Dr. Vern Grubinger, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont
It's hard to be inspired about gardening when the ground is frozen and wintry winds howl outside your window. But that doesn't mean you can't get into gardening this month.
While February is still too early to start most seeds indoors, it's the right time to prepare for seeding by purchasing seed flats, containers, and peat pellets, as well as check your cold frame for needed repairs. It's also a good time to finish up your seed order, if you haven't done so already.
If you want to grow your own celery, leek, or onion transplants, February is the time to start them because these slow growers need several months before they are ready to set out. This also is the time to start small-seeded flowers such as begonias and petunias
If you potted bulbs for forcing last fall, check their progress. Soil
should be barely moist. If tips have sprouted and have a few inches of
growth, bring the pot into a cool, bright room (50 to 60 degrees F). Gradually
expose the plant to increasing warmth and indirect sunlight. Increase waterings.
Feed once a week with half-strength houseplant fertilizer.
To help the stems grow straight, turn the pot every day. When buds and foliage are fully developed, bring into full sunlight, and enjoy!
If you didn't force any bulbs, you can still brighten up your home by forcing branches of spring-flowering trees such as forsythia, dogwood, and crabapple. It's simple. Just cut the branches, place them in a bucket of warm water, and recut the stems to enhance water absorption. Then sit back and let nature take over. In a few days the branches should produce flowers.
Outdoors, check your perennial plants. An "open winter," like this one demonstrates the need for protective mulch on strawberries and many perennial flowers as well as garlic, over-wintered spinach, and other crops that can easily be damaged by alternate warming and freezing of the soil. Although it is too late to undo any damage that's done, mulching now can prevent additional damage caused by spring fluctuations in soil temperatures.
You also should take a walk around the garden to check for ice and snow damage to shrubs, evergreens, and trees. Look for damage by rabbits and rodents, too. Install hardware cloth around stems to protect against further damage.
February is a great time to think about the birds. In addition to keeping the feeders full, you can attract them to your yard and garden next spring by building a birdhouse now.
There are a few things to keep in mind. First, the size of the entrance
must be proportionate to the type of bird you want to attract. You also
will need to provide a rough surface both inside and outside the entrance
to facilitate access.
In addition, ventilation holes are important. When you put up your birdhouse this spring, be sure to place it at least six feet off the ground to keep cats, raccoons, and other predators away. A protective collar hung just below the birdhouse also deters unwelcome visitors.
Plans for building birdhouses are available in many gardening books. Or browse the Internet, which is also a source of good information on a number of gardening topics.
Still looking for gardening inspiration?
Subscribe to a new gardening magazine. Contact your local garden club for a list of upcoming programs. Sign up for a workshop, lecture, or course at your local garden center. Make plans to attend the 2000 Vermont Flower Show at the Sheraton Inn and Conference Center in S. Burlington, March 3-5.
Other activities for February: surprise your favorite relative or friend
with a floral bouquet on St. Valentine's Day; check out the mid-winter
inventory clearance sales at your local greenhouse or garden center; cut
back geraniums, hibiscus, and other houseplants for repotting next month.