Monday, February 06, 2012

February Gardening

Dear Gardening Friends,

I went for a long walk yesterday, Sunday the 6th, and saw all kinds of things blooming - forsythia, Japanese magnolia, daphne, camellia, tea olive, quince, lenten rose, and lots of wildflowers, including one of my favorites, a flower called lamium, that little purple flower that shoots up with a tuft of beautiful blue/purple flowers in a whorl around the stem, and dandelions, lots of dandelions!

Tree buds are swelling more and more, as they like to do this time of year, just waiting.....anticipating....I like buds. And birds. This can actually be a hard time for birds that gather seed and berries or eat insects, since seeds and berries may have been picked over, and not may insects are out yet. So it's a good time to "feed the birds, tuppence a bag."

And just when you think spring has come on warm weekends like we just had, February can surprise you. Do you remember the great snow of 1973? It was the most significant snow event in Columbia's recorded history. I remember it well and have written about it here - "The Great Snow of '73."

Before I get into all the good stuff to do in the garden in February, let me offer these words....Enjoy your yard! Bird activity is picking up, bulbs are breaking through and blooming, buds are swelling, wildflowers are blooming and it's generally a wonderful time of the year. Gardens are works in progress - never finished and never done and subject to decay and chaos - you know, kind of like people (well me anyway)...So...embrace the work-in-progress and enjoy your special place in the sun no matter what all needs to be done!

That said...

February is sort of THE month for pruning - except of course for trees and shrubs that will be blooming this spring or which bloom off last years growth. It is the best time to do heavy pruning and cutting back of overgrown foundation shrubs like holly or cleyara or pittosporum or euonymous. and if you have not yet cut back your lantana and butterfly bushes and hibiscus now is the time to do that too. It's a great time to prune Camellia sasanqua.

Roses should be pruned back over the next few weeks as well. Those of you with knock out roses - this is a good time to take the down to a couple of feet. The things grow like mad so they will over your head by summer. OK, a digression...I have come to peace with knock out roses. As long as I don't think of them as roses (given the absence of aroma and lame individual flowers), and do think of them as easy to grow, hard to kill profusely blooming shrubs, they're OK. I fact, I kind of dig them now. And speaking of roses, it is time to plant roses. Maybe this year will be your year to plant a rose garden!

Now is the best time to prune fruit trees like cherry, peach, pear - the "stone" fruits.

February is a good time to mow or otherwise cut back mondo grass and liriope. If you have not clipped back old worn leaves and stems of your lilies - including ginger lilies - do so this month.

With all this pruning it is tempting to think, OK, may as well fertilize too. But it is still early to stimulate plant growth too much. I remember my grandmother telling me many times of one disastrous year In the late 50's or early 60's a year that there was a deep freeze the first week of April (I think she said it went down to 4 degrees F) after the "sap was running" in all of her azaleas. She lost about half of them. That may have been a bit of a freak occurrence, but it serves as a good reminder. Weather patterns are pretty crazy over these months and we need to be careful not to stimulate a lot of new growth only to see it killed by a spring freeze.

February is a good time to dig and divide perennials like black eyed susan and cone flower, ground covers, ferns, and so forth.

February is still a good time to transplant shrubs and still give plants a chance to adapt to their new spots before the heat of late spring and summer come along. One problem I see often is that shrubs that are intended for shade or partial shade being suddenly exposed to full sun because of the loss of canopy trees. Once healthy acubas, camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas and the like are now struggling. So now is a good time to move them to a happier spot out of the blazing sun.

Oh, did I say February is a great time to plant new shrubs and trees? It is. So, let's get the plans made and the plants bought and planted before the hot weather comes!

For those of you who love birds and butterflies in your garden, perhaps this would be a good year for your garden to become a Certfified Wildlife Habitat. Look over the Garden for Wildlife page of the National Wildlife Federation website. I would be thrilled to help you attain this certification.

As with December and January, February is a a great time to remove unwanted vines and trees - english ivy competes with your shrubs for water and food and is easier to remove now making way for proper bed maintenance in the spring. Although wisteria is not an evergreen, it does not hide itself very well. It is actually easier to track down and get rid of Wisteria's underground runners (and root hubs) in the winter when access in and out of beds is easier. Green smilax shoots are easier to see ow, and the tubers can be removed just as well in February as in July. Honeysuckle is not evergreen but the bark also gives it away. It can be yanked quite easily right out of the ground. Wild grape vines have very distinctive bark as well. These vines and others are so aggressive that they swarm your other plants in early spring faster than you can shake a stick. May as well get rid of them now. Winter is also a good time to remove some of the more common pesky large shrubs and trees such as cherry laurel, ligustrum, hackberry, and so forth. Even oak saplings are easy to see and remove, as they often keep some of their leaves in the winter.

Of course I am available for these and other garden tasks. PLEASE feel free to forward this link along to anyone that you think might enjoy the reading or could use my services - in Columbia, Greensboro, or other towns in the Carolinas.




Glenn said...

Joel, I was looking at your flicker photos and found one titled "Sunrise, From an Unknown Peak in Western NC 1977".

The peak is called Sam's Knob and the photo was taken from Black Balsam Mountain. Sam's Knob has a large meadow at it's base that is visible in the photo.

The area is my old stomping grounds when I was at Brevard College. Back in the day you could be the only one up there. The kids and I hiked around up there this past summer and the place was packed!

Glenn G.

Anonymous said...

Meant to mention the photo is on page 90.