February 14th is Valentine’s day, a date celebrated with expressions of love. Mid-February is also a good general time for an assortment of garden chores, so why not use the occasion to show some love for your outdoor spaces?!
Remember that any recommendations for dates are merely guidelines based on regional conditions and can fluctuate from year to year. Here in Collin County our average last frost date is March 15th, and it just so happens that right around the middle of February is often the perfect time for these tasks in North Texas.
Pruning – Making Way for New Growth
Flowers and Valentine’s day go together hand-in-hand, and what flower is a more suitable symbol than the beautiful rose? Valentine’s day has traditionally been cited as the day to cut back your rose bushes. Easy to remember!
Start by removing the old wood to the ground, leaving about five healthy canes. Cut these remaining canes to about 2 feet, making your cut above an outward facing bud. To prevent spreading rose rosette disease, clean pruners with rubbing alcohol in between trimming each rose bush
As with any pruning, use a good pair of sharp shears or pruners. And while you’re at it, show some love to all your tools, by sharpening, cleaning, and oiling where required!
Texas Summer & Fall Bloomers
Autumn Sage, Mealy Blue Sage, Mexican Bush Sage, Asters, Pigeonberry, Turk’s Cap, Lantana, Catmint, Plumbago, Gayfeather, Echinacea, Texas Star Hibiscus, Powis Castle, Red Yucca, Datura, Muhly grass, and Sedums.
We have many other beautiful summer and fall blooming perennials that could use a pruning right about now, if you haven’t done so already.
If you kept some seed heads (e.g. Echinacea) around for the birds, you can clean those up now or leave them until early spring to provide a food source through the last of the winter.
Cut back deadwood to about 3 to 6 inches from the ground. This allows new spring growth to receive more sunlight and warms the soil more quickly. And since you should have already applied mulch in late fall/early winter, your perennials’ roots should be protected from any further freezes.
One of our most popular native perennials, Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), blooms on new wood, so I prune this twice a year. Trim down now for a burst of new spring growth. Then a good pruning (cut down to about 1/3) again in July will help keep a compact size and encourage new growth for fall flowering.
Ferns aren’t strictly flowering plants, but they too can use some attention now. I remove all the foliage on my Holly Ferns just as they start to put out new growth. I do this again just after the heat of summer, around mid-September. Autumn ferns need only some light trimming to remove the brown leaves so you can see the new bronze growth emerging in the spring.
Ornamental grasses, like muhly and fountain grasses, can likewise be cut back now. Shear flowering heads and brown stalk down to about 6-8”.
Do not cut back spring blooming plants such as Climbing Roses, Verbena, Columbine, Iris, Forsythia and Quince. You can remove dead foliage, but do not harm the growing tips (where the flower buds are located).
A Matter of Timing
When pruning, always strive to cause the least amount of stress. Right around this time, many plants are still dormant from winter but just about to start their spring growth.
To reduce stress, cut plants back before they start putting out new growth. If you wait too long, you risk removing the new growth that the plant has spent so much energy producing. And you make more work for yourself too, as you’ll have to be extra careful trimming!
This year our weather has been fluctuating a lot, with some unseasonably warm days. I’ve noticed many plants already greening up by the beginning of February.
As a gardener, one of your most important tools is your eyes. . . always trust your own observations when it comes to garden timing. Be mindful when taking your shears to a plant, especially when winter pruning, so you don’t hack off any new growth.
Planting – Options for Late Winter
I’ve said this before, but winter is absolutely the best time to plant trees (and shrubs). Pick out a new deciduous tree now, while the leaves are absent so you can better see the structure and choose an attractive specimen.
I recommend waiting a little longer for most perennials, since a late season cold snap could kill them if they aren’t hardened off. Or just be ready to protect any new tender perennials in case of freezing weather.
A Rose for Winter
One perennial you can happily plant now is the Lenten Rose, also known as Hellebore, a lovely winter-blooming evergreen perennial, perfect for the shady spots in your garden.
Nurseries tend to sell plants when they are in bloom, so you should be able to find Lenten Roses now. One of my favorite local nurseries, North Haven Gardens, stocks tables full of Lenten Roses in an assortment of colors and sizes this time of year.
If you find some, bring one home, and you can either hold on to plant after the average last freeze; or plant it now and be ready with a frost cloth in case of a hard freeze.
Keep in mind, that these are slow growers and can be expensive, but they are well worth it. Provide morning sun and afternoon shade, and Lenten Rose will last many years and reseed to produce new plants.
Perfect Gift for a Gardener
If you are thinking about giving your loved ones flowers this Valentines Day, why not buy living plants that can be planted outside? This will be the gift that keeps on giving for years to come!
Vegetables & Herbs
Planting season for edibles is beginning to ramp up by the middle of February. You can find an excellent, detailed planting calendar PDF available through the Coppell Community Garden, but here’s a quick rundown of veggies and herbs you can plant at this time:
Transplant onions, leeks, leafy greens such as kale, chard, lettuce, and spinach, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages.
From seed you can sow radishes, cilantro, parsley, potatoes, beets, carrots, kohlrabi, sugar snap peas, turnips, and those leafy greens.
What about fertilizing, watering, etc?
Generally speaking, you’re off the hook this month for a lot of these tasks.
If you have amended the soil with compost, in most cases you can wait to fertilize until the end of the month or beginning of March, when you start to see new growth. Wait until perennials are actively growing and need the boost from fertilizers.
Winter rain means no need to water established plantings, especially if you are cultivating a native landscape with well-adapted plants. If you’re not sure, always use your moisture meter before irrigating – you’ll save time, money, and water.
Thanks to rain and unseasonally warm days, you may find you have quite a few spring weeds making an early appearance. Take a daily stroll through your garden and pull some weeds each time. Your efforts now will pay off in the spring, when you have a mostly weed-free garden!
If you’re stuck inside on an especially dreary day, pining for some quality time with your garden, you can work on plans for your spring landscape, vegetable garden, or perhaps a new garden bed.
You can find inspiration in many places. . .your local library, seed catalogs, and of course, the internet. Pinterest is one of my favorite sites for gardening inspiration, as I’m sure you can tell by all the boards I have created!
That’s about it! Pruning, planting, and some planning now will give your garden a kick-start in time for spring’s arrival.
Where there is love there is life. Mahatma Gandhi
So, for this Valentine’s day, make a pledge to show your garden some tender, loving care. Your labor of love now will pay off with a garden full of life, color, and beautiful flowers all year round!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published February 2014.