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This January is enjoyable in the garden

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

I have been enjoying the weather this year in Brunswick County, a far cry from this time last year. The mild weather has prevented most of my perennials from going dormant and I still have annuals in the garden blooming. My pansies are full of color and have doubled in size. Will this change in the next few weeks?
The one task I just cannot seem to enjoy this time of year is watering. Most of our winters are moist, but this year my containers are drooping just about every day. When it rains, it never seems to provide enough moisture to nurture the soil.
These warm days we have been experiencing definitely makes me want to work out in the garden. I have to resist the urge to do so, so I deadhead my pansies and clean up the falling leaves that I do not want to use as mulch.
It is too early to do any pruning yet. Pruning encourages new growth and if we do have a freeze, the new growth will be damaged by the cold. Always remember that if it flowers in the spring, don’t touch a thing. Allow the plant to bloom before you prune. So what can be done right now in the garden?
Winter is a prime time to plant spring blooming bulbs. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus bulbs will burst into bloom early spring.
Keep in mind that tulip bulbs rarely bloom more than once in this part of the country because they need a long winter chill to set flowers. When planting, work some fertilizer into the surrounding soil rather than just throwing them into a hole.
January is a good month to get a head start on weeding. The best time to weed is after a heavy rain. The moist soil enables weeds to be pulled up roots and all. Look for pines, oaks, hollies, cherry laurels and privets that can pop up almost anywhere.
Now is an excellent time to design the garden an incorporate hardscapes into the landscape. The winter landscape is often thin and boring. It can be easy to spot areas that need attention. You may decide that a fountain, sculpture or path would add interest to these locations.
If you are planning a vegetable garden, now is the time to test the soil. Vegetables prefer a healthy soil with lots of organic matter. To thrive, vegetables require a pH of 6.0-6.5 pH. The NCDA offers free soil testing to all North Carolina residents.
You can pick up a kit from any local Extension office, as well as any of the pickup/drop off locations throughout the county. Once you receive your soil test results, you will know what to add to your soil to make it ideal for your vegetables.
Your soil can be improved, but it takes time. Adding organic matter, such as compost, manure, or rotted leaves in the fall or spring, can also be beneficial for improving soil quality.

Susan Brown is a horticulture agent with the Brunswick County Extension Service. Call 253-2610 or e-mail susan_brown@ncsu.edu.