What to do in your garden in February

Scott Calhoun and Kate McLaughlin  – December 28, 2005

Fruit. Sunset climate zones 11-13: Set out bare-root or container-grown grapes. Good choices include ‘Black Monukka’, ‘Flame’, and ‘Perlette’. Zones 10, 11: Plant bare-root apples, apricots, berries, nectarines, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, and sweet cherries.

Citrus. Zones 12-13: Toward the end of the month, you’ll find the best selection of citrus at local nurseries. Buy the trees now, but wait to plant until mid-March when chance of frost has passed. Either take trees home and set them in a protected area, such as under an overhang, or ask the nursery to hold them for you.

Flowering crabapples. Zones 1-11: For durable ornamental flowering trees, crabapples are a good bet. Cold- and drought-tolerant varieties include ‘Hopa’, ‘Radiant’, and ‘Spring Snow’. Look for them at local nurseries, or order from Woodstock Nursery (888/803-8733).

Flowers. Zones 12-13: Plant angelita daisy, autumn sage, desert marigold, desert milkweed ( Asclepias subulata), paper daisy, Parry’s penstemon, and tufted evening primrose ( Oenothera caespitosa). Groundcovers. Zones 11-13: Plant low-growing varieties of rosemary, Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii), trailing indigo bush (Dalea greggii), or Zinnia grandiflora. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart.

Herbs. Zones 11-13: Outdoors, sow seeds of chives, cilantro, dill, and parsley, and set out transplants of marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Indoors, start basil seeds for transplanting outdoors in late March. Plants and seeds are available from the Cook’s Garden (800/457-9703).

Seasonal color. Zones 12-13: Set out transplants of calendula, dianthus, English primrose, larkspur, pansy, petunia, and viola.

Strawberries. In a sunny location, loosen the soil to a spade’s depth, mix in a 4-inch layer of organic compost, level the soil, and soak the soil well. Once the moisture has drained, set plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Allow runners to root in all directions, forming a dense mat. Zones 10-13: Set out transplants this month. Zones 1a-3b: Wait until April or May.

Valentine’s Day gifts. Celebrate the season with ‘Baby Doll Mix’ dianthus, candy heart-colored pink and red cyclamen, or sweetly scented hyacinth. Look for them in floral shops and in the florist sections of grocery stores.

Vegetables. Zones 11-13: Sow seeds of beets, bok choy, carrots, chard, collard greens, radishes, salad greens, spinach, and turnips directly in the soil; also plant onion sets. Indoors, sow seeds of cucumber, eggplant, melon, pepper, and squash for transplanting outdoors in six to eight weeks. Set out potatoes at the end of the month. Zone 10: Sow seeds of kale, onions, and peas directly in the soil. Start seeds of bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, salad greens, and spinach indoors or in a coldframe. Seedlings should be ready to transplant outdoors in eight weeks. Zones 2a-3b: Prepare spring beds by mixing in a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost and manure, letting it age until planting time in April. Zone 3a: Sow seeds of ‘Oak Leaf’, ‘Red Sails’, romaine, and other varieties of lettuce. One good source of seeds is Botanical Interests (800/486-2647).

Wildflowers. Zones 2b-3a: Sow wildflower seeds now for color later in the season. Try blue flax ( Linum lewisii), firecracker penstemon, purple coneflower, Rocky Mountain bee plant ( Cleome serrulata), Rocky Mountain penstemon, and wild oregano ( Monarda austromontana). Order from Wild Seed (602/276-3536) in Tempe, Arizona.

Care for citrus. Zones 12-13: Grapefruit, kumquats, lemons, limes, oranges, and tangelos are ripe and ready to pick. Harvest just enough to eat, leaving the rest on the tree to increase in sweetness. If a freeze (below 32°) is forecast, harvest all of the fruit. Valentine’s Day is the traditional reminder to fertilize citrus. To make sure plants get the necessary nutrients, use a citrus and avocado fertilizer.

Fertilize fruit and nut trees. Zones 12-13: Feed apples, apricots, grapes, pecans, plums, and other deciduous fruit and nut trees with a balanced fertilizer (such as 16-16-16 or an organic 5-5-5). Water well immediately before and after applying fertilizer.

Protect aloe blooms. Zones 12-13: When frost hits candelabra-like aloe bloom stalks during development, it destroys all hope of spring flowers. When freezing temperatures are forecast, cover stalks with frost cloth.

Fertilize. Apply a high-nitrogen, granular fertilizer under the canopy of citrus trees. Feed deciduous fruits, nuts, and roses with a complete fertilizer, such as 12-12-12. Water well before fertilizing and soak the soil afterward to release the nutrients.

Prune. To encourage lush new growth, decrease woodiness, and promote late-spring bloom, cut back fall- and winter-flowering plants, such as Justicia and salvia. Prune deciduous trees and shrubs to maintain their shape, remove dead or damaged wood, and, if necessary, raise the canopy. Zones 12-13: It’s tempting to prune off frost-damaged branches on bird of paradise, bougainvillea, hibiscus, and lantana, but hold off until at least mid-March. Dead branches offer some protection from additional freezes.