February’s Garden

What can be said about February?  Some consider this month deep winter, others feel they’ve got the worst behind them and it’s just a quick sprint to March. 

When I visit California relatives at this time of year, I am heartened by blooming rosemary and fully leaved trees, but back on 7a turf, things are very different.  No matter what the groundhog says, we’ve still got some hunkering down to do.  Try not to let it discourage you from getting outside and taking care of tasks that will make the spring a lot easier.

I’m not going to get all of these things done, and neither will you, but a list makes it easier to prioritize one’s time.




●  If mulch is available in your area, this is a great time to spread it.

●  Scrape winter weeds such as bittercress, dead netttle and chickweed with a sharp hoe.  If the ground is fully frozen, this job is made much easier (and is incredibly satisfying).

●  Cut back and/or trellis vines and berries.

●  Prune fruit trees.

●  Prune roses (Two little words, but so much work….)

●  For shrubs that bloom in the early spring such as Lilac or Forsythia, make a note of which older stems should be removed after early spring bloom by tying a bit of plant ribbon to them.  With leaves removed, this job is so much easier and better choices can be made.

●  Re-gravel paths and drives.

●  Re-build raised beds and garden structures that do not require digging into frozen earth for footings.

●  Check fences and gates for broken pickets, hinges and groundhog holes and repair them.

●  If you haven’t re-filled raised beds that have settled, do so now with compost and topsoil.

●  Set up a cold frame or plastic covered rack to receive transplanted seedlings in March.

●  Don’t forget to water outside potted plants that are under the overhang of a porch or covering – they don’t need much water, but they need a little.  Sudden death syndrome usually happens this month due to the previous months’ neglect.

●  Start laundering money out of your budget to cover the big spring blow-out in a couple months.



●  SORT YOUR SEEDS.  Yes I am shouting.

●  This is the month to be planting seed flats of cold season veggies such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, leeks, lettuce and celery indoors or under glass.  If you are doing only warm season veg, use this month to get your seedling flats, soil, markers etc…ready for next month.

●  Get a good idea of where the seedlings will go when they are big enough to transplant.  Basement? Cold frame? Garage? Preparation now means less headaches when it counts.

●  Start to put together real plans for one “big project” for this growing season – something you can really get excited about implementing.  A new raised bed, irrigation lines, tree removal, play area, etc.

●  Keep basement or garage stored plants lightly watered.  Winter requirements for water are much lessened, but a plant will die of dehydration if kept under lights and completely dry.   If you don’t have an easy way of getting water to your plants – consider a hose from a utility sink with a sprayer set on mist.

●  Some basement or garage refugee plants may attract the unwanted attentions of hungry (nasty, dirty, tricksy) mice – particularly succulents.  Set traps and be prepared to empty them. Cats are great mousers, but can also take an inordinate interest in the soil covering roots. Check it often.

●  Go through your gardening book library.  Put a couple of inspiring picture-filled books near your bedside table to pepper your dreams.  If you’re concerned about falling asleep after all that excitement, have Sterns’ Botanical Latin at hand – ten minutes on a late-night brain should be all it takes…

But perhaps most importantly…..

Get thee to a botanical garden conservatory.  One sniff of warm, moist air filled with the heavy scents of thriving, healthy plants should motivate you through the chores above.  Thinking Hawaii instead? A day trip to a botanical garden is cheaper and doesn’t involve an intimate experience with a TSA agent.

Here are some mid-Atlantic glass houses to get you started:

United States Botanic Gardens, Washington DC

Longwood Gardens conservatory, Kennett Square, PA:

Hillwood Gardens greenhouse (& estate house), Washington DC: http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org/about-hillwood/gardens/greenhouse

Phippps Conservatory, Pittsburg, PA

Brookside Gardens Conservatory, Wheaton, MD

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA


And here you were thinking that there was nothing to do this month…..

“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”


-William Shakespeare
-(Don Pedro to Benedick)
-Much Ado About Nothing


About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.