February Garden to-do List

Around mid-February, though it still may be chilly out, the sun’s angle becomes high enough that active growth can begin again in our gardens.

Credit: Flickr / Rodnei Ferrato

Sharon Hanna tells us what to do in the garden in February

Around mid-February, though it still may be chilly out, the sun’s angle becomes high enough that active growth can begin again in our gardens – so exciting for those of us who can hardly wait to start planting seeds, digging, and mucking about in the garden. The best way I can think of to celebrate this is to start some sweet peas indoors… Visit my blog to learn more on this.

Seedy Saturday occurs this month all over BC

Check GardenWise’s What’s Up page for more info about Seedy Saturday events in your area! Seedy Saturdays offer a chance to pick up something new, special or unusual to try this year, plus meet some of the folks who grow seeds, and mill around chatting with like-minded gardener types! Lots of heirloom/heritage seeds are available as well as oodles of information about “seedy” matters. Speaking of which, dig out seed-starting trays and check for any new items you may need this year to start your seeds. Make a trip to the nursery centre around Valentine’s Day (If you haven’t already!) for seed starter mix. If you don’t have one, treat yourself to a proper heating cable so you can provide bottom heat to the many types of seeds that prefer it. The best ones are quite long, so you can snake them around underneath seed boxes, or arrange them evenly in a sand seedbed, to heat the sand. One of the reasons they come in handy is that many warm places in your home are quite often dark – the top of the hot water heater, or the top of the fridge, for example. Ideally, many seeds prefer bottom heat and strong light to encourage them to germinate.


A sunny day this month is a perfect time to clean out and organize your greenhouse. Clean the glass, organize labels, make everything shipshape – for when the weather warms, there will be no rest for the wicked. Start the following seeds in a heated greenhouse, or a well lit, well-ventilated room indoors: Mid-month: Salpiglossis, snapdragon, Tagetes ‘Lemon Gem’ (these take ages but are so worth it), coleus (possibly re-named Solonostemon), petunias, impatiens, cleome, and dahlia from seed which grows a re-useable tuber after one season. Peppers: slow to germinate (use bottom heat!), they need lots of light, and moderate to warm temperatures, excellent air circulation. They prefer to be a bit cooler at night – about 16°C (60°F) is perfect. Feed with half-strength kelp and fish fertilizer or other balanced organic feed every week once they have sprouted two sets of “true” leaves. Towards the end of the month, start “cape” or “caped gooseberries” (aka ground cherry, Aunt Molly’s). You’ll need patience – these can take three weeks to germinate! I’ve been known to poke around and look for evidence of sprouting – not recommended. Very slow growers initially, once they get going outdoors in hot weather they produce delicious “fruit” until to hard frost, which drops onto the ground when it’s ready to eat. This plant frequently self-sows but because it takes so long for the process, plants don’t reach any size this way – it’s best to start them early indoors. Start tomatillos this way too. Like ground cherry, above, tomatillos are members of the Physalis family and also very pokey to get going. These do not fall off when ready, but they do make amazing salsas and sauces for fish – summer through frost. Plant in the hottest, sunniest area you have, and look out. Look for larger-fruited sweeter types – check out descriptions in catalogues, and, of course, Seedy Saturday! Wait until March to start tomatoes unless you have a proper heated greenhouse. Tomatoes grow quickly indoors and can’t be set outside until the weather warms enough – usually sometime in May. Plants that stay indoors too long become leggy and weak. If you’re itching to get “tomatoe-y,” purchase seed (or organize and sort your own that you saved from last year), prepare soil, containers. My favourites for the lower mainland grow and produce quickly enough to yield lots of wonderful, sweet juicy tomatoes in our “iffy” summers: Green Grape, Sungold F1, Black Cherry. When seeding lettuce, make frequent sowings (every two weeks or so) of seeds. Sow an amount that’s right for you or your family – usually 10 to 12 seeds in a pot at a time is enough. If you live alone, don’t start 100 zucchini plants! Three is plenty – you’ll still have lots to donate to Grow a Row or the Food Bank if that’s what you like to do.


Summer-flowering bulbs arrive at garden centres towards the end of February, and it’s best not to put off making your selections as the choicest types often disappear quickly. Try something new: Tigridia (surprising, exotic looking tiger-faced flowers), and two fragrant beauties: Ornithogalum – tall, white flowers with shiny black centres, and Acidanthera – like tiny gladiolus. These don’t reliably overwinter so it’s best to dig, clean and store in fall (like dahlias) for following spring replanting.

