In Michigan in February the weather usually isn’t conducive to much outdoor gardening but people are getting the urge to garden as the days grow longer. There are some gardening activities that can be done in planting zones 6 and lower, however, to ease that longing we all share. Of course if you are a reader in the south your gardening options will be much greater.
If you need to find your gardening zone check this article. How to find your garden zone.
Prune fruit trees. On a mild day get out there with your pruning tools and get the job done. Consult a good fruit tree pruning manual if you need instructions on how to do it. You can prune other trees too, but don’t prune any spring flowering shrubs until after they have finished blooming. See the article below for pruning apple trees.
Check plants for damage. We have had a lot of freezing and thawing this season. In some cases this will cause plants to “heave” or lift out of the ground. Check perennial beds carefully and if you can re-plant any plants with exposed roots. If when you find a “heaved” plant the ground is too hard to do this place a heavy layer of mulch or some thawed soil over the roots about 6 inches deep. Mark the spot and re-position the plant in the soil as soon as possible.
Check tree bases for gnawing on the bark if they are not protected. Circle young tree trunks with wire mesh 3 feet high to stop damage. Deer and rabbits may be munching on other landscape shrubs. You may be able to cover them with netting to prevent further damage.
You may also want to look for frost splitting or cracking on thin barked trees. When the sun shines on a trunk and it warms up the bark expands. Then as night comes and the temperature falls the bark shrinks, and can crack. This is not good for the tree, allowing disease and insects to invade as well as looking bad. You can protect the sunny side of a tree by shading it with a board or wrapping the tree trunk in white plastic “tree wrap”.
Check stored bulbs and dormant plants– If you stored summer bulbs like canna or dahlias check them to see if they are drying out- shriveling – and add a little moisture to the packing material if they are. If they are moldy or soft bring them out of storage. Remove mushy parts and spread any remaining bulbs or root pieces out on dry newspaper in a warm, dark place for a few days. Then return to storage after replacing any damp storage material with dry.
If you have dormant plants in pots, check the soil to see how dry it feels. Add a little water if the soil feels too dry. It’s tricky keeping these plants at just the right stage of dormancy. You don’t want them to start growing too soon; they’ll get lanky and prone to insect attacks. But you don’t want them to dry out beyond the point of no return either. As the days get longer they will need a little more water. If you do notice new growth it’s time to move the pots to the brightest light possible and resume watering.
Plant seeds, and start cuttings but use common sense. Most plants should only be started about 6-8 weeks before they can be planted outside. If you have a warm greenhouse this may not be as important but for those who start seeds under lights, in a windowsill or coldframe you should consider how long the young plants will be growing in these conditions before they can be planted.
Plants that are held inside under less than ideal conditions will become leggy, and stressed. They are prone to disease and insect attacks. And the larger they are the more indoor space they need. It’s better to plant short, compact, healthy seedlings outside than long, pale floppy ones. Tomatoes and peppers, for example can’t be planted out until after the last frost which for zone 5-6 gardeners is about mid-May. Most seedlings should be 6-8 weeks old at transplanting time. Your tomato and pepper seeds should be started at the end of March- beginning of April. Check the seed package, or check a reference to see how long before transplanting into the garden seeds should be started.
Seeds that should be started in February are those that grow slowly or that can be planted outside very early. Seeds of geraniums, coleus, impatiens, violas, pansies, and of some perennial flowers can be started now. Cuttings of geraniums and some other tender plants can be started. You can also pot the bulbs of tuberous begonias, callas and caladiums to get them growing but wait on things like dahlias, glads and cannas, which will get too large before transplanting.
Here are some tips for starting seeds inside.
Ordering plants and seeds– This is the ideal time to get your seed and plant orders done. If you wait too long you may not get some of the things you want. Here’s an article to get you started with catalog links.
Check tools, paint and repair planters and other items. Yes there are lots of little jobs and creative endeavors that can be done now, before you want to spend every waking hour outside. Maybe you could build a birdhouse, repaint some old planters in a vivid hue, make some hypertufa troughs or a ceramic bird path.
Remember spring is only 34 days away.
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