February "To-Do" List

By Paul James

For me, the 2017 gardening season officially began last Sunday. I planted potatoes and onions. I pruned some fruit trees, a few Japanese maples, and several shrubs. I spread five bales of straw in the paths of my veggie gardens. I tidied up my ornamental beds in preparation for planting. And I raked and composted well over a dozen trash cans full of leaves. Then, just as the sun was setting, I sat on the porch with a beverage and admired my accomplishments. (Full disclosure: Later that evening I also took two tabs of Aleve PM.)

As gardeners, we know that sense of satisfaction that comes from getting things done in and around the yard. The big question is, When should we do what? So here’s a rundown of what you might want to get done between now and the end of the month, beginning with a list of what to plant.

Topping the list are trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous. This is a great time to get them in the ground, and with any luck we’ll have plentiful spring rains. Roses (which are of course a shrub, but one worthy of special mention) can also be planted now, along with pansies and all but the tenderest of perennials, and nearly all groundcovers.

Now is the time for cool-season vegetables, although I’ll say at the outset that yes, there’s always the possibility of a hard freeze in March, even April, that could damage crops. So, be prepared to cover if temps drop into the mid-20s. However, cool-season crops by definition love cool temperatures, so I plant mine early, as in now through the end of the month.

The list of cool-season veggies includes asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Asparagus is best planted from roots, cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) from transplants, onions from sets or transplants, potatoes from tubers, and everything else from seed.

Now for a list of things to do other than planting between now and then end of the month, beginning with pruning.

Nearly all deciduous trees and shrubs (including roses) can be pruned this month. The exceptions are those that bloom in early spring – dogwoods, redbuds, Hydrangeas, Viburnums and such. Now is also a good time to cut back ornamental grasses to about six inches above ground.

To get rid of pesky weeds in the lawn, now is the time to apply pre-emergent herbicides to control both grassy and broadleaf weeds.

Adding a two-inch (or more) layer of organic matter to the soil will get new and existing plants off to a good start. Bagged products such as mushroom compost, composted cotton burrs, and even topsoil work great, although I must say that the greatest composted product I’ve come across in years is called Happy Frog, which is made by Fox Farm. I use it as a top dressing on everything that grows.

And last but hardly least, now is the perfect time to fertilize spring-flowering bulbs, even those that are already in flower.

Sure, there are more things to do in the garden, but these are among the most important. Besides, I didn’t want to overwhelm you! And don’t forget that the most important thing you can do in the garden, regardless of the time of year, is to simply enjoy it.