Here are a few ideas for what you can do in your garden in January and February. Thanks to the climate in northern California, temperatures rarely get colder than 25 degrees making it possible for opportunities for year round gardening. We do get frost in the winter. This year we have already had several frosts and one hard freeze.
Don’t let a little chill get in the way of maintaining your winter garden. Maintaining your winter garden is also a great gardening activity to do with kids. So get your gardening tools for kids big and small: clippers (or small scissors for the kids), your shovel or trowel, and some gardening gloves and get ready for some fun!
To help prepare plants for frost, stop applying Nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer promotes fast tender growth. If a frost is predicted, cover tender crops with row covers. Our gardeners recommend covering citrus plants with old sheets and watering well before a frost or freeze. ‘
If rain is not in the forecast, turn on the irrigation. California winter gardens still require regular watering during colder temperatures.
During winter it is a good time to prune and propagate your plants. Plan on cutting California fuschia to the ground. It is not recommended to prune Ceanothus or manzanita during the rainy season. If you have fruit trees and vines, now is the time to prune them. Pruning in winter can help control the spread of disease and encourage a good crop.
Now is a good time to plant natives and sow native wildflowers. It is also a great time for propagation. Keep on top of the weeding, and bring your children into the garden every day and weed!
Organic Backyard Edible Garden
While you are readying your organic edible garden for winter and spring planting it is important to prepare your organic backyard edible garden beds and plan for planting. Now is the time to prepare your beds for spring planting, and several seeds and seedlings can be planted later this month in your winter garden.
First, clean up your garden area of debris and plants from the summer and fall months before beginning. Be sure to weed your organic edible garden regularly and carefully remove weeds as not to disturb the soil ecosystem. As the rains begin to fall, be sure to stay on top of the weeding so as to not allow the weeds go to seed.
Preparing soil is an important first step. Most edible plants require a more acidic soil ph between 6.0-6.8. Test your soil before planting; these tests can be purchased online. Once you understand your soil’s ph you can properly amend the soil for the best spring planting results and highest crop yield. Learning about soil chemistry can be a great gardening activity for middle school students who are learning about ph and chemistry in their science class.
Heavy tilling can lead to disrupting the soil ecosystem; it is recommended to regularly add organic matter to your soil. Add 3-4 inches of compost to your native soil, or consider using raised beds for your garden and use a vegetable blend that is readily available. Check out this video on composting if you’d like to learn more.
The second important step is which plants you will be planting and where these plants will be located in your garden. Planting a variety of vegetables and moving these varieties throughout the garden will help stabilize soil nutrients. For example, planting fava beans in your garden is helpful to activate nitrogen in your soil.Regular beans can’t be planted right now as frost will kill the plants.. Planting cover crops* prior to the cold season can also help improve soil erosion and provide nitrogen to your soil. Many gardeners choose cool season green manures for their cover crops such as alfalfa, clover, and fava beans. All will serve to improve the atmospheric nitrogen in your soil.
Another thing to consider is mulch. Now is a great time to sheet mulch. Put down plain cardboard (like Amazon boxes with tape and labels removed) to cover the ground completely and then mulch on top. Living Classroom gardeners are currently completing this at Crittenden Elementary School.
**Timeline for Edible Organic Garden Seeds and Plants
January and February are great months to plant bare root fruit and vegetables like asparagus, blackberries, grapes, raspberries, rhubarb, and strawberries. December through February are the dormant season after fall and before buds, which is when they should be planted. Bare root plants are coming into the nursery and are cheaper to purchase. In a couple months, the ones that were not sold will be potted up and will cost more. Get more information about tree selection at UC ANR’s Backyard Orchard site.
Start the following plants indoors: artichokes, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and chard. This is a great gardening activity to do with toddlers and young children. Check out this video for how to make a newspaper pot to make together for your seedlings.
Directly sow seeds like cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Seeds can be planted in rows two to three feet apart. Sow seeds into the ground about one inch deep and two inches apart. Children love to plant seeds, bring them along for double the fun!
When the threat of frost has passed, your seedlings should be ready to sow (plant). While you are planting these seedlings, you can sow carrot seeds directly. Check out this great video about how to plant seedlings!
*In agriculture, cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem (an ecological system managed and shaped by humans). Cover crops may be an off-season crop planted after harvesting the ”cash crop”. They may grow over winter.[ (Wikipedia)
**For specific planting dates go to this spring planting calculator.