We sever that which has passed
As new growth begins
In many parts of the country, winter snow still holds everything in thrall, but California is a different story altogether. Rains have brought us some much needed moisture (though we really need more!) and longer days are coaxing new shoots to emerge. This is the stuff of February gardens in San Jose.
Bare Root Trees
There is still time to plant bare root trees. Many of these plants have been sitting in nurseries for a few weeks. Soak them in a bucket of water for several hours after trimming off any damaged bits. Dig a hole that is shallow and wide. There is no need to amend the planting hole. Spread the roots out horizontally for the best growth. Be sure that the crown is a few inches above the ground to avoid crown rot. The crown is where the trunk meets the roots.
Rather than tamping the soil down, mud in your new tree with water. This eliminates any big air pockets that might dry roots out while helping them stay upright. Speaking of supports, only provide tree supports if absolutely necessary and remove them as soon as they are not needed. Water regularly, unless it’s raining. Avoid fertilizing until 6-8” of new growth appears.
Harvesting citrus fruit is a common February garden task. Citrus trees tend to produce heavily every other year and February is normally harvest time. If you don’t harvest your oranges, other things will! Squirrels, snails, and rats can make a mess if fruit isn’t harvested. Heavy rains can cause fruit splitting. These fruits attract pests and diseases and should be removed from the tree and composted or discarded. If your tree produces a bumper crop this year, try making orange marmalade!
If pests or diseases were a problem on your fruit or nut trees last year, February is a good time to apply dormant and delayed dormant sprays of horticultural oil and/or fixed copper, depending on the tree species and the problem. Horticultural oil will suffocate pests such as aphids, mites, and scale insects before they can cause damage. Fixed copper is used to reduce the likelihood of many fungal and bacterial diseases, including fireblight, peach leaf curl, and bacterial blight. Be sure these treatments are applied before buds begin to open.
Rain also creates countless habitats for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are a vector species that can carry the Zika virus, dengue, yellow fever, West Nile virus and many other nasty conditions. Walk through the garden and look for potential mosquito habitats. They only need about one tablespoon of stagnant water to start reproducing. Adding mosquito dunks to rain barrels, fountains, and birdbaths goes a long way toward eliminating the local mosquito population.
Peppers and tomatoes
To jumpstart a garden, one February garden chore is to start peppers and tomatoes indoors, in a greenhouse, or under a protective cover. I used my pumpkin ladder draped with shade cloth. Hot peppers, in particular, need a long growing season to develop the best flavors. Seed heating mats, designed for seed starting, can keep pepper seeds warm enough to germinate. As they grow, transplant seedlings into larger pots until it is warm enough to move them outside. If your seedlings get too leggy, in a condition called etiolation, they are not getting enough light.
If it didn’t get done in January, you can still improve the structure and productivity of fruit and nut trees for the upcoming growing season. by pruning unwanted branches in February. This way, trees will put all their energy into what’s left. Remove drooping (decurrent), crossing, or diseased branches. This is also the perfect time to rub off unwanted tree growth. Simply rub your hand over the buds and they fall off.
For better fuchsia and hydrangea blooms this summer, remove any frost damaged tissue now. Since both species bloom on new growth, cut back some of the longer branches. Leave two or three leaf buds below the cut. to promote lateral growth and more flowers. Prune roses now for structure and air circulation.
Sticky barriers prevent pests from crawling up the trunks of trees, roses and shrubs. As temperatures rise, ants, aphids, and other pests become more active and destructive. Apply tape around the trunk and slather the tape with whichever sticky barrier substance you opt to use. This can significantly reduce pest infestations. It’s one February garden chore I never skip!
Lawns may look green, but is it the right kind of green? Weeds grow more quickly than many garden plants. Take a look at what it is actually growing in your lawn. This is a great time to pull weeds - before they go to seed and while the ground is moist, making it easier to pull them up by the roots. Plus, the disruption provides loosened soil for the spreading roots of more desirable grass species. Pull weeds from around perennial plants, as well. They will need all the nutrients they can get for spring growth. Pulling weeds now is one of the most productive February garden chores you can do.
After pruning and spraying your trees and applying a sticky barrier, you should protect them against sunburn damage by painting exposed areas with a mix of one part water and one part white latex paint. Do not use any other type of paint, as many of them can interfere with your trees' ability to breath. Whitewashing reflects the sun's damaging rays away from the bark, helping it to stay intact. Bark is an important protective barrier against many pests and diseases.
February is the perfect time to encourage worms in the garden. Worms will do more good than pretty much everything else. Worms aerate the soil, break down organic material, and their castings are full of valuable nutrients. Spreading coffee grounds, aged compost, or mulch around the garden is often the only thing needed to encourage worms to make your garden their home.
Put on your sweater and get out there in the garden!