Larry Hurley’s Favorite February Tips
- Remember that it’s best to stay off of soggy, wet soil. Walking on it or “working” it with hand tools or tillers will compress it. Clay soils, which drain poorly to start with, will be made even worse by trying to work with them when they are wet.
- Buy Valentine’s Flowers and plants for your loved ones, and even your liked ones. Nothing compares to the color and fragrance of real flowers.
- Take some trips to the great greenhouses: the U. S. Botanic Garden is always worth the trip downtown, and the conservatories at Longwood Gardens are beautiful any time of the year.
Miri Talabac’s Favorite February Tip
Remember to water your outdoor container gardens once in a while when the weather’s mild and the pots have thawed. Dry winter air, mild temperatures and sunny days can still cause dormant plants to loose water, which can be more damaging than injury from cold alone.
Bill Mann’s Favorite February Tip
Now’s the time to plan any major or minor landscape plantings. Remember that hot summer last year? Were you missing shade trees or do you need to replace damaged or downed ones? Any areas that could be improved by providing evergreen screening? Foundation plantings don’t last forever. Are they ready for removal and a fresh look? Any possibility of putting your house on the market the next five years? Now would be the time to take a critical look at your landscape, and redo, or add anything you may have been putting off. You will have time to enjoy it, and as a bonus, your new plants will add value of your property for years to come.
- Time to start these seeds indoors: broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, parsley (which can be started as early as January), onions and leeks.
- Scout for Eastern Tent caterpillar egg cases on your apple, sherry and crabapple trees – just twist them off.
- If you have a cold frame, you can sow an early crop of spinach and lettuce in it this month.
- Buy your veg seeds now before the supplies dwindle.
- If you’ve had problems with aphids, mites and scale insects, spray trees thoroughly with a dormant oil spray before bud break, making sure that temperatures are expected to remain above 40 degrees F. for the 24 hour period after spraying. Follow label directions.
- Late February through the end of March is the second best time (the optimum time is late August through mid October) to over-seed your lawn to make it thicker or to cover bare areas. The freezing and thawing of the soil this time of the year helps the seed to get good soil contact.
- Avoid excessive walking on your grass when it is frozen to avoid damaging the crowns of your grass plants.
- Don’t worry about your bulbs popping up early; it won’t harm them – unless we get a hard freeze just as they’re about to open. If that happens it’ll weaken the stems and make them floppy. A plastic garbage can or waste basket over the clump for the night would help to keep off the frost, and hold a bit of ground heat in.
- If you put protective evergreen boughs over your early spring bulbs, remove them now to enjoy their early bloom.
- As your bulbs pop up and you can tell what they are, that’s a good time to mark them (with labels or drawings). That way, you’ll know where they are after they’ve gone dormant this summer – if you want to dig them up, plant around them, etc. (When to move your bulbs? When the foliage has yellowed and the plant is going dormant. Though if they’re tulips, it may or may not be worth the effort. Most bloom for just a year or two, so it’s best to plant new ones each year.)
At the end of February, look at the long-range weather forecast. It may be time to put out pansies or cool-season vegetable plants if it’s going to be mild for the next ten days.
Trees and Shrubs
- Winter is the best time to prune deciduous (leaf-dropping) trees and shrubs because you can easily see where branches rub against each other, spot dead or broken branches, and see how you might prune to improve form. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too. But remember that you will be removing flower buds on spring bloomers, so be conservative if that is an issue. You may notice excessive sap bleeding from pruning cuts on elm, maple, birch, dogwood, beech, walnut, magnolia, tulip poplar and redbud. If so, hold off on further pruning until summer so as to minimize weakening the tree and inviting infection.
- What NOT to prune now? Anything that flowers in the spring (if you care about seeing those blooms).
- If you have yews or camellias, look for white cottony masses on the undersides of needles/leaves. These are scale insects and they should be sprayed with horticultural oil later in the season when the youngsters (aptly named crawlers) emerge.
- Got deer? Now’s the season when they home in on our more expensive plants, like trees and shrubs. So apply deer repellants monthly, rotating two or more different products.
- If/when it snows, try to prevent snow and ice from building up on gutters and eaves above shrubs. Gently sweep snow loads off of shrubs to prevent breakage. Under a heavy snow load it may be best instead to let it melt off on its own. Sweeping heavy snow can still cause breakage, so wait until plants rebound on their own or, if they don’t, consider replacements or pruning over the course of a few seasons to get them back into shape.
- Remove and destroy bagworm bags from affected trees – principally on evergreens. The bags contain hundreds of eggs that will hatch out and feed in spring.
- This is a good time to inspect winter creeper and Japanese euonymus foliage for scale problems. Control the scale insects by spraying the healthy leaves with dormant oil. Be sure that temperatures are expected to remain above freezing for a 24 hour period after spraying.
- Hemlocks infested with the woolly adelgid can be sprayed with dormant oil any time in February – as long as the temperatures are expected to remain above 40 degrees for the 24 hour period after spraying.
- Keep an eye out for pests on your houseplants – like spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects. If you act quickly, most pests can be eradicated with simple methods, like a spray of water, spraying with insecticidal soap, or swabbing the critters (especially mealybugs) with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.
- Be careful not to over-water. And remember – don’t fertilize houseplants this time of year. It will tell you when it’s ready for action.
- Keep bird feeders clean and replenished throughout the winter months.
- Likewise, remember that wildlife needs a water source through the winter. Refill your weather-resistant birdbaths regularly.
- If you have a pond, keep a portion of the surface clear of ice at all times. If the water freezes over completely your fish may die. When ice forms, there is a strong chance that gasses from organic debris at the bottom of the pond will build up in the trapped water and harm the fish. There are a number of electric pond de-icers available that will provide a constant unfrozen area in the water. There are also some small bird bath warmers that do the same thing.
- Ceramic and plastic birdbaths are especially vulnerable to cracking in cold weather and should be stored indoors. Metal ones should be unaffected by freezing so keep them outside.
- If you garden near deer, keep up the deer repellants through this, the most vulnerable time for evergreens. Use monthly, rotating two or more different products.
- This is the mating season for foxes. Late at night they make a noise that sounds like a person screaming.