Laguna Beach

The Plant Man: Starting the New Year off right

By Steve Kawaratani

 “New Year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a long line of new years?”

–with apologies to Ogden Nash

The Plant Man Steve Kawaratani

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Courtesy of Steve Kawaratani

Steve Kawaratani

Julius Caesar decreed the first day of the year as January 1 – the western world has now observed 2,067 consecutive New Year Days. I can usually be found in my garden during these first few days of a newborn year; the holidays still linger and I need the downtime to unwind and consider the possibilities. Being in a garden allows for a new year’s adjustment and freshness of thought.

Your questions for the Plant Man, for this first month of the year 2022 included the following:

Q. What is the most important garden job this month?

A. January is the month for pruning. Prune carefully to encourage the type of plant growth you want. Early-flowering shrubs and trees may be pruned after they have flowered.

The Plant Man azaleas

Courtesy of Steve Kawaratani

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Gift azaleas 

Q. Dear Plant Man, my azalea plant was in blossom when I bought it about two weeks ago, but most of them have turned brown and many leaves are dropping. Should I take it to my daughter’s to plant outside?

A. Azaleas have a difficult time growing indoors. Rapid leaf drop is an indication of too much heat (perhaps it’s next to a heater), lack of water or possibly the plant is sitting in saucer water.

Q. I have planted bougainvilleas in pots. A few branches are about four feet long now. I would like the plants to grow longer and fuller, and then have lots of flowers.

A. To keep your bougainvillea full, you must keep the ends tipped back. Gradually, you can allow the branches to grow longer as well, but only to a point. If you allow the plant to become too large, the roots will outgrow the confines of the pot. A healthy plant should give you lots of flowers.

Q. Is it too late for bulbs?

A. Spring bulbs, like callas, gladiolus, lilies and Lily of the Valley are available at your favorite nursery. If you can still find them, there is time to plant daffodil, ranunculus and narcissus.

Q. My girlfriend›s pansies are looking a little weak and droopy right now. Is this a normal state for them? The temp has been in the 30s at night. How often should we water them?

A. Your pansies would prefer much warmer temperatures; generally, they are not set out this early in colder climes. Keep the plants moist but avoid overhead watering in freezing temperatures.

Catharine, Loki and I spent the early days of the new year in temperate Baja California Sur. We toasted absent friends and family, and wished for renewed normalcy and peace from Laguna, Loreto and beyond. But mainly, we celebrated the New Year because it felt like a Roman holiday being away. See you next time.

The Plant Man Steve and Loki

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Photo by Catharine Cooper

“Watch the curve, Dad!”

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for seven decades and likes to garden and drive the Baja Peninsula with Loki. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 949.494.5141.


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