Organic Sustainable Gardening in February

  • For an interesting ornamental plant and a culinary addition, buy a plump, unshriveled, ginger root at the grocery store and plant it in a light, sandy soil just under
    the surface in a 6- to 8-inch pot. Place it in a warm, sunny window and keep damp until shoots appear. Water more frequently and fertilize monthly with high-phosphorus fertilizer.
    Harvest your crop in about eight months saving a piece to replant.
  • If you are going to grow onions from seed, time to start them now.
  • Start planning now for next year’s holiday gifts and decorations. Record those items you wished you had this year (dried flowers, herbs, pickles and preserves) and make
    sure you plant appropriate plants for next year’s harvest.
  • Parsley seeds are slow to germinate. Sometimes it can be three or more weeks before they show signs of growth above the soil. To encourage them to sprout more rapidly,
    soften the seeds by soaking them overnight in warm water. Then put 3 or 4 seeds in a pot full of soilless mix, such as equal parts of peat moss and vermiculite, plus a tiny bit
    of ground limestone and fertilizer. Keep the media moist during the entire germination time. Set plants in garden in early May.
  • Start snow peas and sugar snap peas outdoors around the Martin Luther King holiday.(in zone 7)
    Soak seeds overnight (or pre-sprout them), and use a legume inoculant to encourage beneficial soil bacteria.
  • By the end of the month, start lettuce and brassicas, such as broccoli and cabbage, indoors for transplanting outdoors in March.
  • Spread an inch of rich compost or rotted manure, plus an organic fertilizer, on your asparagus bed, and weed it well.
  • If you’ve cover-cropped your vegetable garden and annual beds with a grass or grain, such as cereal rye, you can turn it into the soil any time after the middle of the month.
    Mow it first to make incorporation easier. You can leave your crimson clover cover crops alone until they bloom in the spring.
  • Check your old seeds. Some vegetable seeds, such as beans, okra, and sweet corn, have a fairly short life. Other seeds, such as tomatoes, can last several years. When in doubt,
    do a germination test – count out 10 seeds, wrap them in a moist paper towel, put the towel in a baggie, and keep the baggie at room temperature. Keep the paper damp (not soggy!),
    and check daily. If 7 seeds germinate, then you can expect a germination rate of about 70%, and you’ll just need to over-plant a bit. Seeds that germinate at less than 50% should be composted.

Tools and Equipment – February

  • 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.
  • The common, inexpensive, alcohol thermometer often varies more than 3 degrees from the true temperature, resulting in wasted fuel or improper plant growth in greenhouses. To check the accuracy of a thermometer, immerse it in a container of crushed ice and water for 3 to 4 minutes. Any deviation from 32 degrees F can then be marked on the scale, or the tube may be moved up or down to match the 32 degree F reading.
  • 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.

Trees and Shrubs – February

  • Examine the limb structure of your shade trees. Remove dead,diseased, and storm-damaged branches. If left on the tree, these weakened limbs can cause damage by falling on buildings or passers-by.
  • Assess the energy efficiency of your landscape. Do you have evergreen trees or shrubs blocking a window where the sun’s warmth would be welcome? Consider replacing them with a deciduous plant that would let sun in during the winter, but cast cooling shade in the summer.
  • On mild winter days, remember to water window boxes or other outside containers planted with evergreens.
  • Fertilize broad-leaved evergreens in the winter or spring. Fertilizing in the late summer induces late-season growth that is susceptible to winter injury.
  • If grown in good garden soil with adequate drainage, yews will grow in shade, withstand almost any exposure, and resist mostpests. Direct sunlight and strong winds may injure foliage in winter in the colder parts of the state, as will the summer heatin the Tidewater area. Keep yews well watered to avoid winter browning of foliage.
  • Looking for plants suitable for containers with roots capable of withstanding very cold winter temperatures? Try winter creeper, white spruce, shrubby cinquefoil, yews, English ivy ‘Baltica,’Vinca minor, creeping and shore junipers.
  • For large shade trees needing removal of storm-damaged limbs,call an arborist or tree surgeon now to get on their schedule for pruning while the trees and underlying landscape plants are dormant.
  • Check guy wires on trees planted in the fall. Stakes may needto be re-secured if they have been heaved out of the soil byfrost. Remember to remove guy wires in spring after root growth has started. Trees move with the wind grow stronger than thosesupported for too long.
  • During winter thaws, water fall planted and established evergreens, especially those on the south and west sides of the house.
  • During the short days of winter, landscape ornamentals with striking silhouettes draw attention. Try corkscrew willow, kousadogwood, weeping cherry, and ornamental grasses.
    Consider placingone of these where it can be seen from a west window at dusk.
  • Winter is the time to apply dormant oil sprays to kill overwintering mites, aphids, and scale on deciduous trees and shrubs. Spray miscible oils when temperatures are above 40F, but not within 24 hours of a freeze. Because the oil kills insects by suffocation, avoid spraying on windy days to ensure that all surfaces of the plant are covered.

