Living valentines. Sunset climate zones 7-9, 14-17: Give your sweetheart a valentine that will live on long after February 14. Tie a red ribbon around a lemon tree or put a bow on a bare-root rose. Or choose a flowering plant that can go outdoors after bloom is through. Choices include azaleas, camellias, carnations, gardenias, and Oriental lilies.
Evergreen vines. Zones 7-9, 14-17: Good choices include fragrant, yellow-flowered Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens); white-flowered evergreen clematis (C. armandii); purple Hardenbergia violacea 'Happy Wanderer'; pink H. v. 'Rosea'; fragrant pinkish white Jasminum polyanthum; pink or white Pandorea jasminoides; and violet trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides). All are easy to grow, reaching 15 to 20 feet long.
Roses. To perform well, these sun lovers usually require six to eight hours of direct sun per day. But some varieties also grow well in partial shade. The following are a few good easy-care choices. Shrubs: 'Carefree Beauty', 'Carefree Delight', 'Flutterbye', 'Marjorie Fair'. Climbers: 'Altissimo', 'Blaze', 'Coral Dawn', 'Fourth of July'.
Tomatoes. Zones 7-9, 14-17: Some of the tastiest varieties for Northern California are 'Brandywine', 'Early Girl', 'Gardener's Delight', 'Green Grape', 'Stupice', 'Sun Gold', and 'SunSugar' (available from Tomato Growers Supply Company, www.tomatogrowers.com or 888/478-7333). 'Ace-High Improved' and 'Celebrity' are flavor favorites in hot, inland areas. Start seeds this month for planting outdoors in late March or April.
Vegetables. Zones 7-9, 14-17: Set out roots of artichokes and asparagus, and seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery (zones 15-17 only), green onions, kohlrabi, and lettuce. From seed, plant beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, peas, and spinach. Sow seeds of eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes indoors using bottom heat to speed germination (try a heat mat, or set containers on a water heater until seeds germinate, then move them into bright light); allow six to eight weeks to reach transplant size. Zones 1, 2: Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower indoors or in a greenhouse at the end of the month. When seedlings are ready to go outside (in six to eight weeks), plant them and drape with floating row covers.
Cut back woody shrubs. Zones 7-9, 14-17: To stimulate lush new growth on artemisia, butterfly bush, fuchsia, and Mexican bush sage, cut back woody stems to within a few inches of the ground. If left unpruned, plants become leggy and scraggly-looking.
Repot cymbidiums. If your cymbidium orchids are bulging out of their containers or the bark has decomposed, it's time to repot them. Do this between mid-February and early July to assure bloom next season. Remove old bark, cut off dead roots, and discard soft or rotted bulbs. Repot the plant into a larger container, or divide plants into groups of three to five pseudobulbs (bulbs with leaves). Replant in medium-size bark or purchase a cymbidium mix.