Make sure you have lots of gorgeously-hued dahlias in your garden this year – once again, don’t put off buying these too long or you’ll get the dregs. Longest lasting in the garden and in the vase are the smaller-flowered ones – ‘ball’-types come in all colours. Single dahlias are very attractive to pollinating insects too. Remember to briefly (for about five seconds) singe each stem of dahlia before you put it into a vase with water – they last longer this way.


Small fruits (raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, grapes, rhubarb, etc.) arrive towards the end of February, though this is somewhat weather dependent. Once again, don’t wait, for best selection!


Earliest nectar for buzzing critters comes from crocus, tulips, Doronicum (leopard’s bane), Pulmonaria (lungwort), rhododendrons, buttercups, Eric/Calluna sp. and – dandelions. Mason bees love them and they’ll help fruit trees bee pollinated! So, don’t get rid of all your dandelions – give them some growing space. Deadhead winter pansies to promote blooming – they’ll come back to life with increased light levels, a bit of sun. Give them a shot of sea-based (kelp or fish) fertilizer too. Add a Primula (or two, or three) to pansy planters to freshen them up, perhaps a half-dozen summer-flowering bulbs (see above) to take the container into summer and fall.


Prune deciduous trees and shrubs. Ensure you have completed pruning while plants are still dormant. Sharpened secateurs (pruners) will make an easy job of this – dull ones make this a pain, and dangerous too. If the stem is thicker than your baby finger, use loppers. Be sure to wear cozy gloves to keep your hands warm, and use lots of hand cream – take good care of your hands. Mid- to late February is a good time to purchase trees and install them in your garden while they are still dormant, as long as the ground can be worked. Exercise restraint and prudence when making your selection, and avoid buying a tree which will ultimately grow (sometimes very quickly) way too large for the space. You cannot prune a tree that wants to be huge, and make it small – it’s a losing battle, and the poor tree will suffer. Ask lots of questions at the garden centre, and do some research. Remember too that trees may grow larger in your area than they do in another! If you need help, contact the BCLNA for a list of reliable arborists. Visit botanical gardens to see what the tree will look like in situ in 10 or 20 years. If fruit trees haven’t been doing well, spray with dormant oil and lime sulphur before they leaf out. In colder zones of BC this should be about mid-February or a bit later. On the coast, it may be too late for some trees. You can hire someone to do this if you’re unsure of how and why.


Put your houseplants back onto a regular “feeding” schedule. If they’re dusty, give leaves a good spray – or put them in the shower! If you decide on the shower, be sure to cover soil, as waterlogging isn’t desirable at any time. Take houseplant cuttings starting at the end of this month. Make lots of spider plants – they’re great for cleaning the air inside your house.


If you live in one of B.C.’s colder zones, you still have time to look at your garden naked in order to re-design or add elements that are missing. If you have an upstairs window, use it to get a bird’s-eye view of your garden’s bones (or lack thereof). Pull back mulch from rhubarb crowns towards the end of the month to expose them to the sun. Add a few shovelfuls of soil or better yet, fresh manure to your compost to get it going. Remember to always balance your compost – adding a carbon layer (straw, newspaper, leaves etc.) as well as kitchen waste. Buy a “winged” long-handled compost turner if you don’t have one. They are great, reasonably priced, and make a huge difference to the quality of your compost, and to your back, also! If snow is still on the ground in your area, turn up the heat: sprinkle wood ashes from your fireplace or woodstove on top of the snow covering your garden. It will help warm things up faster. You can also dig in a modest amount of wood ashes into the bed where you will plant potatoes in spring. By the end of February, you may cut back any deciduous grasses, shrubs or perennials that you were kind enough to leave for birds and other wildlife. New food sources for the birds (larva etc.) appear very soon! Dig, divide Galanthus (snowdrops) plants right after flowers fade, if you’d like to increase your stock of them, or give away to friends. This cheery early-spring flower seems to do much better when propagated this way. Bulbs planted in fall often fizzle out or take ages to get going. Lastly – if you are like me, starting seeds, gardening and watching your lovely garden emerge is first priority. February may be the last month for you to get housework, organizing, painting, or what have you accomplished before you are lured outdoors permanently – good luck with that!