Texas Permaculture Gardening and Food Forestry Tips for January

In Texas Permaculture Gardens, we never really go fully dormant. There’s always something to do in your garden or food forest to help keep things an a good trajectory.

One of the core philosophies on the care and maintenance of gardens at Symbiosis is that all the activities that need to be done to keep your gardens growing and looking their best have an optimal seasonal time to be performed. When every task is performed at its optimal time, care becomes easier, more effective and more satisfying. So to help you do the right thing at the right time, we’ve brought you some of the ideal yearly practices that you can perform in your permaculture garden in Texas for January.

January Freeze Preparations

January is a common time for freezes in Central Texas. Keep an eye on the weather this month. If you see a hard freeze on the horizon, take precautions!
-Water deeply ahead of a freeze. When plants are killed by a freeze, it is usually caused by the cells in the roots freezing, causing cellular rupture. By watering ahead of a freeze we insulate the roots with a large thermal mass of water in the soil. Just like the surface of a pond or lake might freeze in the cold while no ice forms in the depths, making sure the hard freeze doesn’t reach the roots can prevent death in plants and encourage them to regrow in the spring. This is especially important since permaculture focuses on perennial plants that can take years to mature and produce. The perennial fruits and vegetables tend to get more cold and drought tolerant as they mature and establish. Protecting young perennial plants in your texas permaculture garden is going to help you get to the point where you have less inputs and more harvests!

-Using a foliar fertilizer several days before freezing conditions can give a big boost to plants. Mixing a silica product into the foliar feed can increase these benefits by helping plants manage the moisture in their cells which is especially helpful in the face of a large temperature swing. Remember that plants are able to absorb fertilizer through their bark AND leaves, so even dormant trees can be sprayed ahead of a freeze to help prevent death of their above ground tissues.  Please see our other articles on creating foliar bio-fertilizers AKA Compost teas that will benefit both your plants and your soils microbiome!

-Make sure to tend to your water infrastructure as well! Water being delivered where it is needed, when it is needed and the quality of that water is often the deciding factor in success or failure for establishing Texas permaculture gardens, food forests, regenerative farms and other land based endeavors. Here’s a quick checklist to help you remember what to do before a freeze to prevent damage that could require more costly plumbing repairs.

– Remove irrigation timers from spigots and take them inside. This only for the battery operated hose end timers, not to be confused with an irrigation control station, some of which are meant to be outside in all weather.

– Leave faucets dripping or cover and insulate them. You can use a Freeze Miser to help with this

– Put a heat source in your pump house if you have one. Be careful not to do this in a way that could cause a fire! (Lots of folks have burned down their chicken coops with heat lamps!

Most irrigation tubing should be durable during a freeze if it is not attached to its water source and it can expand without breaking even if there is water inside of it. The plastic fitting used for irrigation tubing are more susceptible to cracking from frozen water than the tubing. It’s good to run and check your drip system after a freeze to see if any fittings need to be replaced. 

PEX can also expand and survive a freeze however the plastic fittings do tend to crack more easily than other options. PEX is mostly used inside of homes for potable, hot and cold water lines.

PVC is the most common material used to get water around and it just so happens to be the most prone to cracking in a freeze. PVC should be buried 8-12 inches below the soil’s surface to survive Texas weather without freezing and cracking. Anywhere that PVC is not buried it will need to either have continuous water flowing through it by dripping faucets and spigots or will need heavy duty insulation and potential some heat tape for these longer cold snaps we’ve  been enduring lately.

Freeze Follow Up in January

Aftercare when you have experienced a freeze is a great idea as well. When temperatures have lifted above freezing

-Cut back dead material from perennials that have died back after a freeze. Removing dead material gives new shoots access to air and light in the spring that helps them bounce back more quickly. Put all the biomass you’ve removed into your compost stream to start making compost you’ll need come planting time. 

-Mix up liquid fertilizer and your favorite soil health inoculants like EM-1 or a compost tea (ask us if you want help with this, we have great recipes for organic, living liquid fertilizers.) Apply these root soaks directly to plants that might need support after a freeze. This focus on root health over winter will pay off when spring comes back to your Texas permaculture garden, food forest, landscaping, etc..

Yearly Garden Planning in January

When the weather makes you want to stay inside, remember there’s always thought work to be done for your garden.

