Sara Swanson

February 2018 gardening advice

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by Jennifer Fairfield

Would you believe that just a few days ago, we were technically half-way between winter and spring? I say technically, because that’s only according to the calendar. We do live in Michigan, and Michigan tends to decide when spring is going to show up with little regard to the calendar. So don’t count your crocus too soon. But while we’re waiting for those crocus to pop up out of the ground, we can still be doing some garden-related things:

Things to do indoors this month:

  • Make sure your indoor plants are getting as much sun as possible. It’s not too late! Moving your plants to a south-facing window or putting them closer to other windows can help them get just a little more sun than they otherwise might at this time of year. Just don’t let them touch the glass, as it can be far too cold for most plants. Also, clean off any dust that has accumulated on leaves of your indoor plants so they can take better advantage of what sun they do get.
  • Clean out any pots you might be planning to use for repotting of house plants or for outdoor container gardening this spring and summer. It’s a really good idea to disinfect your pots before using them again, to be sure they are not harboring any bacteria that could harm or even kill your plants. Do this task now so the pots will be ready to use when you’re ready for them. Use a 1 to 9 ratio of bleach to water and a wire brush to be sure to get all the leftover dirt, and then thoroughly rinse the pots to be sure to get rid of the bleach.
  • If you are going to start plants indoors to put into your garden in the spring, make sure you have everything you need – seed starting mix, pots, working lights, heating mats, etc. It’s much easier to do get whatever you may be short on now, than to find out you’re missing a critical element when you are ready to get started.
  • Start planning your gardens now. Having a plan makes it a lot easier to be sure you have gotten what you need – not just seeds and plants, but also supplies such as frost protection blankets, plant supports, and fertilizers.
  • Go through seeds leftover from last year – many of them will still be good for planting this year. Once you’ve figured out what you have, determine what you need and go get it. If you wait too long, you may not get the varieties you want.
  • 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.
  • Starting perennials from seed can be an inexpensive way to get a lot of plants. Starting them indoors early gives them more time to get to transplanting size, and you have more chance of getting blooms the first year. Most other plants don’t need to be started until sometime in March, but check the packet of the seeds you are considering to be sure when they should be started.

Things to do outdoors this month:

  • An antidesiccant 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.
  • 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. It is important to use the right sprays at the right time – while trees and shrubs are still dormant, but when temps are above 40°. Again, read directions carefully to make sure that you are using the oil meant for your plant.
  • Late winter, when trees and shrubs are still dormant, is the best time to prune most of them. By late winter, I mean late February or even early March, after the coldest part of the season has passed, but before growth has begun. Pruning at this time of year is generally done to encourage lots of new growth in the spring, but you can 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. On the other hand, do prune oak trees in late winter. Pruning oak trees at any other time of year can lead to oak wilt disease, which is generally fatal to oaks.
  • We’ve already seen a few freeze-thaw cycles this winter, which can be rough on the plants in our gardens. 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.

For the Birds: 

  • 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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