February Garden Tips
February, is a challenging month for the avid gardener. The weather is unpredictable, and it seems that there is not much to do. In this area, it may even be our coldest month. But yet, there are gardening chores and improvements we can make to our landscapes and gardens.
- Once a month, water your acid-loving plants, such as gardenia and citrus, using a solution 1 teaspoon of vinegar to 1quart of water.
- Check plants on southern indoor window sills. Low winter sun angles may cause scorching.
- Resume a ferti;izer schedule for indoor plants.
- Remember as a general rule, plants with thick leaves can take lower light levels than those with thin leaves.
- Pot up a few clumps of crocuses from the garden as they emerge. In a sunny indoors spot, they will develop blooms before the ones outside.
- Late February is a good time to air-layer such house plants as dracaena, dieffenbachia, fatsia, and rubber plant, especially if they have grown too tall and leggy.
- Check all five growing factors if your house plants are not growing well. Light, temperature, nutrients, moisture, and humidity must be favorable to provide good growth.
- Amaryllis bulbs may not bloom if they are in too large a pot. There should be no more than one inch of space on each side of the bulb. At least one third of the bulb should be above the soil line.
- Wash leaves of plants with smooth or large leaves to remove dust and grime, keeping the leaf pores open.
- Good air circulation is absolutely necessary for cacti and succulents. Avoid placing them in hot, stuffy areas. Be sure your indoor garden is well ventilated, yet not drafty.
- Research has shown that some leaf shine products sold for house plants can reduce the amount of light reaching the interior of leaves. It was shown that surfaces of leaves treated as such, reflect significant amounts of light instead of absorbing it. Low-light conditions, plus use of leaf shine compounds, could add up to unhealthy plants.
- Never fertilize a plant in dry soil. The fertilizer could burn roots that need water. It's better to water plants a couple of hours before fertilizing.
- The fumes produced by kerosene heaters in a small greenhouse may damage plants.
- Avoid overcrowding in greenhouses and hotbeds. Crowding can lead to trouble in the middle of winter when the ventilators are rarely opened. Still, damp air encourages fungus diseases, and the soft new growth on the plants invites aphid infestation, especially when crowding occurs.
Lawns and Landscaping
- Don't forget wildlife when creating a landscape plan. They need both living and dead trees for survival.
- If you think back over the yard work of last year and feel it took too much time and effort, an analysis of your site and the suitability of your plantings is in order. Landscaping looks best and is most easily maintained where a site has been analyzed for its natural characteristics, including pH, drainage, slopes, sun and shade patterns, wind direction and intensity, exposure to salt or air pollution, and so on. With such an analysis in hand, you can select plants that work with your site, rather than in spite of it. The result will be reduced maintenance and a better lookin landscape.
- Place stakes in intended planting spots and view from several angles to help you picture how new plants will look. Once you have the plants ready to plant, always place them, still in the pots, where you intend to plant and step back and view the whole area one last time before committing the plant to the ground.
- Consider planting plants with interest winter form or color so you can enjoy them next year.
- Cold winds this month should remind you to order evergreen windbreaks such as American arborvitae, Austrian pine, Canadian hemlock, and white spruce.
- Consider using ferns in your home landscape. Maidenhair, senitive, cinnamon, and Christmas ferns are good choices. Ferns like an even supply of water throughout the growing season, so soil with a high humus content is ideal because it retains water.
Perennials, Annuals and Bulbs
- If the soil dries out against a house under the eaves where rain rarely reaches, water well during a thaw to prevent loss of plants. Remember that plants require water during the winter to replace water lost due to wind desiccation and lack of rain or snow.
- Delphinium and echinop will bloom again this fall, if cut back to the ground after flowering this spring. Coreopsis, heliopsis, and gaillardia shoul bloom again in the fall, if seed is not allowed to develop on the plants in spring.
- Geranium seeds started now will produce plants large enough to transplant to outdoor flower beds in May. Plant in sterilized potting soil, covering them about one-fourth inch deep. If you over wintered geraniums indoors, root cuttings now.
- Start slow-developing flowers such as alyssum, coleus, dusty miller, geranium, impatiens, marigold, petunia, phlox, portulaca, salvia, vinca, and verbena in January or February.
- Watch for signs of growth in early spring bulbs. When foliage is 1 inch high, gradually start removing mulch. Cloudy days are best, for the initial exposure of the leaves to strong sunlight can burn tender foliage.
- Pinch off early buds from developing pansies to encourage plants to branch and form more buds.
- Order perennial plants and bulbs now for cut flowers this summer. Good choices are phlox, daisy, dahlia, cosmos, aster, gladiolus, and lily.
- Ageratum, begonia, marigold, and petunia seeds can be started indoors now. Sprinkle the small seeds sparingly onto moist soil and gently press them in.
- Check stored bulbs, tubrs, and corms. Discard any that are soft or diseased.
- Don't remove mulch from perennials too early. A warm day may make you think spring is almost here, but there may be more cold weather yet to come.
- Order gladiolus corms now for planting later in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Locate in full sun in well-drained soil.
Trees, Shrubs and Groundcovers
- Deciduous trees with narrow crotch angles (such as Bradford pear) are more susceptible to snow damage than are trees with wide-branching angles as they have poor structure across the angle.
- Ice damage to woody plants occurs when high winds break heavily coated branches. Evergreens are more susceptible to snow damage than are deciduous plants as they have more foliage surface for snow accumulation.
