Sara Swanson

February Gardening Advice for Manchester 2017

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Jennifer Fairfield's greenhouse in the snow. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fairfield.

Jennifer Fairfield’s greenhouse in the snow. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fairfield.

by Jennifer Fairfield

Editor’s Note: Manchester resident Jennifer Fairfield owns and operates the Garden Mill in Chelsea, serves on the Manchester Community Garden Committee, and volunteers with the school gardens at Klager and the MECC.

It looks like this month is going to be more like a typical February in Michigan than last month was a typical January. Which is really a good thing, because our plants depend on winter for a number of things–not the least of which is killing off pests and disease. It does, however, make it difficult to do much outdoors.

While it’s cold out, here are some things you can do for your yard and garden. Things to do indoors this month:

  • Clean out pots so they’re ready to go when you are ready to put plants in them.
  • Clean and sharpening tools if you didn’t get to it in the fall.
  • Make plans for what you want to plant this year. Having a plan makes it a lot easier to be sure you have gotten what you need in terms of seeds and plants, as well as supplies such as frost protection blankets, plant supports, and fertilizers.
  • Check to see what seeds you may have left from last year, and make a list of what you need for this year. It’s a good idea to get yours early, so you can be sure to get the ones you want. You won’t need to start most seeds until March or even April, but it’s a good idea to decide now what you want to grow, as the people who start their own seeds tend to snap up the ones they want as soon as they hit the stores.
  • I’ve decided to try a couple of things I haven’t done before in my garden. This year, I’m going to start onions from seed in addition to growing from sets, as I usually do. Why? Well, why not? Actually the reason why is the same reason I start a lot of my own plants from seed – because I can get a greater variety. So, I’ll be starting the seeds for my onions in early March so that they’ll be ready to set out in the garden by early to mid-May.
  • I have also decided to try growing celery this year (thanks for planting the idea in my brain, Andy!) Celery is a plant I have always heard is very difficult to grow, and best left to the professionals. But that’s just silly, because all plants have specific needs, and as long as you know what those are, you should be able to grow anything. So, I’m jumping into the celery thing this year. My main reason for that is that celery is one of the plants that, unless you are buying organic, holds onto the pesticides more than most. One of the biggest reasons I grow much of my own produce is because I like knowing what’s on it. So it only makes sense to add celery to my list of things to grow. And besides, I like challenges! I’ll get those seeds going around the same time as the onions.
  • If you are starting your own rosemary, do it now. Rosemary is extremely slow to get going, so needs to be started in early to mid-February in order to be at a size for transplanting out into your garden in spring. The same thing is true for perennials. Starting perennials from seed can be an inexpensive way to get a lot of plants. Most other plants don’t need to get started until sometime in March.

Things to do outdoors this month:

  • On a warmer day around the end of the month, consider spraying your trees with dormant oil. Dormant oils are used to control a variety of insects, generally by suffocating them. Read the directions on the product you purchase, but in general, spray trees and shrubs when the temperatures are above 40°.
  • An anti-desiccant spray on your evergreens this month can help to prevent winter burn, which occurs most often in February, when the ground is typically frozen, making it difficult for the plants to get water. Winds tend to pick up this month as well, which causes evergreens to lose moisture from their leaves or needles. Most of these sprays need to be applied when temperatures are above freezing, so be sure to check the instructions.
  • Mid-February to early March is the best time for pruning many trees and shrubs because they are dormant. Pruning at this time of year will help promote new growth in the spring. Also prune to remove dead or damaged branches, to create better growing conditions for other plants in your landscape, or to make mowing or walking around your trees or shrubs easier. Don’t prune early spring-blooming trees and shrubs at this time of year, if you want to have maximum blossoms this spring. This includes such plants as forsythia, lilacs, azaleas, and dogwoods. This is the only time of year to prune oak trees, to prevent oak wilt disease.
  • While the ground is frozen, add a layer of mulch to your perennials, shrubs, and trees to help prevent frost heave with the next thaw.
  • Be sure to keep bird feeders filled. The colder temperatures mean that the birds need to burn more energy just to stay warm, so they need more to eat. You can help them out by not making them have to spend additional energy finding food.
  • Also, provide a source of drinking water for the birds.  When temperatures are below freezing, a birdbath de-icer or heated bath makes getting water easier for thirsty birds.

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