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To-Do List - February
by Karen Bodner, MG
Presidents' Day is officially pea planting time, and if you're not a pea planter/picker, well, you're really missing something. There's nothing on earth like fresh-shelled peas, and snap peas rarely make it out of the garden. For older seeds, perform germination tests, or just sow more.
Sow Indoors: Artichokes, asparagus, hardy cool-season crops like beets, early cabbage, broccoli, short-season Brussels sprouts, lettuce, mustard, onion, spinach, kohlrabi, celery, and celeriac.
Warm-weather crops like peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes that I'll grow in my greenhouse this year, or for the MG plant sale, will be sown the second half of this month. Be sure to place seedlings under lights-the recommended distance from them is six inches, but it depends on the temperature. Remember, the warmer the temperature, the faster the seedlings will grow, and the closer the lights have to be to keep them compact and strong.
Sow outdoors: Onions, leeks, peas, sweet peas, carrots, mustards, and lettuce (best in coldframes or under plastic). These require minimum soil temperatures of forty to forty-five degrees for germination, so use plastic and/or warm water. A note for over anxious or limit-pushing sowers: I've found that waiting and planting later results in plants that grow faster and catch up to earlier plantings.
For prize-winning cloves on your garlic, side dress with blood meal or another high nitrogen source when the crocus blooms. Work in one tablespoon per three row feet, and top dress perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb with compost or well-rotted manure if you haven't done so yet.
Flowers, herbs, and bulbs
Check under winter protection mulches such as leaves, and look for active growth. If you find it, remove the mulch, but keep it handy in case of sudden inclement weather.
Nurseries will soon carry hardy flowering plants like calendulas, English daisies, pansies, and primroses as well as summer- and fall-flowering bulbs. Continue deadheading hardy winter-blooming flowers like calendulas to encourage blooms. When transplanting, even if the soil is quite wet from rain, water those treasures in to settle them into place. Your perennials will appreciate a feeding this month as the soil warms up and they start on their yearly journey of growth.
Propagation: Hardy annuals and perennials (e.g., larkspur, candytuft, alyssum, nasturtiums, and sweet peas) can be sown inside-or outside if your beds are ready. However, check for any special germination requirements; for example, Alchemilla and Astilbe require chilling (stratification) and should be placed outside in a coldframe or refrigerated. Acquilegia and snap dragons require heat, while sweet peas and nasturtiums germinate more quickly with nicking or scarring (scarification). Some seeds even require a warm/cold/warm cycle. Research the more unusual varieties.
Divide and move perennials only when milder weather is predicted, and mulch heavily if cold weather moves in. Take root cuttings from Acanthus, Anemone, Dicentra, Echinops and Papaver to name a few.
Fruits and nuts
Plant new fruit and nut trees and berries. Except for damaged growth, do not prune new trees the first year as we have been taught in the past. Root development depends on this initial growth for food and energy, and pruning thesebranches will affect long-term growth.
Prune established tree fruits as well as blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and grapevines. Grapes can be pruned through March, although earlier trimming will avoid bleeding of sap. Spray dormant oil on fruit trees if necessary. Check the Extension spray schedule for winter dormant oil sprays and other fungicide recommendations.
Fertilize blueberries, and when your strawberries sprout growth; mulch them with compost mixed with an organic nitrogen fertilizer.
Trees and shrubs
Plant roses and other deciduous shrubs and trees. It's a good idea to check drainage, after digging the hole, by filling it with water. It should drain fairly quickly. Work an area as wide as possible but no deeper than the root ball. Remember to plant in native soil, without amendments, to avoid water perching and circling roots.
Prune hydrangeas and provide a balanced fertilizer such as 15-15-15. Sow hardy herbs such as coriander, dill, and thyme inside. This is also the best month to finish pruning your roses. Spray them with dormant strength lime-sulfur and oil, then fertilize. Work gypsum in around rhodies and azaleas to provide calcium without affecting acidity, and give lilacs a boost of high-nitrogen fertilizer to get them on their way. Apply dormant spray to caneberries, deciduous trees, ornamentals, and shrubs as necessary to control diseases. Remove winter damaged branches on shrubs and trees. If some of them were burned by the freeze, wait until new growth starts before cutting back the stems to live cambium. They may look fine even four days after the freeze; then quite suddenly all the leaves turn brown and drop. Fertilize trees and shrubs this month so food will be available when the soil warms up and they start actively growing.