- Crape myrtles are hardier if grown as a small shrub and pruned back each spring when growth starts. Water, fertilize, and remove dead blossoms until mid-August for almost continuous summer bloom. Withhold water, nutrients, and pruning in early fall to slow growth prior to winter.
- If you are planning to add shade trees to your landscape, here are a few things you should know. Some types of trees have roots that may invade drain fields, crack walks, and pierce foundation walls, so plan the placement and species of the trees to avoid problems. For instance, poplar and ash are known for cracking walls, and should never be planted near houses or walls. Keep these species at the perimeter of the yard. Maple roots can raise heavy concrete sidewalks, and willow and crabapple trees can invade drainage fields with their fibrous roots.
- Broadleaf evergreens can be pruned before new growth begins this spring. This will enable new growth to cover the cut surfaces and expose inner branches.
- Shrubs for spring planting should be ordered now. Bare root, deciduous types should be planted while still dormant, about 1 month before the average date of the last frost in our area. Hardy, container-grown and balled and burlapped shrubs may be planted anytime, except during severe, cold weather.
- Check valuable trees and shrubs for tent caterpillar egg masses and bag worms. Remove them to reduce the number of destructive pests this spring. Tent caterpillar egg masses are gray and varnished looking and form a collar around twigs. Bagworms look somewhat like a pine cone hanging at the end of branches.
- Remove honeysuckle and other weedy vines from deciduous plants while the plants are still leafless. It's easier then to distinguish between the weeds and desired plants.
- Water shrubs in your landscape throughout the winter if the soil is dry. Evergreen plants transpire water from their leaves whenever the air temperature is above 40 degrees.
- Late winter is the time to prune many deciduous trees. Look over your plants now and remove dead, dying, unsightly parts of the tree, sprouts growing at or near the base of the tree trunk, crossed branches, and v-shaped crotches.
- This year plan to grow at least one new vegetable that you've never grown before; it may be better than what you are already growing. The new dwarf varieties on the market which use less space while producing more food per square foot may be just what you're looking for.
- Send off seed orders early this month to take advantage of seasonal discounts. Some companies offer bonus seeds of new varieties to early buyers.
- Don't start your vegetable plants indoors too early. Six weeks ahead of the expected planting date is early enough for the fast-growth species such as cabbage. Eight weeks allows enough time for the slower-growing types such as peppers.
- Consider purchasing some floating row cover material to protect crops against insects and promote eary growth.
- Did your tomato, eggplant and pepper plants flop over last year? Construct or purchase strong supports for these plants with wire fencing, wood or metal stakes.
- Later this month, you can start sowing seeds of early season greens such as spinach, lettuce, kale, mustard, sorrel, corn salad and other greens indoors under fluorescent tubes.
- Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and lavender seeds can also be started indoors in late February.
Tools and Equipment
- Repair and paint window boxes, lawn furniture, and other items in preparation for outdoor gardening and recreational use.
- Make labels for your spring garden. Plastic milk jugs or bleach bottles cut in strips 1 inch by 6 or 7 inches work well. Use permanent ink markers to write on them.
- Start building up your supply of gardening aids, such as plastic milk jugs for hot caps and orange juice cans to make guards to stop cutworms.
- Check the roses in your Valentine's arrangement for "bent neck". When your roses droop this way, it is best to pull them from the arrangement and discard since re-cutting the stems will not perk them up again.
- To save time when the growing season is in full swing, sort seed packets by season now. Put each group (transplant, early, middle, late) in its own box. In each box, group packets into early, middle and late subsections. When sowing time comes, there will be no time lost searching for seed.
- Thyme, a low-growing, woody perennial herb, should be started from seed every two or three years because older plants produce coarser, lower grade stems and leaves. Thyme seeds often germinate poorly when planted directly in the soil, so it is advisable to start plants indoors and transplant later.
- Handle seed packets carefully. Rubbing the outside to determine how many seeds are inside can break the protective seed coats, thereby reducing germination.
- Poor seed germination often results from planting in cold soil. Seeds pre-sprouted between layers of moist paper towels may become successfully established when dormant seeds fail. But pre-sprouted seeds are fragile to handle. A planting gel can be made by suspending pre-sprouted seeds in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of cornstarch heated to a boil in 1 cup of water. When the mixture cools, put it in a plastic bag, add pre-sprouted seeds, and stir gently to distribute seeds evenly. Then cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag and squeeze the gel out along the planting furrow. You have solved the problem of poor germination as well as plant spacing.
- To make old hay and manure weed-free, spread them on the soil in late winter, water well, and cover with black plastic. Weed seeds will sprout after a few days of warm weather, then will be killed by frost and lack of light.
- If you seek unusual glass vases for cut flowers, try test tubes and beakers, available from hospital supply stores and catalogs. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Offering a full view of stems, they add a new dimension to flower arranging.
- Insecticidal soaps can cause browning of leaf margins and brown or yellow spots on leaves of some plants, especially if the plants are stressed from repotting or transplanting. Some varieties of begonias, impatiens, geraniums, fuchsias, gardenias, and nasturtiums show sensitivity to soap sprays. Test for sensitivity by treating a small part of the plant, then checking the plant several times over the next two days. If a test plant wilts, rinse it off with water and do not use soap spray on that cultivar.
- If fungus develops on your potted herbs, cut them back to encourage healthy new growth.