    Want to make your own home-made dormant oil spray?

  • When choosing a location for new shrubs and trees, remember spots that are sunny in the garden now may be shady in the springor summer. Ornamentals, such as azaleas, camellias, dogwood, mahonia and leucothoe, prefer shade.
  • When using salt to melt ice on walks and drives, spread it carefully to avoid damage to nearby shrubs. Damage to needle-type evergreens will be evident next spring by copper and yellowtones. Damaged deciduous plants will have bronze or reddish leaves. Consider using sand or sawdust instead.
  • Stamp down snow near young trees to discourage mice from nesting under the snow around them and damaging the roots or bark.
  • Remember, trees and shrubs have an economic value. If killed or damaged by ice or accident, they may be covered by homeowner’s insurance.
  • Tree branches that cast excess shade over herbaceous flowerbeds should be removed in winter when they will not damage the bed as they fall.
  • Brush snow from evergreens as soon as possible after a storm. Use a broom in an upward, sweeping motion. Serious damage may be caused by heavy snow or ice accumulating
    on the branches. Prop up ice covered branches and let the ice melt rather than try to remove ice from brittle branches.
  • In the colder parts of the states, construct wind breaks around plants predisposed to winter damage, such as broad-leaved evergreens. Drive four wood stakes around the plant, wrap with burlap, and staple at each corner. Consider moving these plants to a more protected site in the coming months.
  • Don’t delay planting a live Christmas tree, especially if it has already been in the house three days or more.
  • Borderline hardy plants, such as aucuba, camellia, and gardenia, can be protected by a mound of soil or compost placed over the crown after the ground surface freezes. These may also require windbreaks or screens.
  • For added security around the home, plant thorny shrubs on your property lines and under your windows. Some very thorny ones to consider include pyracantha, tri-foliate orange, Rosa rugosa, andthorny elaeagnus. Order plants now for late-winter planting.
  • Look at your landscape. Do you need evergreens to protect your privacy, reduce street noise, block the glare of street lights? Order plants in February and February for March planting.
  • Some plants that should be pruned in later winter or early spring are hydrangea, butterfly bush, Rose-of-Sharon, hibiscus and other summer-flowering shrubs that flower on new growth.
    Prune spring-bloomers, such as azaleas, right after they flower.
  • When pruning large limbs, always undercut first. This means to cut from the bottom up, one-third of the way through the limb,then finish by cutting from the top.
    The undercut keeps the limb from splitting and breaking off, which could damage the trunk and become an entryway for insects and diseases. Do not cut flush to the trunk,
    the collar or enlarged base of a branch produces hormones that help heal wounds.
  • Seeds requiring stratification, such as many of the woody ornamentals, should be started to condition now. Plant them in your cold frame or put them in your freezer for the required amount of time.
  • Vines that are strangling trees, such as bittersweet, wisteria,wild grape, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and Japanesehoneysuckle, should be cut off and removed.