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Winter Warm Up

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It’s official. It’s February and the garden is dead. Not a respectable flower head to be seen, not a chewing, rasping, sucking insect to be sprayed. It’s over. Finito. The ground has started to heave, the gate has started to stick and even the hard core gardeners such as myself have retreated against the biting winds that cut through this part of the country and send us running for R-66 to the nearest Home Depot. Bring on the seed catalogs, hot coffee, and a pair of those wicked good slippers from LL Bean.

At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.  I certainly shouldn’t be seeing late season daffs breaking through the soil, or gnats swarming around my burgeoning Queen Elizabeth rose. And what the heck is she burgeoning for anyway? For that matter, I don’t really think I have any business sitting on my porch in a light cardigan sipping this glass of wine while I write this article. That sort of silliness is reserved for balmy spring days with warm southerly winds….err…like today.

So it’s not official after all. Mother Nature is playing a cruel and unusual game with my lilacs, and the gardening jobs I normally designate for long, soul-destroying February days (like laying on my sofa and wishing it were May), must be shelved as I don gloves and pruners and head for that man-eating forest of last season’s flower stalks. As a gardener, surely it is my duty to squeeze every drop of workable sunlight out of every warm to slightly warm to downright cool day given me.

Ah, but therein lies the rub. A gardener, though full of lust and zeal for the ways of the garden, must take a rest – even when the hottest of February suns promises to beat down on his Wellington boots. Just as bears hibernate, gardeners catalog. So it has been written since the beginning of time…or at least since seed companies started direct marketing.

Nevertheless there is wisdom in this thinly-veiled laziness.  A false start to the season may get the bonfires burning under the proverbial backside, but too much enthusiasm too soon could spell doom and gloom come spring.

Reason # 1 – Damaged soil structure. Start digging into those muddy freeze/thawed beds right now and you can kiss goodbye to that lovely aerated soil it took a legion of earthworms to create last summer. Mud does not a healthy garden make. Wait for the earth to warm and spring back, come…well…spring. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration, and you won’t tick off the worms.

Reason # 2 – Frenzied pruning. Just itching to attack those overgrown butterfly bushes and start making progress on that privet hedge you neglected last spring? Prune them now and you may be looking at a lovely hedge of sticks come May. Pruning, combined with the warmer temperatures stimulates tender growth. That’s all well and good if it’s April. Winter will eventually come, mark my prophetic words.  And when those fifteen degree winds come screaming through the mountains, the lovely new growth will die, taking stems and sometimes whole plants with it. Wait till spring. Trust me.

Reason # 3 – Bears Hibernate. Gardeners Catalog. Remember? Jumping into action right now means less enthusiasm in the Spring. Go take an aerobics class if you can’t sit still like any normal person in February.

And don’t start fertilizing. Seriously. See point number 2.

Jobs to do if you really must feel productive and smug? Flower stalks and dead annual vines may be cut down and removed, garden structures can be repaired, and my fence needs another coat of stain – just let me know when you’re coming over. As for me and my garden during this unseasonable gift of temperate weather? There’s always that glass of wine to be slipped on the porch. Now, where did I stash those catalogs?

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