When you are outdoors, start preparing the garden for the plants to come. Think about trying an asparagus bed. A raised bed is probably the easiest way to grow these long-term-investment veggies. Make sure the bed is deeply tilled – at least 10-12 inches – and is full of good organic matter to make the soil fertile and loose. Also test your soil. Asparagus like limey soil, and if you need to add lime, now is the time as it takes several weeks to break down and become available to the plants. Once you’ve planted your crowns, you won’t be able to work the soil deeply for many years, so make sure it is the best you can make now. Buy all-male varieties of asparagus for a heavier harvest and get crowns that are at least a year old. You’ll be planting the crowns in early spring in a trench at least eight inches deep and covering them with a few inches of soil until the tiny plants break through. Then put in more soil and let the plants break through again, and so on, until the trench is full. Mulch heavily. Don’t harvest the first year to let the roots get established.
Till another bed deeply to prepare for your Irish potatoes. Again make sure you have plenty of organic material and sprinkle in some bone meal for a good shot of phosphorus, a great help to root production. Purchase seed potatoes in time for a late February planting. Dig four- to six-inch trenches for the seed potatoes and cover with a few inches of soil or mulch until the leaves pop through, then mound the soil around them until they grow taller and so on. You want to have a hill around each plant heavily mulched with hay or other mulch so the potatoes never see the sun but are easy to dig when they are big enough. For Zone 7, get early maturing potatoes that you can harvest before the summer heat gets too intense.
You can plant strawberries in late February. Try tilling a bed, adding manure and covering it with a few sheets of newspaper. Cut holes in the newspaper with a bulb
planter and stick in a strawberry plant. Mulch the bed heavily.
You can begin to prepare beds for perennials now unless it is too wet. Squeeze a handful of soil. If it crumbles easily, it is dry enough to work. The ideal soil in a perennial bed will be dark in color from high organic matter content and friable. It should have enough coarse sand or other soil amendments to make it feel a little gritty. Perennial gardeners call the best soil “fluffy,” or easy to dig and with plenty of room for air and water to move around in it. If your soil doesn’t look or feel like that, now is the time to amend it. Using compost from your own bin or mushroom compost, manure, cottonseed meal or ground pine bark, try to make soil that is at least 25 percent organic material. You can do this by spreading three inches of compost or other material on top of the soil and tilling it in 12 inches.
Late in the month is a good time to plant tall fescue. Overseed your lawn at three to four pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. For newly tilled soil, use six to eight pounds of seed and cover lightly with wheat straw. Water every week through August. Check on rainy days to see if water stands in your yard. If it puddles for several hours, it can kill the roots of the grass. Fill in the low spots now with a mixture of sand and soil and over-seed.
Trees and Shrubs
Early this month is a good time to prune apple trees or any other trees that need shaping. If we have a few days of warm weather, make sure the tree or shrub has not broken dormancy. Cut away damaged wood and limbs that cross and rub against other limbs. Keep fruit trees and bushes pruned so their fruit is within harvesting height. Apples generally set on horizontal branches, so cut away the suckers that have grown straight up since last spring. For blueberries, cut away straight whips that have grown in the center of the plant. Fruit will generally set on horizontal limbs within six feet of the ground. Now is also a good time to prune pines or other needle-bearing evergreens if they need it. The pine bark borer is not active in winter.