There are many who do not garden in February, or do not choose to aim for a four-season garden. And while I understand this attitude, particularly if your gardens are covered in two feet of snow for the majority of winter, for me, February is a too-short month that allows me to take care of things that are so much more difficult to do when the weather warms up and everything needs my attention.
Gardeners who genuinely wish to alter their dislike of February must first recognize the gifts it bears. Beyond the wind and cold and endless tacky Valentine’s Day paraphernalia, February is a month to attack The List without chance of it returning the punch. Pruning, clearing, seed starting… how fabulous to clean, sharpen and oil a spade only to see it sitting, cleaned, sharpened, and oiled two weeks later. That kind of magic doesn’t happen in April.
There is a grey cast to the turf, and tawny shades in grasses have had the nuance thrashed out of them by winter winds, but each year I’m thankful for the protection that frozen turf provides against the soles of my feet as I crunch around the landscape pruning and shaping.
This February has been different. For one, that turf is not frozen, and the Mud Time is already upon us. Secondly, it feels like I’ve been away more than I’ve been home in January and February, as have been speaking all over the United States; and as much as I so enjoy meeting people and hearing the stories of their gardens, I can’t pretend that there isn’t a cost to the rhythm and life of my own.
I’m sneaking into the garden in between a lot of desk and airport time and trying to work strategically so the garden isn’t set back. Especially as we’ve had so much warm weather.
That means taking down the remainder of last season’s grass and hellebore foliage before the surrounding bulb mine field makes it too tough. Pruning my roses (and wondering why I ever put a rambler over the chicken coop). Clearing out some leaves and detritus in beds where I want to be able to clearly see emerging crocus and snowdrops, and mulching with compost. And it means calling the Stihl guys every few days to find out why it is taking six weeks to locate a new carburetor for my heavy-duty metal-bladed trimmer.
Timing is everything, and the carex under the pergola need a proper haircut before new growth begins to emerge. Last year for the first time I gave up hand shears and a bent back on this job for my excellent string trimmer, which, though very strong, left a ragged, browned and shameful mess. This year, upon the advice of fellow GardenRanter Scott Beuerlein (who sadly visited my garden shortly thereafter to shame me), I’ll be using a metal blade instead, which he assures me cuts through the foliage like butter, leaving clean edges and a look I can live with.
If I can ever get the trimmer back from the shop.
Indoors, houseplants are miraculously healthy, though I’m beginning to see a little scale on a few of the alocasia, which will quickly turn into a lot of scale if it is not dealt with quickly. I’ll use hort soap to clean the leaves with my fingers and finish with a treatment of horticultural oil. And I’ll probably revisit the process before they are able to go out in May to best the pests with the help of increased air circulation, sunlight and predator species. Tender and tropical plants in storage are ticking along, and thankfully need minimum attention beyond making sure they have not become too dry.
Lastly the greenhouse, or as I call it, my large cold frame. It remains unheated but incredibly valuable, providing a great space for forty-eight pots of assorted bulbs to bring indoors or to outdoor containers for early color, and generally make me feel like the season is moving along. Soon the bulbs will be out and the tropicals potted and brought in to those warm daytime temps.
February will be over before I know it, and with its end, the ramp up to spring begins. I am grateful to this month as an old friend and helper – allowing me respite before March starts telling me what to do.
Garden Tasks for February
As always — the tasks I list for both the indoor and the outdoor garden are just SUGGESTIONS. You cannot do them all. I cannot do them all. Work on what makes the most sense to get the most out of your garden.
February’s Outside Garden:
● Spread compost from last season’s pile & have some delivered when available. It makes a difference to have an out-of-the-way pile available when you have time to dress beds. Sometimes that’s only an hour here or there.
● If the ground is fully frozen, scrape winter weeds such as bittercress, dead netttle and chickweed with a sharp hoe. If the soil is soft, it’s probably also muddy — tickle the weeds up instead, exposing their roots, with a long handled fork.
● Brush clearing (if necessary) should go on all month. Use this time to get on top of things like Rosa multiflora, oriental bittersweet, wild grape and Japanese honeysuckle. Once the foliage grows in, it’s a nightmare, and best dealt with next winter.
● Prune fruit trees.
● Prune roses (Two little words, but so much work….)
● Mark the stems that need to be removed from early spring flowerers like lilac and forsythia, so you know which ones to cut for forcing or remove entirely after bloom. With leaves removed, this job is so much easier and better choices can be made.
● Ensure that the areas around early spring bulbs have had perennials cut back in order that the display can be enjoyed fully.
● Cut back the old, ragged leaves of hellebores to set off the blooms when they emerge. There is no need to fully remove foliage that is still looking good – just tidy up the plant.
● Re-gravel paths and drives.
● Re-build raised beds and garden structures that do not require digging into frozen earth for footings.
● Check fences and gates for broken pickets, hinges and groundhog holes and repair them.
● Re-fill raised beds that have settled with compost and topsoil.
● Set up a cold frame or plastic covered rack to receive transplanted seedlings in March.
● Check potted plants that are under the overhang of a porch or covering and may be drying out.
● Start laundering money out of the budget to cover the big spring blow-out in a couple months.
February’s Inside Garden:
● Sort seeds.
● Plant seed flats of cold season veggies such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, leeks, lettuce and celery indoors or under glass.
● Prepare a place for the seedlings to go when they are big enough to transplant. Basement? Cold frame? Garage?
● Start to put together real plans for one “big project” for this growing season.
● Keep basement or garage stored plants lightly watered. Not wet, not dry. This is just to prevent desiccation.
● Check for mice getting into overwintering plants. My cats are great mousers, but they also love to use that soil for other reasons so I use a layer of gravel to discourage them.
● Nearing the middle of the month, bring in flowering stems to force inside.
● Force tulip, hyacinths and paper whites indoors from bulbs you’ve been storing in cold conditions.
● Aim for a little less screen time at bedtime by going to your local library or your own gardening collection, and picking out a couple of inspiring picture-filled books to pepper your dreams.
And here you were thinking that there was nothing to do this month…..
“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”
-(Don Pedro to Benedick)
-Much Ado About Nothing