January in the Southern Garden
January's name reflects a Latin word meaning "door" and originated from the Roman deity, Janus, who -- with two heads -- looked both to the past and to the future.
January's flower is the Carnation, highly valued for its scent and beauty. Originating in alpine regions of Europe, the flower was called Dianthus -- meaning "divine flower" and has been cultivated for over two-thousand years. In medieval times, the blooms were often called "sops-in-wine" as they were added to spirits of all kinds for a spicy flavor. A common name for this small flower is simply "pink" and it has lent this name to a popular cliche: In the Pink. This expression means the flowering or finest example of something, an object or person at the height of its kind. The much larger blooms of carnations are still popular and their production is big business and a major import from South America.
For an always impressive display of liquid transport in plant tissues, take a white carnation and split the stem end into two sections lengthwise for about three inches. Place each end in a separate container of water. Into each container add several drops of food coloring -- use different colors in each container. After a few hours the results will be noticed. With a little practice, you can create a flower with your national colors or colors of your alma mater.
One of the best New Year resolutions is to plant a Spring garden. Start planning now. The County Agricultural Extension Office (2800 NE 39 Ave) will test your soil for a small charge. Their letter will recommend any soil amendments necessary for successful vegetables. This is very important because if the pH is off, your plants will have difficulty absorbing the food you give them. The term: pH refers to balance between soil acidity and alkalinity. It is measured on a scale from one to fourteen -- with seven being neutral (about where vegetables thrive). Each number indicates a concentration of ten times greater or lesser than the adjoining number, so a difference of one number on the pH scale means a major difference in soil chemistry. Earthworms, the eaters of humus, are effective pH balancers and fertilizer factories. These solar-powered tractors make good use of your leaves and lawn clippings.
If your garden is ready now, you can still plant Beet, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, English Peas, Mustard Greens, Potatoe and Turnip.
January is a good time to re-locate small trees and large shrubs. They are dormant now and will have less shock. Landscape plants in containers can be planted now or any month. Whatever you're planting, dig a larger hole than you need and back-fill with a rich soil mix and mulch well.
Annual pruning of all fruit-bearing plants is necessary for improved yields. Grapes should be cut back extensively -- the style will depend on whether yours are on horizontal wires or an overhead arbor. Fruit trees are trimmed to have open interiors -- like a basket. Remove crossing branches and water sprouts. This is also a good time to generally prune ornamental trees and shrubs. Exceptions might be Azaleas. Trim them after they bloom. The Extension Office also has a free brochure on prunning techniques.
There are many cold-hardy flowers to be planted now. Sweet Pea is a great climber. Their Sugar Snap cousins are great for eating fresh, right off the vine or in your favorite stir fry recipe. In addition to this month's flower -- Dianthus, you can plant Pansy, Petunia and Snapdragon. Bulbs to plant now include Amaryllis, Crinum, Gladiolus, Iris and Ginger.
With 1994 fresh and new, it's time to make resolutions and strive to keep them. The restoration and improvement of your grounds and gardens present a perennial opportunity to resolve beauty and order. Enjoy January to the fullest.
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