January Gardening In The Low Desert

January is generally a slow month for gardening in the low desert. Take advantage of this “quiet” time by preparing and planning for the upcoming spring months.

January is a good time to prepare a new vegetable garden bed for spring planting. Prepare your vegetable bed by using a digging fork or rototilling to approximately 12-18 inches deep. Do not work soil if it is too wet as it can permanently damage the soil structure. Apply compost generously (several inches) and incorporate it into the loosened soil. If you have an existing vegetable garden this is also a good time to add compost.

Free Shipping on Orders over $35

Continue to protect cold-tender plants including Euphorbia spp., Adenium spp., Pachypodium spp. and sub-tropical cacti.  Many aloes will be blooming at this time and flowers may need to be protected if we have frost events. Aloe clumps can be divided at this time.

Mesquites will begin to drop their leaves.  This is normal at this time of year as the foliage is shed in response to cold temperatures.

If it’s been cold, you may notice a deepening red to purple coloring on your Santa-rita Prickly-Pear (Opuntia santa-rita), Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior), Black-Spined Prickly-Pear (Opuntia macrocentra), Plains Prickly-Pear (Opuntia macrorhiza), Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor), as well as some agaves, aloes, and other succulents.  The change in color of the stems or leaves is a response to the cold weather and/or drought. Several cultivars of Pencil Tree (Euphorbia tirucalli) stems transform to an attractive orange-red in response to a cold winter.

Blooming plants can include:
  • Gopher Spurge (Euphorbia rigida)
  • Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana syn. Acacia farnesiana)
  • Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
  • Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)
  • Red Justicia (Justicia candicans)
  • Hidden Foot Aloe (Aloe cryptopoda)
  • Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma)
  • Sand Aloe (Aloe hereroensis)
  • Common Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata syn. Aloe saponaria)
  • Maiden’s Quiver Tree (Aloe ramosissima)
  • Aloe sinkatana
  • Van Balen’s Aloe (Aloe vanbalenii)
  • Malagasy Tree Aloe (Aloe vaombe)
  • Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
  • Thornbush (Lycium exsertum)
  • Fremont Thornbush, Wolfberry (Lycium fremontii)
  • Spotted Emu Bush (Eremophila maculata)
  • Baja Senna (Senna purpusii)
  • Bitter Condalia (Condalia globosa)
  • Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana)


Your irrigation timer should be turned off. Consider an overall watering of landscape plants at the end of the month if rainfall is insufficient. Remember to follow the 1, 2, 3 rule:  water mature trees to a depth of 3 feet, shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, and herbaceous perennials, vines, and groundcovers to a depth of 1 foot.

Young and newly transplanted plants need to be watered more frequently than established plants. Watering deeply encourages roots to extend deeper into the soil and thus, helps the plant become established over time.

Continue to water your annual wildflowers if rains have not materialized. Water your annual wildflowers every two weeks or at the very least once during the month of January.  Make sure you water to a depth of 1 foot.

Winter dormant plants such as Adenium spp., Pachypodium spp., and most Euphorbia spp. in containers should not be watered at this time.

Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Echeveria spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month. Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month. However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often including cacti and succulent seedlings.


Continue to plant winter-growing succulents. Iceplants such as Lampranthus spp., Drosanthemum spp., Malephora crocea, and Carpobrotus chilensis are excellent groundcovers and can also be used in containers. A good container soil mix for many succulent plants is one part quality potting soil and one part pumice.

Continue to plant cold-hardy and fall-winter growers:
  • Penstemons (Penstemon spp.),
  • Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa),
  • Sugar Sumac (Rhus ovata),
  • Red Barberry (Mahonia haematocarpa syn. Berberis haematocarpa),
  • White Sage (Salvia apiana),
  • Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii),
  • Salvia x ‘Trident’™,
  • Mohave Sage (Salvia mohavensis),
  • Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata),
  • Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua),
  • Bur-sage (Ambrosia deltoidea) and
  • Aloes.
Aloes for low-desert areas include:
  • Cannon Aloe (Aloe claviflora),
  • Hidden Foot Aloe (Aloe cryptopoda),
  • Dawe’s Aloe (Aloe dawei),
  • Dhufar Aloe (Aloe dhufarensis),
  • Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma),
  • Sunset Aloe (Aloe dorotheae),
  • Cape Aloe (Aloe ferox),
  • Sand Aloe (Aloe hereroensis),
  • Coral Aloe (Aloe striata),
  • Van Balen’s Aloe (Aloe vanbalenii),
  • Malagasy Tree Aloe (Aloe vaombe), and
  • Medicinal Aloe (Aloe vera).
Vegetables to transplant include:
  • broccoli,
  • scallion,
  • kohlrabi,
  • Swiss chard,
  • asparagus,
  • cauliflower,
  • head and leaf lettuce,
  • onion,
  • cabbage, and
  • Chinese cabbage.
Vegetable seeds to sow include:
  • beets,
  • bok choy,
  • carrots,
  • collard greens,
  • head and leaf lettuce,
  • mustard greens,
  • Swiss chard,
  • radishes,
  • spinach,
  • turnips,
  • leeks,
  • green onions,
  • kale,
  • mesclun,
  • and peas (English, snap, snow).
Try the variety of peas offered by Native Seeds/SEARCH. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Chinese cabbage seeds must be planted in the early part of January. Garbanzo beans and lentil seeds can be planted in the latter part of January.

Pepper, tomatillo, tomato and chile seeds can be started indoors at the beginning of the month. Chile and tomato seeds can be slow to germinate because they need warm soil temperatures for optimum germination. Try soaking seeds overnight in water and keep seeds warm until germination occurs.  For our low-desert region try growing Del Arbol, Mirasol, Chile Tepin and Tabasco chiles.

Herb seeds to sow include:
  • catnip,
  • cilantro/coriander,
  • feverfew,
  • chives,
  • borage,
  • calendula,
  • chamomile,
  • dill,
  • garlic chives,
  • fennel,
  • parsley,
  • arugula,
  • and horehound.
Herbs for transplant include thyme, garlic chives, horehound, lavender, and rosemary.
Plant Jerusalem and globe artichokes by mid-month.


  • Do not prune:
    • frost damaged plants or cold-tender plants until springtime
    • leguminous trees such as Mesquite, Ironwood, or Palo Verde during the month of January

Prune dead stems from winter-dormant perennials including:

  • Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica),
  • Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa),
  • Blue Flax (Linum lewisii),
  • Desert Four o’clock (Mirabilis multiflora),
  • Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa),
  • Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii),
  • Mexican-Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida) and
  • Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata).

Continue to deadhead flowering annuals and perennials to encourage additional blooms.


  • Landscape plants will not need to be fertilized until spring.
  • Do not fertilize warm-season plants in containers. However, cool-season plants in containers may need to be fertilized.
  • Continue to fertilize your winter vegetable garden if necessary.


Check for scale insects and mealy bugs.  Remove by hand or spray with a 70% alcohol-water solution.

Look for gray aphids lurking on your winter vegetables and herbs. Spray with a jet of water or use insecticidal soap to get rid of them. Check to make sure there aren’t any beneficial insects presently working prior to using any soap or sprays.

You may notice small, irregular holes on the leaf surface of your vegetable plants at this time. Look for the cabbage loopers, small pale green caterpillars with light-colored stripes along their bodies. Damage is common on broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, beets, lettuce, peas, and many other garden vegetables. Control by hand removal or allow natural predators to keep the population in check.  An application of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) can also be used as a biological alternative to pesticides.

Free Shipping on Orders over $35