The Ornamental Garden in February
It’s February and time to start planning for this year’s garden. Yes, the weather is wintry outside and the garden is still asleep but the days are growing longer. Spring will be here before you know it. Use this time wisely to gear up for planting season when it finally arrives!
Check seed catalogs for seeds, bulbs, bare root roses, or other plants that might not be available from local sources and place your orders while there’s still plenty to choose from.
Organize your seed packets into two groups: (1) seeds to germinate indoors and (2) seeds to sow directly in the soil once warm weather arrives. Not sure which way to go? When all else fails, refer to the directions on the seed packets for guidance. Now that you’ve got your seeds organized, decide how many plants you need for the space available in your garden. Once you have accomplished these two tasks, you can then develop a detailed planting schedule. This will save you considerable time and effort later.
If you’re planning to start seeds in-doors, check your supplies to make sure you have adequate potting soil, pots, trays, plant tags, etc. Don’t forget to check the light bulbs in grow lights to make sure they are operational.
Don’t forget to inspect your house plants on a regular basis for insect damage. Dry indoor air can create the perfect environment for pests such as scale, mealy bugs, spider mites, white fly and even aphids.
Treat your house plants to a bath. Yes, you read that correctly. Dust on house plant foliage makes it difficult for the leaves to “breathe.” Dust also filters available light, which interferes with photosynthesis. For plants with large leaves, use a moist cloth to gently wipe the top and bottom surfaces of each leaf. For plants with small leaves, spritz the foliage with lukewarm water.
Inspect stored bulbs, tubers, or corms at least once a month until planting season to make sure they are still plump and viable. If they are shriveled, very lightly moisten them. If any bulbs appear soft or diseased, discard them now.
Out in the ornamental garden, check both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs for snow or ice damage. Remove any broken limbs and clean up any fallen debris.
While you’re inspecting your evergreens, check for drought stress. When the ground is frozen, evergreens cannot take up water, causing leaf tips or entire leaves to turn brown. When the soil thaws enough to allow moisture absorption, water evergreens at the soil level.
Inspect trees and shrubs regularly for damage from deer, rabbits, voles or other wild animals. Damage can take many forms – chewed or torn foliage, bitten or broken limbs, scraped or gnawed bark, etc. Install a physical barrier such as hardware cloth or chicken wire around the stems or trunks to prevent further damage. Also, check to make sure mulch isn’t piled up against tree trunks. If it is, pull it back from the trunk a couple of inches to discourage vole activity.
This is the ideal time of year to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs. Prune now to remove any crossing branches, dead or weak branches. If you’re a novice at pruning, the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s (VCE) publication on Pruning Basics and Tools (VCE Publication 430-455), http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-455/430-455.html, is an excellent resource. In addition, VCE Pub. 430-460, Deciduous Tree Pruning Calendar at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-460/430-460.html, is an excellent guide. For information on when and how to prune evergreen trees, check VCE Pub. 430-457, Pruning Evergreen Trees, at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-457/430-457.html.
Continue to Inspect flower beds for any plants that have been pushed out of the ground as the result of frost heave (freeze/thaw action). Gently place the plant back in the original planting hole and add two to three inches of mulch around it to protect the roots from cold temperatures.
Cut back dormant ornamental grasses before spring growth occurs. Before tackling this project, place a drop cloth on the ground next to the grass clump to collect the cut grasses and loose debris. Next, tie the clump into a bundle using a rope or bungee cord. Then, use pruning shears or a hedge trimmer to cut the grasses a few inches from the ground.
Carefully trim away old foliage from hellebores so that you don’t damage emerging flower buds.
Before heading back indoors to blessed warmth and perhaps a cup of hot chocolate, take a close look at the garden for the earliest signs of spring – coy snowdrops peeping through the snow; nodding hellebore blossoms unfurling through last year’s foliage; delicate yellow winter jasmine blossoms clinging to long, bare branches; the first crocuses; and last but not least – the emergence of daffodil foliage.
Finally, if you’re really hungry for a spring “fix,” snip a few branches of forsythia, pussy willow, flowering quince, service berry, peach or plum to force into bloom indoors. Place the branches in water and re-cut the stem ends on a slant while they are submerged. This will facilitate water absorption. Change the water every few days.