It’s time to pay attention.
February is here – the quiet prelude to Spring. This is the month where I get tough with myself and methodically face indoor tasks that will otherwise extract a price outdoors.
Seed Orders – Because even your old high school coach is buying seeds these days, and there are only so many seeds out there. Timing is everything.
Plant Orders – Because, ditto. And before you know it, May will be here and “out of stock” will greet you when you finally get around to getting hold of that gorgeous Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Lutea’.
Plants in Storage – They may be too dry, too wet, or growing out of their bags and alerting you to too-warm temperatures in your holding areas. You may even have a pest problem if it’s been too warm.
Houseplant Pests – February really is the month for trials and tribulations. We’re still several months from getting your Long Term Commitments back outside, and much can happen in that time – you simply have to pay attention this month. Many gorgeous specimens have lost their proverbial bloom after realizing that no, indoor conditions were not just a temporary measure, and they’re in it for the long haul. Give them a bit of love.
It’s always a good idea to think ahead, but this year, inflation and supply chain issues are shifting that concept into mantra status. At least around here.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed (I am), write down the things you really don’t want to live without this growing season. It may be less than you think.
Perhaps you can live without them, use the seeds you have, and sharpen your propagating skills this year. Then make a decision instead of passively and guiltily letting the decision-making point go by. A spirit refreshing superpower.
Now some things are still going to need your attention. Those houseplants. Those storage plants.
And speaking of storage plants, here’s a quick video of checking in on my winter storage “Best Friends.” For a lot more information on how they got here in the first place, grab a copy of Tropical Plants and How To Love Them.
Yes, you can let them all perish, or at least see what survives if you do nothing, but I’d counsel against it if possible. You’ve already spent a great deal of time, money, and most of all, energy, getting them where they are. See them through till the spring and then let your experience of “Why did I do that to myself?!?!?” inform your decision-making process next autumn.
Need encouragement to just say no? Check out the most recent video on my Instagram account @smalltowngardener for a quick behind-the-scenes on what I decided NOT to store this year, and why.
Meanwhile, in February’s garden
February has started out coated in ice, and now brings us a minor warm up that allows to us stand outside without clamp-ons and to study our gardens.
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.
Yesterday was a good case in point. Bright. Fine. Probably 38-42F. Wrapped up warm with a good pair of gloves and a warm hat, I added to the habitat nest near the chicken coop (no, not for the chickens) with a pile of fallen branches and sticks, pruned the ‘Gardenia’ rambling rose that wants to run over the top of the wired run, and removed the dead vines of Dioscorea bulbifera, that with fallen twigs and rambler laterals, creates an efficient catch all for a million leaves, seed pods and branches from the massive sycamore above.
What a job. There was a fair amount of swearing. I questioned, as I always do, the need for rambling roses in a garden.
And yet, how much more difficult had I left this to spring, with emerging bulbs to tread on, and budding, ancient rose canes to feel pity for, and wet, mushy soil to hold up my rake instead of allowing me to sweep up the sticks I tossed on the ground whilst atop a wobbly ladder? Plus, keenly aware of 526 other time-sensitive tasks to do as the planting season raged around me….
This also allowed me to assess the gnarled skeleton of my chaste tree and decide if that really was the shape I wanted, or if it would add more as a much smaller shrub. The answer was yes, the chainsaw came out, the deed was done – more fodder for the nest. I cleared the remains of Persicaria virginiana from around a budding but small corylopsis (which would have ruined the spring show), pulled the remains of a rotting cold frame out from rampant ajuga, and took a long hard look at the Allegheny viburnums, now stripped of leaves, and decided that they too, would be drastically cut back in a few weeks’ time.
And in doing so, I got my blood pumping and my back moving – which is crucial in the winter when it would otherwise be atrophying at my desk.
And I also remembered how beautiful the winter landscape is (even when the garden is technically, not).
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. You’ll find a few suggestions at the end of this post.
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