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February's To-Do List for gardeners


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Roses are among the many plants that local garden centers already have in stock for planting in February.

It's funny how one year can be so different from the next. With last year's winter being so mild everything in the garden seemed to be 3-4 weeks ahead of schedule. My Cornelian Cherry started blooming in early January with a mass of spidery yellow blooms and lasted almost two months. This year it is still completely dormant without a trace of color, all because of those three weeks of freezing weather we just went through. My guess is that we will be running two weeks later than normal most of 2017 which at this time of year just means we have a couple extra weeks to get caught up. Here's what we should be paying attention to:

Clean up: February is when I clean up all the branches and dead foliage from the winter and allow the sun to penetrate the soil surface and start to warm things up. Since I have lots of bulbs and perennials scattered in my beds it is especially important to be careful as I walk through my garden collecting debris. The last thing I want to do is to break off those new tender shoots of my hostas and emerging bulbs. A smart gardener would have marked all these plants last fall before they went dormant and a compulsive gardener would have had everything cataloged in a journal. But really, who has time for that? Certainly not me. After I finish cleaning up I like to mix in a little new compost just to keep the soil surface loose and easy to work. Later in the spring after I have installed some new plants I will add some fertilizer and put down a serious layer of mulch but for now a little dusting usually does the job. If I really have my act together I will also spread a weed preventer like Preen or Corn Gluten which prevents weed seeds from germinating but has no negative effects on established plants.

Pruning: February is the consummate month to prune the heck out of everything that deserves to be pruned (and not everything deserves to be pruned). Dwarf evergreens that only grow an inch or two a year will probably never need to be pruned and mature shade trees that have reached their full height should be left alone except for perhaps removing an occasional dead limb of two. Anything that blooms in the summer (rather than the spring) can be pruned back severely now. This includes such shrubs as roses and hardy hibiscus and butterfly bushes and smoke trees to name just a few. The same is true for any perennials that weren't cut back in the fall. Evergreen perennials like ferns and Bergenia and hellebores can be tidied up now by removing last year's leaves being careful not to break off the new flowers. Doing this makes them look much more attractive and also helps prevent the spread of diseases. Fruit trees will need to be pruned this month too.

Planting: It's never too early to plant and you would be amazed at what the garden centers already have in stock. Fruit trees, roses, berries, perennial veggies like asparagus and rhubarb, shrubs and perennials can all be planted now. Shop early for the best selection and remember to always add some organic compost and fertilizer when you plant something new.

Next week I will get into lawns, weeds, fruit trees and berries and cool season veggies in greater detail but for now start out slow so you don't end up at the Chiropractor's office.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at


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