February in the Garden

February is a maintenance/preparation month.  There is pruning and fertilizing to be done.  A lot of what you do this month will reap benefits when the warmer months arrive. 

Garden Prep
After we have a good rain,  weeding is easy when the ground is soft.  Stay ahead of those weeds!!!  If you don’t, you’ll be sooorrrrrrrryyyyy!

This month you will see gardeners de-thatching lawns all over town in preparation for warm-season grass.  (FYI – Early fall is de-thatching time for cool-season lawns).  Thatch is the layer of matting between the soil below and the blades of grass above.  A layer of thatch up to one half inch is okay, but thicker than that is not healthy for a lawn.  To keep thatch down to a minimum, don’t mow more than one half of the length of the grass height at one time, and allow the clippings to lay where they fall.  The clippings will decompose and will provide a good source of nitrogen to feed your lawn.

Planting
This month is considered the last optimal month if you want to get natives planted and have them do well.  They like a few cold months to get settled in preparation for the hot summer months.  Fall is really the best time, so if you can wait until then, all the better.

If you are starting your own seeds, it really helps the process to use Seed Starting Soil.  You can buy this at most nurseries.  The advantages are that the mixture is light and crumbly (friable), and more sterile than typical soil so you don’t start your seedlings out at a disadvantage.

Seeds to sow outside – ageratums, alyssum, bachelor’s buttons, calendulas, candytuft, celosia, columbines, coreopsis, English daisies, delphiniums, dianthus, forget-me-nots, four-o-clocks, hollyhocks, larkspur, lunaria, pansies, California and Shirley poppies, salvias, snapdragons, stocks, sweet peas, sweet William, and native wildflowers.

Time to start seeds for flowers and vegetables for transplanting in early spring.

Seed Planting Tip:   Don’t plant seeds too deeply.  Seeds planted too deeply will never reach the soil surface. One of the biggest mistakes made by a beginning gardener is planting too deeply. As a general rule, the soil that covers the seeds should be only three times their thickness. Small seeds, like carrot or lettuce seeds, need only a one-eighth-inch covering of soil at the most.

It is already time to be thinking about summer bulbs.  Summer blooming bulbs should be in stock right now at area nurseries.   Look for Cannas, crocosmia, dahlia, gladiolus, lilies, and tuberous begonias.

Plant a few gladioli bulbs every week from now until the end of March to have a continuous bloom from June through the summer.

Watering
If we get some rainfall make sure your irrigation is turned off, but keep an eye on your garden in case we have a hot or dry spell.  This is a great time to do irrigation maintenance and repair.

Fertilizer
Some of my cymbidiums have bloomed already, some are getting ready to bud and some are just starting to send bud stocks.  Continue to feed the plants for bloom (low nitrogen fertilizer) until the buds open.

Avocado trees are ready for fertilizing if you are on the coast or any other frost free areas.  If there is still a chance for frost where you live, wait a couple of months so you don’t lose new growth that spurts from your feeding.

When annuals such as pansies start to get spindly, pinch back the weakened growth and promptly remove faded flowers. Then feed with a liquid foliage fertilizer. This will make the plants become full and lush again.

Grapes need fertilizing in February with a 12-4-8 and a micronutrients blend: iron, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, boron and copper. The amount doubles each year for the first three years, from half a pound to a pound to two pounds, in an ever-larger area around the plant. Add a pound each year for the next two years, and then continue to apply four pounds a year as a maintenance rate.

Azaleas are sending out the first buds of the year from the branch tips so it’s time to feed with a high phosphorus fertilizer from now until they are finished blooming.

This is the month to fertilize your citrus trees.  Remember some major holidays as a guide for when to fertilize your citrus: Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Nitrogen is the element that established citrus trees need the most and it is responsible for assuring a good fruit crop and a healthy tree. Typically, citrus is fertilized three times a year with the amount of nitrogen they need divided into three equal quantities.  The amount of fertilizer you use will vary according to the age and size of the tree, and in some cases the variety of tree so get guidance from a reputable nursery if you’re not sure.  Water the tree the day before, spread the fertilizer over the root zone and water in well.  The feeder roots of citrus trees are very close to the surface, so it’s important not to over fertilize, or you could burn your tree.

Blueberries follow a similar schedule of citrus: February, May and August.  Use a slow-release 12-4-8 fertilizer with a micronutrient blend formulated for azaleas and camellias. Use one-quarter pound for each year of age, and make sure you keep it away from the trunk of the bush.

Pest & Disease Control
Bait for snails and slugs are wandering around your yard looking for tender new growth.  If you don’t like baiting, then go out in the early evening or morning for a hunt.

Keep the yard raked to clear leaf litter and other decaying debris to keep the snails, slugs and other pests from hiding out in your garden.

Pruning
Plumerias have dropped all their leaves with the cold weather.  If you want to take cuttings of your plants, this is the time to do it, before the new leaves start to development.   Let the cuttings dry up at the cut end and wait for 2 months before planting.

Cut your cannas and gingers down to the ground as soon as there is no chance of frost.

Time to give your fuchsias and begonias a hard pruning.  Fuchsias bloom only on new wood and need to be cut back annually to produce new growth. Cut back hanging basket plants to container’s edge or 4 inches above the soil. Cut back shrub fuchsias by half or more. Prune begonias to keep them from getting leggy. Cut cane and angel-wing begonias to pot level or three or four nodes from the ground. Prune wax begonias 1-2 inches from the ground.

Buddlejas, more commonly known as Butterfly Bushes, need to be hard-pruned back now.  Most plants can’t handle the heavy pruning that these plants can.  You can cut back 75% of the plant now and keep pinching the new growth to promote bushing over the next few months.

If you planted early sweet peas you are probably enjoying them in bloom now.  Dead head your cool season flowers for a longer blooming period.

Miscellaneous
If plants such as agapanthus, coral bells, daylilies, Japanese anemone, Shasta daisies,  become crowded or had sparse
bloom last season, it’s time to divide them. Dig up clumps, pull or cut them apart and replant the sections, or share them with your friends. This is easier to do after a good rain or water the day before.  

HAPPY GARDENING!!!

Credit where credit is due: This monthly garden chores compilation comes from a lot of resources, past and present, including: Sunset Magazine, Union-Tribune, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Home & Garden, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, miscellaneous tidbits found on the web, in the library, from fellow gardeners, and personal experience in the garden.