University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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VALENTINE FLOWERS AND OTHER FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Choosing flowers for Valentineís Day, growing houseplants such as Swedish ivy, and ordering bare-root fruit trees are some of the gardening activities for this month.

When we think of this month, the holiday that often comes to mind is Valentineís Day.  Make this holiday special for someone, or several you care for, with flowers.  You can buy or send an elaborate floral arrangement, or merely a bouquet or even single-stemmed roses.  For color that lasts longer, consider a potted azalea, cyclamen, or cineraria.

If youíre getting cabin fever, and would like a trip to Florida but donít have the budget or time for one, bring a little of the tropics to you.  Visit a local indoor plant retailer or greenhouse for some easy-to-grow houseplants.  Grape ivy, Rex begonias with their colorful leaves, and some of the variegated philodendrons will tolerate low light and dry conditions.  The grape ivy and philodendron often are seen in hanging baskets.

Swedish ivy is an easy-to-grow houseplant with few problems, great for beginners or those that donít have time to fuss with plants.  The bright green, scalloped-edged leaves are on trailing succulent vines, making this a common hanging basket plant for indoors.  Give this houseplant bright, indirect light as from a north or east window, or through sheer curtains.  Donít overwater, and try to keep plants between 60 and 75 degrees (F).

Now is the time to order bare-root fruit trees, which are shipped ďbare rootĒ in late winter or early spring (for planting time in your area) before they start to grow.  When ordering fruit trees, make sure they are hardy for your area.  Also check the descriptions to make sure that they are the best performing cultivars (cultivated varieties) for your area.  Many need at least two different cultivars for cross pollination, and even those that donít may fruit better with cross pollination.

There are several flowers that you can start from seeds at the end of February as they take 10 to 12 weeks to grow large enough to set out.  Some of these are perennials, such as columbine and bellflower.  Early in the month start wax begonias if you have these seeds, and didnít sow them last month.  Toward the end of the month is the time to sow annual statice, wishbone flower, and annual vinca or periwinkle.

For seeds that need warmth to germinate, a heat mat underneath the flat can make a big difference. Once the seedlings are up, move them off the mat and grow them on at a cooler temperature to encourage strong, stocky growth.  If a temperature isnít given on the seed packet, aim for an air temperature of 65 to 70 degrees (F) for best growth.  Too warm (especially if insufficient light) and seedlings will get tall and leggy.

If you are preparing to start seeds under grow lights or fluorescent shop lights indoors, check the tubes for signs of age. Tubes that have been used for two to three seasons probably have lost much of their intensity, even though they look fine. Dark rings on the ends of the tubes are a sign that they need to be replaced.  Look for energy-efficient tubes, and ones that have a daylight or natural spectrum of light wavelengths.  Otherwise, you can alternate warm white and cool white tubes.  Keep lights about 6 inches above seedlings as they grow.

Other tips include checking stored summer bulbs such as dahlias, taking cold-stored and potted spring bulbs out for forcing, checking houseplants for pests, and keeping birds fed.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).  

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