Now that we’re in the depths of winter, consider how to protect your garden and yard from the ravages of the season. Cold and, in many cases, even snow, aren’t our garden’s worst winter enemies; it’s the wind and sunny winter days that could kill your plants. Cold winter winds dry out the branches of roses and other exposed shrubs. Gardeners are often prepared to deal with the cold, but forget the blasts that assault their gardens from the north and west. The winter sun can also scorch exposed trunks of young plants. Make sure to mulch well and wrap newly planted, vulnerable plants in burlap or a frost blanket.
Check stored gladiolus and dahlia bulbs; remove any that have shriveled or show signs of rot.
Now is the time to pull geranium and fuchsia plants from cold storage, re-pot, water, and move them into light to restart their growth.
If you are using grow lights for your houseplants, make sure the bulbs are putting out enough light. Replace any that are more than a couple of years old.
Some cool-season flowering annuals can be grown from seeds sown directly in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked, including calendula, white lace flower, bells-of-Ireland, sweet alyssum, larkspur and annual baby’s breath. These plants will often self-sow in future seasons if you let some flowers go to seed.
It is not unusual to see the foliage of early hardy bulbs peeking prematurely out of the soil if there is a period of unseasonably warm weather in late winter, especially if the bulbs have a southern exposure or are planted near the house’s foundation. The exposed leaves may be nipped when cold weather returns, but the plants will still bloom later in the season.
Cupflowers (Nierembergia spp.) form low, compact mounds of finely cut foliage covered with purple or white cup-shaped flowers. Tender perennials grown as annuals, cupflowers bloom all summer and into the fall, doing best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. They make great edging or container plants. To start early, sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost date for your area. Well hardened-off seedlings are tolerant of light frost and can go into the garden a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Be sure to give them some protection if a hard frost is forecast.
Organize seed packets according to planting date.
If you have not already done so, now is the time to purchase seeds for the coming growing season.
If you have not tested your soil in recent years, purchase a soil test kit and find out what soil amendments you might need to give your garden the best chances for success.
Start broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage transplants this month if your soil is workable.
Weather permitting, February is the month to begin tilling or spading the soil. Do not undertake this project until the soil is dry enough to work. Compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter are excellent additives to mix into vegetable garden soil as you prepare it for planting. Turn under your cover crops if you planted any.
Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb, asparagus, horseradish and artichokes can be planted this month.
If you get a nice day above freezing, re-apply anti-desiccant spray to evergreens.
Now is the time to prune deciduous trees and shrubswhile they are dormant. Prune dormant fruit trees before the buds swell. Don’t paint the wounds—let them heal naturally. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts on any dead, damaged, or diseased wood, suckers and water sprouts. This is especially important in winter’s harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary damage.
Remove viburnum twigs that bear egg cases of Viburnum leaf beetle (usually the newest growth from the past year). Be sure to destroy the twigs or put in the trash. Don’t dispose of them in the compost or brush pile since the eggs may survive.
Water evergreen shrubs on relatively warm days if winter precipitation is below average.