Gardening friends, spring is coming! It’s about six weeks away, but there’s still a litany of things to do in the garden to prepare for his arrival. Our last frost is fast approaching (March 10) and although it is still winter, there are many types of plants that can be planted at this time of year. Early to mid-February is vegetable planting time for cool-season crops. Keep in mind that planting early ensures a good harvest before the summer heat arrives. February is also the time to plant many types of shrubs and trees, including roses, bare root fruit and nut trees, grapes, blueberries and blackberries. Container-grown trees, shrubs and hardy ground covers can also be planted this month.
It’s time to prepare for the hustle and bustle of spring by making sure gardening equipment and tools are clean, rust-free and in good working order. You will also want to check garden hoses for cracks and leaks.
Prune deciduous trees and shrubs
Herbaceous perennials like American Beauty and Texas Lantana can be cut to the ground and all old wood removed, as they regrow completely each year. The size depends on the plant. Spring flowers should only be pruned once they have bloomed. Some trees and shrubs require almost no pruning, or are even opposed to it. However, sometimes even the most dedicated native may need a little cleanup to remove dead wood, low limbs, or branches that encroach on structures.
February is considered the beginning of the spring vegetable garden. A lot can be completed now (keep tending to your indoor grafts in hot weather), but keep in mind that it can still freeze. Be prepared to cover tender plants if necessary. You never know what the weather will do!
Many potted perennials can be planted now, roses, trees, conifers. Summer and fall blooming perennials can be transplanted and divided in anticipation of spring growth.
Crepe Myrtles: Too many people still prune these trees! Don’t be a delinquent, don’t commit pancake murder. Cutting down your tree will not increase the amount of flowers, and weak one-year-old wood cannot support the weight of its own flowers. Leave the tree alone. It only needs the diseased or dead wood to be removed as well as the suction cups from the base. It will naturally grow into a beautiful vase shape on its own. If your tree becomes too large for its location, cut it down and choose a more suitable tree.
Ornamental grass: Prune at this time. If you have a native clumping grass like Lindheimer Muhly or Mexican Feathergrass, hold back the shears! All a native grass needs is a good lint. Don’t chop them like you would pampas grass. Using a good pair of leather gloves, perform upward raking motions with open hands to remove dead material while tending to the plant itself.
Rosebushes: it’s time to prune the rosebushes. The goal of pruning roses is to create an open, vase-like shape to improve circulation and prevent disease. Humidity and stagnation are the biggest problems for roses in Southeast Texas, so good air circulation is essential. Knockout roses can be cut to 1 to 2 feet due to their remarkable upright growth. Repeat-blooming heirloom roses should only be cut back to a third of their current size. DO NOT prune spring-blooming flowers yet, as you will cut off all the buds. Train your climbing roses by attaching the canes to their support.
Trees and fruits
Look for and remove hanging bark bags on pecans and other trees, which can be a sign of impending bagworm problems.
Citrus: Now is the time to start fertilizing citrus. Keep fertilizing until October. Nitrogen is normally all they need. For organic fertilizers, use compost or blood meal. Avoid herbal fertilizers such as cottonseed meal until they warm up more.
Do not fertilize yet! Wait until April and avoid “weed and feed” products. They really don’t work. In the meantime, do a soil test instead to determine what needs to be topped up and measure your lawn to find out how much. This way you know what needs to be done and how much. Fertilizer runoff and pollution are a serious problem for the conservation of our rivers and groundwater.
You can apply a pre-emergent herbicide to your lawn. Be careful not to bring it around the root zone of trees and do not use it in windy weather. Since you measured your lawn, you know exactly how much to apply to avoid runoff pollution. Be sure to use an herbicide suitable for your type of lawn.
Here are some other gardening tasks for February:
o Check trees and shrubs for scale insects and treat with horticultural oil if there are any
o Prepare flowerbeds and garden for spring planting. Plow in several inches of compost, composted pine bark, or similar material
o Sow the seeds in flats or containers to get a jump on plant growth before the onset of hot weather. Petunias, begonias and impatiens should be sown in February. Warm weather plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, marigolds and periwinkles, should be sown in early February
o Need to move shrubs or young trees to a new location? The time has come.
o Fertilize pansies and other cool season flowers
o Check the compost pile and return
o Wait until April to fertilize lawns in St. Augustine and Bermuda
o Keep bird feeders stocked for overwintering and migratory species
o Prepare bluebirds and other birdhouses
o Check junipers, other narrow-leaved evergreens, and rose bushes for pouches of bagworms. The insect eggs overwinter in the pouch and begin the cycle again by emerging in the spring to begin feeding on the foliage. Manual removal and disposal of pouches reduces future damage.