Propagation: Sow seeds of alpines and shrubs that require chilling in five-inch square pots and place in a coldframe for conditioning. Occasionally check for watering needs, especially if we're treated to some warm and sunny days. All rooted cuttings of semi-mature shrubs that are still in the greenhouse should be moved into cold frames for the remainder of winter until they start growing naturally in the spring. Give a liquid feed towards the end of the month.
Pruning: The time to prune is the same as when the plants normally shed wood in nature. Pruning of deciduous summer-blooming shrubs and climbers (e.g., Virginia creeper and clematis) should be done now while fully dormant. Evergreens are typically trimmed in summer when new growth will quickly cover cut marks. Although you should hold off pruning spring bloomers, cut some branches off of forsythia, quince, and pussy willow to force blooming inside.
Cover crops and lawns
Time for the year's first lawn fertilizer application. If your overwintering cover crops start getting too tall, cut or mow them back Turn them in with shovel or spade if the soil is dry enough, and let decay. If you have an area you're not using until late spring, you can get a quick-growing cover crop in to add that all-important OM. Although it's probably a little early for sowing cool season cover crops outside without protection, laying plastic down on the ground to dry it out and warm it up- and to take advantage of any sunny days we may have-may allow you to get something started in bare areas.
General gardening chores
Check greenhouse plants for watering needs. If rain persists, cover beds with plastic-covered tunnel cloches. This allows the beds to dry out so you can work them at your convenience, not nature's. I covered some beds just after the winter holidays, and they're all ready to go. I cultivated them last week, and the moisture level was just right.
February is a good month to getdown on paper a plan for succession planting to avoid panic later. A written plan can make a huge difference. Check plants located under large trees or eaves for dryness; roots from large trees are very greedy. If making your own potting soil, use this time to prepare and store it in clean containers. Find, organize, and clean up pots. Had a soil test lately? A soil test analysis at the beginning of the season can be invaluable if you're at all serious about gardening. It gives you a baseline to work from and track your progress as well as letting you know how much organic matter and elements like N, P, K your soil contains. The results may surprise you.
I'm finding vermicomposting an incredibly easy (lazy!) way to develop no-till beds. I just layer compost ingredients right out in the garden and let the worms do the work. It also gives them a nice environment for winter protection. In the spring, pull back the top layer of straw and voilÃ ! Fluffy stuff. You may have to put some compost/soil mix in the hole when you plant if the bed is fairly new. Pete Barrell at Grassroots Garden is the expert on this method and very willing to advise. Be sure to visit (and volunteer some time to this worthy cause).
Compost piles should remain covered while rain persists. When internal pile temperature has stabilized at one hundred degrees, move the finished compost to a tarp or concrete in order to avoid symphyllan infestation.
Invest in a soil thermometer to determine the appropriate time for direct seeding or transplanting of crops. It's critical for corn (especially SE and supersweets), and tomatoes won't even think about growing until the soil temperature is above sixty-five or seventy degrees.
Fertilize houseplants monthly until April with half-strength formula houseplants if they are showing new growth or blooms. It is a good time to repot them too.
Hopefully our winter freeze took out lots of the bad guys, especially aphids and slugs. I've already spied a couple of slugs, so set out your bait or start putting the slug patrol into your daily routine.
Those pesky boxelder bugs and elm leaf beetles will emerge, and if you notice a hole in the middle of your berry canes when cutting them to the ground (as closely as possible), chances are you have cane borers, which are probably in the soil now. Check the life cycle and determine the best control method. The best defense is to cut canes back to solid stem and discard and burn the debris as there may be secondary larvae in them.
Check junipers and cotoneaster for webworm activity and spray if necessary.
Be aware of beneficials when working up your beds. I've run into a few ground beetles, but fortunately they suffered no amputation, and I was able to relocate them to more desirable places. Don't forget to feed our feathered friends as well. They cruise the garden munching insects and weed seeds. Perhaps birds are another form of weed control! I recently read about a gardener who put out one-inch slices of apples, oranges, and pomegranates for her bird friends who looked very grateful.
A =Adult, E =Egg, P =Pupa, L =Larva, N =Nymph. Beneficials are italicized.
Western damsel bug-A
minute pirate bug-A
alfalfa leafcutting bee-L
carrot rust fly-P/L
wireworm (click) beetle-A/L
western cherry fruit fly-P
peach twig borer-L
western potato flea beetle-A
elm leaf beetle-A
white grub beetles-A/L
bean and currant aphids-E
western flower thrips-A
raspberry crown borer-L (2 yrs)
holly and soft scale-N
strawberry crown moth-L
western raspberry fruitworm-A
walnut husk fly-P
seed corn maggot-P