Now is the time to put all your gardening hopes into motion and start seeds indoors early this month. Give yourself six to eight weeks before that last frost date (March 15 for Zone 8, although hot weather crops like okra, peppers and tomatoes can wait another couple of weeks until the soil is very warm) to grow sturdy seedlings to set out in your vegetable and flower beds. Easy-to-use seed starting supplies are available at The Home Depot.
When you’re outdoors, start getting things ready for the plants to come. Raised beds are a great way to grow early maturing greens and other veggies like lettuce, collards, mustard, turnips and sugar snap peas. These can be planted outdoors from seed late this month. Repeat sowing every two weeks to lengthen the harvest period. Building a raised bed is not hard. You can use a kit purchased from The Home Depot, or build your own. Make sure it is at least six inches deep and that the soil underneath has been tilled. If you are going to place the bed on a patio or other impervious surface, make sure it is at least 12 inches deep and that you have access to plenty of water for it.
Fill the bed with topsoil and organic material. The soil should have about 25 percent organic material, which you can achieve by spreading three inches of compost or manure or other composted material on top of the soil and digging it in 12 inches deep (or 1.5 inches dug in 6 inches, and so on.) This rule applies if you are gardening in the ground, too. You will almost certainly need to add lime to a raised bed. Decide which crops you want to grow there and research the pH they require. Then test your soil and amend it accordingly. After your greens and early peas are spent, you can plant peppers, sweet potatoes or other warm season crops. You can plant strawberries in February, too. 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.
Annuals and Perennials
Prune roses around Valentine’s Day and spread fresh mulch under the bushes. If you don’t have roses yet and want some, now is a good time to plant.
You can begin to prepare beds for annuals and 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. Plant hollyhocks, larkspur and campanula from seed or transplants once you have the bed ready.
Late in the month is a good time to plant tall fescue. Over-seed 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.