University City

Mild weather may not last all winter in Charlotte region

Last week’s cold snap notwithstanding, this winter has been milder so far than 2013-14.

At the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden, Associate Director Paula Gross said some of the Japanese camellias started blooming in December, weeks ahead of schedule.

Much of how mild the weather will remain depends on how El Niño conditions shape up over the Pacific.

Enjoy nice weather, but prepare for the worst. How’s that for a gardener’s bumper sticker?

Keep your garden well mulched, to keep soil temperatures even and protect roots. Autumn leaves work fine as mulch, and they are free. For most purposes, 3 inches (8 centimeters) of mulch is plenty. Route any excess to paths or the compost pile.

After cold snaps, keep a careful eye on your pansies, which can pop right out of the ground. Usually, simply pressing roots back into their proper position as soon as you notice the problem will solve it. Water them well; in a sense you are transplanting them in place.

Make your garden plan and get your seed order in before the middle of the month. Online catalogs are a wonderful source for seeds.

When you order, carefully look for things that do well in our region and be sure to try three new varieties this coming year. Worth special attention are Asian traditional crops from Korea, Japan and China.

More and more area gardeners are growing napa cabbage – sweet and easy to use in salads – and edamame, the snack variety of green soybeans. One popular variety is named “Beer Friend,” for obvious reasons.

This is a good month to start things indoors, especially cool-season crops such as broccoli and cabbage, for transplanting in March.

Though it is pushing the envelope, some advanced gardeners and market growers also start tomatoes this month, along with peppers and eggplant. Using extra protection, such as a “hoop house” (unheated greenhouse) or covers, they will gamble on planting the tomatoes as large transplants in late March and early April.

If you can’t hold back, you can also try planting peas, spinach, onions and potatoes toward the end of the month, when we have a few days of milder weather so you can work the soil.

I use a row cover with very early plantings to help with germination. Often, though, you gain little advantage by planting so early, since plant growth is so slow.

Winter weeds are not much of a problem now, but just wait to see what happens if you ignore them. Take time to control henbit, chickweed and other cool-season weeds now, while they are relatively easy to hoe or pull.

And, of course, the new year is time to renew your garden resolutions. At the top of the list, I challenge you to grow something you can eat.

Don’t plow up the whole yard or spend a fortune on “raised bed” box planters. Start small, after asking the question “What do I like to eat?” A few choice herbs in pots is a great start.

If you live in a condo or a student apartment, or have a shady yard, or simply like people, join (or start) a community garden. There’s a brand new one at UNC Charlotte, near Robinson Hall. Check it out. The best way to learn about good food is to grow some.

A final note: This month marks the end of the row for Organic Gardening Magazine. Pick up a copy; it contains a retrospective of the magazine’s long and valuable contribution to life in America. I hate to see it go, though countless gardeners keep its memory alive and growing in their gardens.


January in the Charlotte area is forecast to be relatively mild until the middle of the month. This is likely a weak to moderate El Niño year, however, which can bring unstable weather – from mild to chilly, week to week – and possibly snow mid-January through February.

Sunrise at the beginning of the month is about 7:30 a.m., and sundown at about 5:20 p.m.; by the end of the month, sunrise is about 7:20 a.m. and sundown shortly after 5:50 p.m.

After Jan. 12, day length is greater than 10 hours. Average high is about 51 degrees Fahrenheit, with average lows below freezing, around 30 degrees.

Normally, we get a little less than 3 1/2 inches of rain and 2 inches of snow during this month. The moon was Jan. 4 and will be new on Jan. 20.