What to do in your garden in February

Sharon Cohoon,  – December 28, 2005

Early-blooming shrubs. For garden color in late winter or early spring, plant Australian or New Zealand shrubs such as Geraldton waxflower, Grevillea ‘Noellii’, G. ‘Ruby Clusters’, G. rosmarinifolia ‘Scarlet Sprite’, or Leptospermum scoparium ‘Ruby Glow’. Other choices include breath of heaven ( Coleonema), native Mahonia or Ribes. Or try early bloomers from South Africa, such as Leucospermum, a protea relative that bears bright orange, pincushion-shaped flowers. Before buying any of the above, consult the Sunset Western Garden Book for frost tolerance in your area.

Euphorbia.To add punch to pastel arrangements, florists use lime green. A chartreuse-flowered euphorbia, such as E. characias, E. x martinii, or E. rigida, will have the same effect on your spring garden. Euphorbia flowers bloom early and last long, and the plants themselves are undemanding and forgiving. No garden should be without them.

Final winter crops. In coastal, inland, and high-desert gardens ( Sunset climate zones 22-24, 18-21, and 11, respectively), you can still plant broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower from seedlings, or beets, carrots, celery, peas, and turnips from seed. Or, if you don’t want to tie up your beds that long, grow quick crops ready to harvest in 20 to 45 days, such as arugula, bok choy, cress, leaf lettuces, mustard, radish, or spinach.

Winter porch pots. To brighten your entry or patio, try combining cyclamen with several foliage plants to create a mini landscape, as Cambria Nursery and Florist likes to do. Two of the shop’s combinations we especially like are pink cyclamen with maidenhair fern and variegated ‘Chequers’ lamium, and red cyclamen with dwarf Hinoki cypress and variegated vinca.

Winter savory. Summer savory is the favored herb for flavoring beans, but winter savory is just as tasty, as long as you harvest young stems instead of older, woody ones. It’s a perennial, not an annual, and an attractive landscaping plant to boot. If you can’t find it at your nursery, try Lingle’s Herbs (800/708-0633).

Summer bulbs. Plant agapanthus, amaryllis, tuberous begonia, caladium, calla lily, canna, crocosmia, dahlia, daylilies, gladiolus, Oriental lilies, Tigridia pavonia, tuberose and tuberous begonias.

Summer crops. In the low desert (zone 13), plant peppers, tomatoes, and other warm-season crops late this month. But be prepared to protect the plants from late frost by covering them with row covers or hot caps.

Ultra-easy combo. For a pretty, long-lasting vignette, pair autumn moor grass ( Sesleria autumnalis) and Dalmatian bellflower ( Campanula portenschlagiana) in a pot, suggests Los Osos garden designer J. Michael Barry. The campanula blooms most of the year, and the grass always looks good.

Fertilize ornamentals. To provide gradual nutrition throughout the season, feed groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and trees with a controlled-release fertilizer, bonemeal, cottonseed meal, or well-rotted manure. Or scatter a granular complete fertilizer. But if rain is predicted, withhold garden chemicals of any kind (see “Protect Your Groundwater,” below). Cool soil makes the leaves of citrus, azaleas, and gardenias turn yellow this time of year. To green up their leaves again, feed the plants with chelated iron per package instructions.

Drain standing water. If plants are left standing in pools of water after rain, dig small, temporary trenches just outside the plant’s dripline to let the water flow away. Or, if there’s not too much water, scoop out with a flat-headed shovel.

Feed roses. Every rosarian has a different formula for fertilizing roses. If you have a successful one, stick with it. If you don’t, try this recipe from Patti Million, whose monthly column on roses appears in Gardening Thymes, the newsletter of the UC Cooperative Extension, Master Gardeners of Orange County. Mix 10 to 12 cups of alfalfa meal or pellets in 30 gallons of water in a 32-gallon garbage can with a lid. Steep for four to five days. Then add ½ cup chelated iron and 2 cups Epsom salt. Feed each shrub with 1 gallon of the liquid.

Groom grasses. Cut back perennial grasses like calamagrostis, miscanthus, and pennisetum. Shear large grasses down to 4 to 6 inches, smaller ones to 2 to 3 inches. If they’ve grown too large, dig up, divide, and replant them.

Protect your groundwater. If you apply pesticides or fertilizers right before it rains, the chemicals typically miss their intended target ― your plants ― and instead wash off into storm drains, causing polluted reservoirs, streams, and beaches. Also, avoid overwatering plants after applying chemicals to them. Never dispose of lawn or garden chemicals in the storm drain or trash, and bag or compost yard waste so it won’t clog drains. For other ways you can help keep our water clean, visit the State Water Resources Control Board website and click “Erase the Waste.”

Control ants on citrus. To keep aphids, mealy bugs, and other sucking insects from preying on your citrus, eliminate the ants that feed on the insects’ honeydew and act as their protectors. Coat the lower trunk with a sticky pest barrier such as Tanglefoot to keep the ants from traveling up the tree. Don’t apply it directly to bark, though. Wrap trunk with a thick layer of cloth; cover cloth with plastic wrap; then apply barrier. Renew plastic and coating every few weeks.