winter_veg_2It may feel like a slow gardening month, but you still have time to plant some vegetable, flowers and herbs. Plus, this is the perfect month to build your soil for warm season growing. Gregory Ware does a great Soil Preparation workshop at Southwest Gardener on January 29 where you’ll learn how to create the best soil environment possible for your garden.

Edibles: You can still plant seeds for: beets, carrots, greens such as kale and Swiss Chard as well as winter_veg_3leaf and head lettuce, green onions, radishes, spinach and turnips. It’s just about time to begin to harvest broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. The weather’s been warm, cold, warm, cold so some of these plants may be a bit confused, but they’ll be ready to eat soon. These plants, from the Brassica family, are some of the tastiest that you grow compared with what you’ll find in the grocery store. The whole plant is edible, so make sure to harvest broccoli leaves and even the stems. Shave them into some cole slaw. You’ll love the flavor punch. Maya Dailey of Maya’s Farm tells us broccoli leaves are all the rage at East Coast farmer’s market, so don’t just compost them. They’re delicious!

Calls asking about “holes in my plants” reminds us to tell you to keep watch for green caterpillars, called Cabbage loopers, that like to feast on cool season veggies. You can use Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt spray. We carry it at Southwest Gardener. It is considered safe and organic.

Start Pepper and Eggplant Plants: You can start seeds indoors this month for eggplant and peppers that will be transplanted later in mid-February to mid-March.  Some people start tomatoes from seed in January, but that’s too short of a time before transplant (mid-February). Next year, try starting your tomato seeds in late November. Use a good quality, soiless transplant mix to start your seeds and sterilize flats or containers to help prevent damping off disease. Make sure seedlings are in a warm sunny area, preferably outdoors but they will need protection from frost. Inside under a grow light or in a bright, sunny window area would work well. Keep soil mix consistently moist until seeds germinate. When seedlings start to grow, rotate the container one-quarter turn daily to avoid having them bend toward the light.

Lawns: Your winter rye will need less water this year with all the rain we’ve had, so be sure to turn off the sprinklers  whenever there is measurable rain. Winter rye does not need daily watering at this point and that much water will invite disease. Also, be sure to water in the morning so grass is dry at night.

Aphids: Monitor plants with  new growth for aphids. These tiny soft-bodied insects suck the sap and leave behind a sticky honeydew. Aphids are usually green or greyish-black, although they come in a variety of colors. This time of year you are likely to find gray ones on your gray plants (think broccoli, kale, etc). Wash them off with a strong spray of water from the hose. Chemical sprays are unnecessary for aphids. An alternative is to ignore them, because beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and green lacewings, will arrive to consume them. Or, if you have a plant they particularly like, leave it in your garden as their food source and often they will ignore the other plants.

Trees and bushes: Now is an excellent time, before spring budding, to shape-up citrus, landscape trees and bushes. Check for crossing limbs, and dead or damaged limbs. When sawing off limbs, always remember to start with a cut on the underside of the branch to avoid tearing or peeling the bark down when the limb comes off.

Wait to prune any frost damage until you see new growth. Here’s more on frost.

It’s time for the annual Master Gardener Citrus Clinic on January 21.  This is a once a year, don’t-miss event  where you can learn all about growing citrus in the desert.  There will be Citrus Taste Testing of over 30 varieties so you taste first, then decide what to plant, along with advice from experts on pruning, fertilizing, planting, pests, diseases and problems. We hear they will also have information on growing grapes and peaches, too!

Check out the complete Southwest Gardener Event List