Get AgQuainted: Get Your Garden Ready for Spring Planting

The wet, cold, and dreary weather that we experience in January is not the type weather that typically tempts you to get out and work in the garden or yard. However, January is a great time for some yard maintenance and to get the garden ready for spring planting. Additionally, there are some garden plants that need to get in the ground this time of year.

Garden Prep

If you are going to use a new area for your garden, or if your old garden is overgrown with cool season weeds, the first step to getting it ready is to do a “burndown”. This term means using a non-selective herbicide (usually one containing glyphosate) to kill everything in the area. After the first application, new weeds will start to pop up. These can be killed with a second application a few weeks later. Once you feel you’ve gotten a good hold on the weeds, you may till the garden area when the ground is dry enough to be worked.

The key to keeping the weed burden from becoming overwhelming is to prevent them throughout the year. The best way to do this is by using pre-emerge herbicides in combination with a good thick mulch. Using pre-emerge herbicides throughout the year prevent germinating seeds from emerging and making seed. The mulch also helps keep the weeds in check, but also retains moisture, regulates soil temperature, and adds organic matter.

Now is also the time to send off soil samples. Without a soil sample, you are blindly applying products that may not even be needed. Your soil sample results will tell you the pH of your soil (VERY important) and how to adjust it if needed, nutrient levels in the soil, and it will give a recommendation for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium applications.

Lastly, go ahead and order your spring garden seeds to ensure you get your preferred varieties. Seed can be stored safely in the refrigerator.

Current Garden Chores

If you currently have an active garden, there are several things that you can do in January. Greens and cabbage need to be checked daily for insect damage from worms, snails, and slugs, and aphids. Worms, snails, and slugs cause chewing damage to the leaves, while aphids pierce the leaves and suck juices from the leaves, causing discoloration. Products containing bifenthrin work very well on aphids, as do insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils. Worms such as loopers are controlled with a natural product called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). There are baits available for slug and snail control. Carefully read the label on all pesticides before applying.


1). Potatoes- As the weather permits, go ahead and get your rows ready for potato planting in late January and February. Don’t cut your seed potato pieces until a few days before planting.

2). Onions- Onion sets can be planted in January

3). Transplants- Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale, and lettuce can be transplanted into the garden. Leave room for later plantings to extend your harvest season.

4). Start Seedlings- Tomato, peppers, and eggplant seedlings can be started in late January for transplant in the spring. It will take 8-10 weeks to get a good-sized seedling.


You are likely seeing some cool season weeds popping up in your yard. Henbit and lawn burweed are common complaints this time of year that can be controlled with a product containing atrazine. Plants that have seeded already will still germinate next year, however atrazine can also be used as a pre-emerge against these weeds in fall or early winter. Read the label carefully.

Yard trees shed a lot of leaves in the fall. These can be raked up and used as an effective mulch around fruit trees or in the garden. Leaves can also be shredded and added to your compost pile. Whole leaves also work in compost but will take longer to break down.

Now is the time to prune your trees. Incorrectly pruning trees can lead to serious problems down the road. Never cut limbs off in the middle. Limbs should always be cut back to their origin. This allows the tree to seal the wound correctly.

Crape myrtles are the most mistreated plant that I know of in our area. These trees are commonly “topped” or “crape murdered”. The result is a barren looking stalk of a dormant tree that wildly grows spindly limbs in the spring. Over time, repeating this practice causes a swollen scarred area called a pollard. This practice leads to weak and unhealthy growth. Crape myrtles are a flowering tree and therefore should have a tree shape, not a shrub (unless you have the dwarf variety). To correctly prune crape myrtles, remove suckers, branches that rub each other, dead and diseased material, and limbs that do not contribute to the desired shape. You will be rewarded with a healthy tree with plenty of blooms. If you are looking to plant crape myrtles, research the varieties that are available because there are vast differences in the sizes of these varieties.

Dormant fruit trees, shade trees, and shrubs can be transplanted into the landscape while they are dormant prior to spring growth. When purchasing fruit trees, be sure that you are getting a variety that is intended for this area. Also be aware that some types of fruit trees require more than one tree or variety.

For more information contact Randall Mallette, County Agent, at the local LSU AgCenter Extension Office 318-357-2224.  You can also visit us at 624 Second St, Natchitoches.