-Pick up seed catalogs and start making lists of varieties you’d like to grow. If you make a seed order, go the extra mile and make a calendar with a timeline of when you will plant each type of seed. Setting it up as a digital calendar now, can make sure you execute your plan on time, when the time comes. Timing is everything for Texas gardeners and permaculturists!

-Look into books on gardening or classes and use January to build excitement and knowledge for the spring. 

– Tool inventory and upkeep is a great thing to do in January. Making sure your tools are in good condition now will make sure you’re ready when there is work to be done later. 

-Consider starting a garden journal in January to track your yearly plan alongside feedback of how it was implemented in reality (It’s okay if you don’t meet the high standards of your plan, next year you’ll do even better!) If it’s not a visible system, you can’t manage it so the first step in improving your systems is to make them visible by doing some sort of documentation.

Other Garden Tasks for January

-Some pruning can be done in January on fruit trees in your food forest. Look for branches that you can confirm to be dead, broken, diseased or rubbing problematically. These can be taken off for the health of the tree. 

-Fruit trees and landscape trees like oaks, Junipers and hackberries and many more native or non-native trees can take larger pruning this time of year. There is little pest pressure in the middle of winter, so removing a limb at this time is less likely to spread tree diseases than if done in the Spring. It is recommended to do major pruning, (more than 10% of a trees biomass) while the tree is dormant regardless of the type of tree or landscaping if you can.
-Clearing and composting – January is a great time to take a rake and a leaf blower to try to collect biomass for your compost. Prioritize this activity in your paths and active areas especially permaculture design zones 0-2 but leave more natural areas like zones 3-5 out. Leaf litter and dead biomass have important ecological functions, but raking and clearing where you will be accessing your garden from prevents the build up of organic matter where you don’t need it and allows you to move it where it can be more readily used by your plants.

– Starting vegetable transplants indoors can begin this month. When temperatures have warned you will have saved lots of money on transplants by starting these processes this month. Depending on the size of your garden, you can keep this very simple or really go for it! One benefit besides the cost savings is that you can experiment with rare seeds of varieties you wouldn’t be able to get at your local nursery. You can then become a seed saver and driver of biodiversity by stewarding new varieties of plants, adapted specifically to your climate and garden conditions into being!

Trees and Plants to add for January in Central Texas

-Bulbs – Many plants with bulbs are dormant in January in Central Texas so gardening with them is a good choice at this time of year. Canna Lillies, Gladiolus, and Irises are easy to plant now for great pay off later. Don’t forget to  mark where you’ve planted your bulbs in your garden journal so you don’t dig them up before they sprout!

-Bare root trees are great to plant in central Texas permaculture gardens in January. They’re typically more affordable than potted trees because they take up very little space and they’re easy to plant this time of year. They may require extra care if there is a freeze in late January or February, but it’s well worth it considering how affordable and easy they are at this time of year. It is recommended that you prune them hard leaving only 1-3 feet above the graft to help balance the size of the root system with the top growth. Typically these trees have damaged root systems and a bare root tree can struggle its first few Summers to gather enough water if you don’t balance the top growth with the root growth in this way. A healthy, vigorous tree that was hard pruned will eventually outgrow a tree that was not, if the unpruned tree even survives, so gird your loins and make the cuts or prepare to care for the unpruned trees dutifully through the first few Summers.
-Similarly, woody evergreen vines are great to plant at this time of year. Woody vines are slower growing so they can really use extra time to grow their roots before Summer.

Here’s another post talking more about Texas Food Forestry.

-Winter Annual Vegetables are great to plant at this time of year. They are very freeze tolerant and easier than Summer vegetables in many regards. Plant Kale, Broccoli, Carrots and beets and enjoy their presence through the winter. While the plants are young, you may need to use some frost cloth and hoops to protect them through freezing weather but they will eventually be able to withstand the chilly nights without protection. Get your fill of these garden favorites now because once the temps are up above 90 degrees they will be very hard to grow, tend to bolt and have lots of pest issues. You can extend the season on these veggies in your garden with shade cloth and deep watering at the right intervals. 

You can learn a little more and see some example photos of the Permaculture Gardens we’ve designed, built and maintained here.

You can learn more about us and the Austin Permaculture Landscapes we’ve designed, built and helped maintain here.

More to come soon… thanks for reading!

The Symbiosis Crew

Author: Ryan Rosshirt – Maintenance Lead

A texas permaculture garden transformation!