What to do in your garden in January
Pruning shears. Corona Clipper, a garden- tool company, now offers the ergonomically designed 1-inch Adjustable Handle Bypass Pruner that can be fitted to different hand sizes. The nonstick-coated carbon steel blades make clean and easy cuts ($25).
Roses. Look for two new disease-free roses called 'Blushing Knock Out' (pale pink) and 'Pink Knock Out'. Both are lighter-colored versions of their parent, raspberry-colored 'Knock Out', which is considered one of the best landscape roses ever for its resistance to black spot (a fungus disease) and easy-care habit. All produce a profusion of single flowers, which are beautiful on the plant but not good for the vase.
Bare root. In winter and early spring, nurseries sell leafless plants whose roots are packed in damp sawdust, not soil. Such plants are inexpensive, easy to handle, and adapt quickly to your garden soil. Bare-root stock usually comes in after New Year's in mild-winter areas, and just as the ground thaws (around March or April) in Sunset climate zones 1-3. Look for berries, grapes, fruit and shade trees, ornamental shrubs (including roses) and vines, and vegetables.
Grapes. Nothing is easier to start from cuttings than grapes. Find a friend with a vine and take six to eight pencil-length cuttings, snipping each off ½ inch below a node. Plant each cutting in a 4-inch clay pot and set on a windowsill. Water whenever the top inch of soil dries. After plants are well rooted and leaf out, transplant into a sunny spot in the garden.
Hazelnuts. Over the past 30 years, hazelnuts (filberts) have been devastated by filbert blight and are rarely planted by home gardeners. Now there's a blight-resistant variety available called 'Santiam' that produces a heavy crop on a smaller tree. You can order it (along with a pollenizer, such as 'Zeta') from Raintree Nursery (360/496-6400).
Strawberries. Sunset climate zones 4-7: To get the longest strawberry harvest, plant three different varieties: June-bearing 'Rainier' for a big, tasty main crop; 'Puget Summer' for a late-season (early July) crop; and 'Seascape' for continuous harvest through fall.
Perennials. If you have a cold frame, greenhouse, or cool porch, sow aster, delphinium, hellebore, pansy, Shasta daisy, veronica, and viola seeds now. Transplant seedlings into the garden a month before the last spring frost.
Winter-flowering shrubs. Zones 4-7, 17: Scout nurseries for blooming Sarcococca, Camellia sasanqua, Viburnum x bodnantense, V. tinus 'Spring Bouquet', wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), and an array of heaths (Erica) and witch hazels (Hamamelis). A great Northwest source for winter trees and shrubs is Greer Gardens (800/548-0111).
Apply dormant oil. When the weather is mild and dry, spray leafless fruit trees and roses with horticultural oil. The oil smothers the overwintering eggs and larvae of insects that infest plants when they emerge in spring.
Control rose pests. If black spot, rust, or mildew blasted your roses last year, do three things now. First, make sure plants are located in an area that gets six to eight hours of full sun; if not, transplant them to an area that does. Second, rake diseased leaves and put them in the trash (do not compost). Third, spray plants and the soil beneath them with lime sulfur. If your roses had serious insect problems last year, mix in a horticultural oil (some brands come premixed).
Mulch asparagus and rhubarb. To feed plants and keep down weeds, layer rhubarb and asparagus beds with a 2-inch layer of composted manure.
Prune ornamental and fruit trees. Zones 4-7: Snip out dead, diseased, and injured branches, then remove crossing branches or parallel ones that are too close together. Finally, prune for shape, working from the inside of the tree out, and from the bottom to the top. Apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums usually need only light pruning; apples and pears usually benefit from more thorough pruning. Zones 1-3: Hold off pruning until the weather turns mild.
Prune roses. Zones 4-7, 17: On hybrid tea roses, cut out all but the most vigorous three to five canes. On the remaining canes, remove dead, diseased, crossing, and injured branches. Prune landscape roses ― including everything from 'Flower Carpet' to rugosa roses ― only lightly to shape. (Wear goatskin gloves or you'll be picking tiny thorn tips out of your skin for days.) Compost rose prunings, or if they're diseased, let them decay in a brush pile or send them out with the trash.