In the Garden: February 2013

February is the time to put your garden plans into action. Here are some exciting things you can do to prepare for gardening season

February garden tip: When light levels start to increase, direct-sow greens such as arugula

As the sun shines longer and the soil begins to soften, February is an exciting time in the garden

It’s February, and that means eager gardeners are chomping at the bit to tend to their garden.

Even though the weather remains on the chilly side, there’s still plenty to do in preparation of garden season.

February Garden Tips

  • Bee alert: Be on the lookout for mason bees! Dandelions are a wonderful source of pollen and nectar, so don’t overweed. The hardworking mason bees are needed to pollinate our fruit trees, as other bees continue to struggle with environmental problems. You can buy special condos or houses for mason bees to invite them to move into your garden. Other early-spring faves of pollinators include crocus, tulips, leopard’s bane, rhododendron and heather.
  • Patience: Though we are itching to plant something, it’s probably too early. Garden soil needs to be somewhat dried out, and not clumped in muddy clods. When the time is right, volunteer seedlings of kale, arugula and mache will abound (weeds, too), and chives will poke up. If it’s been raining heavily or soil looks/feels waterlogged, hold your horses. Instead, seed lettuce in wide, low pots, and place in a cool greenhouse, or sow in a cold frame. Weeds pick up speed as light levels increase – nip them in the bud.
  • Light soil: When soil does lighten up – and this happens faster in raised beds – direct-sow snow peas, arugula, mache, Asian greens, broad beans and broccoli raab. Peas have a better chance in cold soil with purchased inoculant, which encourages earlier microbial activity.
  • Emerging garlic: Fall-planted garlic will emerge soon, or has already. Topdress lightly with organic material like compost, manure or Sea Soil – especially on the coast, where the constant winter rains flush nutrients from the root zone. A feed of fish and/or kelp fertilizer in liquid form is appreciated.
  • Fruit prep: Plant small fruits like raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and grapes. Most are semi-dormant when brought into garden centres in early spring and they’ll be fine going in now.

Chive Seedlings and Tigridia

(Left:) Summer flowering bulbs, like the exotic Tigridia, will soon be available (Right:) In late winter, volunteer seedlings from edibles, like chives, will emerge

  • Tomatoes: Wait until March to start tomatoes, unless you have a heated greenhouse. My favourites yield tomatoes in spite of iffy summers include: ‘Green Grape’, ‘Sungold F1’ and ‘Black Cherry’. Plus, ‘Early Girl’ is reliable and offers real tomatoey tartness.
  • Shaggy hedges: Avoid hedges that require excessive pruning. Its glossy red leaves in spring are pretty…but Photinia grows like mad in all directions. Consider more restrained Ilex crenata (Japanese holly, not prickly) and other slow to moderate growers. Do your research and ask a lot of questions at the garden centre.
  • Pruning time: Prune deciduous trees and shrubs while dormant. Sharpened pruners will make it easy! Dull pruners damage plants and are dangerous for your pinkies. If the stem is thicker than your baby finger, use loppers. Wear sturdy gloves to protect hands.
  • Pick out summer flowers: Summer-flowering bulbs arrive at garden centres towards the end of February. Try something new: Tigridia (exotic tiger-faced flowers) and fragrant Ornithogalum (tall, white flowers with shiny black centres), as well as Acidanthera (mini glads).
  • Trim time: Later this month, cut back any deciduous grasses, shrubs or perennials that you were kind enough to leave unsnipped for birds and other wildlife. New food sources for the birds (larvae, etc.) appear soon.
  • Seedy Saturday: Seedy Saturday is the occasion to obtain locally grown seed, connect with fellow gardeners, and get valuable information about bees, planting, fruit trees and more. It’s the last Saturday in February at VanDusen Botanical Garden, and there are various other dates in spring around the province.
  • Order: Dig/divide any emerging perennials. As light levels increase, they’ll grow quickly, so don’t delay. For the cottage-garden look, replant perennial divisions in wiggly, uneven drifts, mimicking nature; avoid lining up plants like soldiers. Consider eventual plant height, placing taller plants towards the back.
  • Russian composting: If your compost is stuffed to the brim and hasn’t “cooked” enough yet, try “Russian composting.” Gently (be careful of the worms!) dig holes or trenches 20 cm (8 in.) deep, fill halfway with kitchen waste, cover with soil and tamp down. Mark the spot so you’ll know where to put the next one. They have to be fairly deep, otherwise skunks and other critters may try to unearth your compost, depending on what you’ve buried. If you like, plant a few sweet-pea seeds about 2.5 cm (1 in.) deep over the deposit. You’ll be blown away with the results. Just don’t forget to mark the site with a stick, or make yourself a note in your garden diary.