It’s time to start seeds indoors for early crops, such as leeks, onions, lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. You may also want to start seeds for annuals and perennials that can be planted outdoors before the last frost (around April 15 or later for Zone 6). Organize your seed packets according to planting date (count back from the date when transplants may be set out) and start seeds about a month to six weeks ahead. Start seeds in starter kits with greenhouse lids or in trays of potting soil under plastic wrap (use plant markers to hold it off the soil). Move the kits or trays under grow lights and remove the lids or plastic wrap when the little plants have all peeked out.
Vegetables and Fruits
On mild days, prune grapes and train lateral branches onto an arbor from a main stem. Keep each plant to two or three main laterals per side.
You may also prune apples and pears now if you didn’t get to it in January. Get the pruning done before buds begin to swell. Cut out water spouts, broken or diseased wood and crossing branches, maintaining a strong central leader and strong lateral branches.
With pears, hang weights from side branches to encourage horizontal growth. (Thomas Jefferson was fond of keeping long straight branches pruned from his apple trees to use as supports for peas and pole beans in the spring. If you want to try it, cut side branches and store them under a porch or somewhere dry until needed in the spring. Then use them to make teepees by tying three or more poles together at the top and shoving the bottoms into the earth. Plant peas or beans near each pole and watch them climb!)
Cut dead and diseased canes of your berry brambles to the ground and remove them from the garden. Do not add to your compost, as insects and disease overwinter in the old canes. (Many people burn them.)
Examine and reinforce the framework of trellises and arbors.
Check for over-wintering pests and apply dormant oil if needed.
Garlic can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.
If you have saved vegetable seeds from your past seasons’ bounties, be aware that different varieties of vegetables stay viable for different lengths of time. Last year’s seeds should perform well for you.
Onion, spinach, parsnip seeds are typically good for 1 to 2 years. Corn, okra, and peppers last up to 3 years. Beans, broccoli, carrots, kohlrabi and pea seeds last 3 to 5 years. Beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, pumpkin, squash, and tomato may last 4 to 6 years.
The success of your saved seeds depends on how you have stored them. A cool, dark, dry location will keep the seeds in a dormant state, plus resist mold and mildew.
Prepare beds for peas, potatoes and other early crops.
If your strawberries did not perform well last season, you may need to consider renovating the bed to allow the younger plants to take over. You may also follow these instructions to develop a new bed to start growing strawberries for the first time:
–As soon as the soil can be worked, prepare a new bed with compost-rich soil and amend with lime, if needed, to get the pH from 6.0 to 6.5. Make sure the bed is either raised or in an area with good drainage. Strawberries will not tolerate wet feet. Nor will they tolerate drought very successfully, so make sure there is plenty of organic matter in the soil to hold moisture. Improve drainage with expanded shale or vermiculite.
–Incorporate 5-10-10 fertilizer according to the instructions on the package into the top six inches of soil about two weeks before planting. After danger of frost is past, either buy new plants or snip the runners from old plants and replant them in the new bed. This should be done about every third year to keep the berries coming. Remember you will need to keep them watered once hot, dry summer weather comes.
Each strawberry plant will typically produce about a quart of strawberries per year. A minimum of 6 to 7 plants per person should be planted. If you plan on freezing your strawberries, plant at least 10 plants per person.
If starting your next season’s liatris and gaillardia from seed, start indoors this month. Then, after fear of frost is gone and the ground is workable, transplant your seedlings to a light soil, rich in compost and in full sun.
At the end of the month, when the soil is warming, sow the following annuals: alyssum, carnation, cosmos, impatiens, larkspur, marigold, poppy, verbena, and zinnia.
Plant hollyhock seeds in February through March (or September through October). The temperature needs to be around 60 degrees for seeds to germinate. Leave seeds on the surface of the soil, very lightly covered with compost, as they need sunlight to germinate. They may not bloom for a year, so be patient.
Plant perennial seeds from delphinium and lupine. If your area has snow, wait until you can see the ground below it.
Plant heuchera and bare root roses at the end of the month, if the soil is workable. (Plant several garlic cloves near your roses, too.)
If you are looking for a low growing, flowering ground cover for a lightly shaded area, consider the many varieties of ajuga. With their delicate purple or blue bloom spikes, they are hard to resist.
If the weather is mild, trees and shrubs may still be planted this month while they are still dormant.
Some maples and poplars send out horizontal roots that run near or on the surface of the soil, which may pose a problem to sidewalks. If these trees are young, move them while they are still dormant.
A protective spray used to kill inactive pests on fruit trees and conifers this time of year is sold as dormant oil or scale emulsion. These are highly refined oils, sourced either from petroleum or from plants, that are spread uniformly on the bark of trees and shrubs. They coat non-mobile, dormant insects such as mites and aphids on the tree and smother them.
Follow manufacturers directions when mixing dormant oils.
It is best to spray before buds begin to swell, but the closer the application is made to bud break, the greater the effectiveness. Spray dormant oil on a clear day when the temperatures are expected to remain over 50 degrees F. for at least 24 hours. The ideal temperature for application is between 40 and 70 degrees. This will let the oil spread out over the tree and cover all crooks and crevices.
Over-watering and over fertilizing will stress your turf. That said, fescue lawns can be fertilized late this month with 16-4-8 NPK at a rate of 6.25 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Water in well. Don’t fertilize fescue after the weather begins to warm.
As we approach the final frost dates, plan to do a thorough inspection of your irrigation system. Evaluate the need for extra irrigation heads, and have a plan in place. Repair and replace needed parts in your existing system. Clean irrigation heads of any silt blockage.
Examine and repair, if needed, your mower and edgers. Have your new spark plugs handy.