Last updated on January 31st, 2013
I ALMOST DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START with the February chores, because our Northeastern winter this year has been…well, non-existent! On the downside, I worry the lack of snow could foretell a summer drought. But on the upside, my Witch Hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ pictured above, is in full, fragrant bloom nearly a month ahead of schedule. Is it eerily-mild where you live, too? You can let me know by leaving a comment. Meanwhile, my to-do list for the month should probably begin with “Plant Palm Trees:”
Winter-Sowing: If you haven’t already sown your perennials outdoors in milk jugs or other containers, better get hopping. Most require a number of freezes and thaws, or “cold-stratification,” in order to germinate. In cold climates, you can wait until March to plant your annuals and vegetables. New to this nifty method of seed-sowing? Check out Winter-Sowing 101.
Seeds: Order these from catalogs now, especially if you have specific colors or varieties in mind. I learned the hard way that choice varieties often sell-out by March. And if you have extra annual and vegetable seeds held over from last year, make sure they are still viable before you plant them. My easy seed-testing guide.
Flowering Branches: Need colorful bouquets for the house? Clip the branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs. I’ve been clipping and forcing the branches of forsythia and crab-apple since late December. How I force and display these brilliant blooms.
Plan ahead for March. Before spring — and utter chaos — arrives, order fertilizers, mulching material, stakes, plant ties, and tools if you need them. It’s so much easier to start equipped than to have to await some necessary item just when you need it most.
Save Your Wood Ashes. If you use fireplaces to heat your home — I do — you will find in your wood ashes a valuable soil amendment called Potash. I swear that regular ash-applications are the reason my lilacs and peonies bloom so well each spring. More details about this natural soil-sweetener.
Raised Vegetable Beds. Top these off with shredded leaves, as I do, and you won’t have to buy additional soil later on. A light sprinkling of nitrogen-rich soybean or alphalpha meal will hasten the leaves’ decay.
Screening. Before trees leaf out, take a good look at your property. Are there any eye-sores (like a neighbor’s trash can) you’d like to screen out? Now is the time to notice which evergreen trees or shrubs can frame your property, and transform it into the private sanctuary it ought to be. I used Thuja ‘Green Giant’ to make my neighbors disappear.
Pruning. Some warmish day when you won’t hate the job, start pruning your trees and late-blooming shrubs. Always prune with a purpose, such as: to get rid of dead or broken branches; to make plants more shapely; or to admit sunlight to areas beneath. In other words, don’t just saw off tops!
Houseplants need attention too:
African Violets. If you suffer from dry skin and a scratchy throat during the heating season, just imagine how miserable your humidity-craving “violets” must be! I boost humidity by setting plants on trays of pebbles and water. My easy, always-in-bloom program for this Saintpaulia ionantha.
Amaryllis. Cut away the faded flowering stem if your new plant has bloomed. Continue to tend it in the window. Feeding goes on until late in August. Your older plant might be ready to emerge from the cool, dark cellar; check the bulb for a green tip. My amaryllis growing-guide.
Bulbs. Bring the remaining hardy bulbs you are forcing out of cold storage, and give them a position in warmth and light. If you continue to feed and water after flowers fade, your bulbs can have a fine future in the garden outdoors. You can find all of my bulb features here.
Cyclamen. As some flowers fade and some leaves discolor, yank both out from the base of the plant. Remember to water from beneath. Be sure to feed the plant regularly, too, but only if you intend to keep its tuber for an encore performance next winter. How to grow and re-bloom this great plant.
Freesia. This is the big month for colorful, fragrant freesia. Water the bulbs daily, and be sure to read my freesia forcing-guide.
Geraniums. Those you’ve grown from September cuttings are probably setting bud now. I pamper mine with high-phosphorous food, at the rate of a 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of room-temperature water.
Petunias. Overwintered specimens, if placed in your sunniest window garden, will bloom with utter exuberance now. Provide food and water freely
Primroses. Your florist will have these enchanting plants this month to freshen up the window garden picture. Why not send yourself a Valentine of three misty lavender P. malecoides? This “Fairy” primrose will stay handsome for weeks, and while in bloom will require only light, not sun. I always enjoy a winter fling with primroses.
Sweet Olive. If leaf tips turn brown, you are either overfeeding the plant, or your tap water contains too much fluoride. Feed no oftener than once each month, and use distilled water if your tap is suspect.
Now, don’t forget to tell me: Does it feel like February where you are?
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