What to do in your garden in February

Jim McCausland,  – December 28, 2005

Hardy agapanthus. Discovered in the mountains of South Africa, ‘Cold Hardy White’ agapanthus grows 15 to 18 inches tall and handles winter temperatures to -20°. Order from High Country Gardens (800/925-9387).

Transplant pots. To start annuals and vegetables from seed, try a new biodegradable pot made from composted dairy manure. Called CowPots, they’re 4 inches in diameter and odor-free. At transplant time, plant the whole pot; it decomposes within a month, supplying fertilizer as it breaks down. Order from Gardener’s Supply Company ($12 for 15 pots; 800/955-3370).

Bare-root. Sunset climate zones 4-7, 17: Plant bare-root berries, roses, vines, shrubs, and trees this month. Packed in sawdust, bare-root stock is inexpensive and adapts quickly to native soil. Plant immediately (if the exposed roots dry out, the plant dies). Zones 1-3: Set out as soon as plants are available.

Great plants. Developed by the Elisabeth C. Miller Library in Seattle, the Great Plant Picks program spotlights bulbs, perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees that excel in the Northwest.

Hardy annuals. Sow seeds of calendula, English daisy, godetia, pansy, poppies (California, Iceland, and Shirley), snapdragon, or viola. Before planting, dig a 2-inch layer of organic matter into flower beds, rake flat, then sprinkle out the seeds (follow package instructions). Seedlings will be up in less than a month and flowering a few weeks later.

Permanent plants. For year-round interest, try these broad-leafed evergreen shrubs: camellia, heath, Japanese andromeda, lily-of-the-valley shrub, rhododendron, and Sarcococca for showy, mostly unscented (except Sarcococca) blooms; English holly for bright berries; heavenly bamboo for red winter leaves; holly-leafed osmanthus for attractive leaves; and sarcococca for tiny, fragrant winter flowers. For February flowers, grow deciduous plants, including ‘Autumnalis’ cherry, Cornelian cherry, Chinese witch hazel, Corylopsis, Forsythia, Prunus x blireana, viburnum, and wintersweet. Plants like hazelnut and willow make a winter show with catkins, while others such as birch bark cherry, coral bark maple, and paper birch draw the eye with gorgeous bark.

Vegetables. Zones 4-7, 17: Unlike some vegetables, peas and spinach readily germinate in cool soil. Sow them directly in the ground in mid- to late February. Plant seed potatoes as soon as you find them in garden centers.

Primroses. Try one of the new Primula x tommasinii You and Me hose-in-hose primroses (“hose-in-hose” describes a blossom in which one flower appears to be nestled in another) in apricot, blue, cream, maroon, purple, red, rose, white, or yellow.

Clean up houseplants. Give plants a lukewarm shower to wash dust off leaves, then snip off yellowing leaves. When begonia, hoya, ivy, and pothos get leggy, cut them back to initiate new growth and encourage bushiness (palms are an exception; if you decapitate them, they die).

Prune roses. Zones 4-7: Wearing leather or nitrile gloves with a gauntlet cuff, cut out dead, injured, and diseased canes and any sprouts you see emerging from below the swollen graft. For hybrid teas, also remove all but the strongest three to five canes, then prune the remaining ones back by about one-third. In zones 1-3, wait to prune until just before leaf buds open.

Tend moth orchids. After the last bloom has faded, snip back the stem to the node that’s just below where the oldest (first) flower emerged; make the cut about ¼ inch above the node. This often triggers moth orchids to send out a secondary bloom spike.