This short month holds so much anticipation.
I have grown to appreciate February. The sentiment is surprising and a long time coming for this once-California girl, but I can trace its evolution back to the moment we moved to Oldmeadow almost eight years ago.
Living rurally (however superficial the definition in a metro area) fully immerses me in a four-season cycle. February feels more like a necessary puzzle piece than a unnecessary month of suffering. For those who will not be swayed however, it is at least a short month.
I often find myself acting as apologist to friends who have spent one minute too many in a wind-whipped driveway wrestling with an ice scraper. The promise of spring cannot come quickly enough for them, so why am I so quick to defend the browns and greys, the cold, the almost fully deciduous landscape of my Mid-Atlantic February?
In a word: Anticipation.
February is good at it – contrasting stark lines against colorful glimpses. Snowdrops, hellebores, Adonis, winter aconite, witch hazels…even the odd early daffodil reminds us that the season is progressing – but we can’t have everything yet.
I am thankful to the winter for helping us experience a feeling that is dwindling away in our modern lives. From our favorite TV shows to that newest Instagram-advertised gadget delivered through Prime, we wait for very little. And in the process, we lose the delicious aspect of desire.
This year we launch into February with snow on the ground and a feeling that we are being well-treated by winter with overnight lows still in the very do-able double digits. It’s been a good season to take advantage of the winter landscape – daytime temperatures are cold, certainly, but not punishing. Be sure to check on your young trees, hedges, and shrubs after a snowfall, which can quickly disfigure them, but which can be lightly brushed off if the snow hasn’t hardened or been coated with ice.
Outside work is good for our bodies and our minds, and made so much more bearable in the winter if we take time to wrap up Farmer-Warm instead of Fashionista-Warm.
“I should have planted that!” for February’s garden:
Whether you live in the Mid-Atlantic of the United States or New Zealand, look around each month for plants that turn you on and make you think “I should have planted that!” Snap a picture to ID later at a garden center, or simply ask your neighbor what they’re growing and make their day.
Carefully observing other gardens month-to-month and putting in some of the wonderful things you see during the next planting season allows you to successfully increase your garden’s display season without having to experiment too much with timing.
Foliage is important in February. Here’s a gorgeous shrub that will look great through most Mid-Atlantic Februarys and simply lose its leaves if the going gets too terribly tough: Pyracantha x ‘Silver Lining™’
You’ll definitely puzzle your visitors with this one. The pink/cream/green variegation might not be common on a pyracantha, but the thorns sure are. This medium sized shrub doesn’t tend to climb strenuously and prefers to gently mound, throwing occasional long laterals that need trimming at the base. During the growing season, it adds light to your mixed borders with a small variegated leaf that works exceptionally well with the whites and greens of variegated miscanthus such as ‘Morning Light’ or ‘Cosmopolitan’. As the cool weather comes, ‘Silver Lining™’ blushes pink.
In a very cold winter it might lose all those leaves by the end of it, but never fear, they’ll be back. This February, our lowest lows have been in the double digits, and it’s never looked better. This photo from this week:
It is said to flower and berry like other pyracanthas. I have seen it flower, but it has never set fruit — unlike my orange berried ‘Mohave’ which is trellised to the barn. I would imagine that such luxuries are solely for those growing it in the middle of its hardiness zones. Hardiness is technically zone 7-10, however, I am growing two in a very 6b area of my garden and they have been just fine.
You may be tempted to grow a gentle annual vine on it. Don’t. Though it looks wonderful against thunbergia or nasturtiums, dealing with the extrication of dead stems in the early spring on a thorny, dense shrub will send you into madness.
How to Grow Pyracantha ‘Silver Lining™’
Grow ‘Silver Lining™’ in average soils with sharp drainage. Organic top-dressing each season is a great idea for overall shrub health. It prefers acidic soils, but can cope pretty well in anything other than strongly alkaline soils. Full sun is your best bet for good flower and berry set, but mine grows well on the lower range of full sun (7 hours) and a friend’s is doing great in three hours less than that.
Trim excessively enthusiastic lateral branching deeply within the shrub instead of shearing it. This is a quirky, fun shrub that you don’t want to tame lest you ruin it.
Up to 5’tall and wide and gets there quickly.
Garden Tasks for February
As always — the tasks I list for both the indoor and the outdoor garden are just SUGGESTIONS. You cannot do them all. I cannot do them all. Work on what makes the most sense to get the most out of your garden.
February’s Outside Garden:
● Spread compost from last season’s pile & have some delivered when available. It makes a difference to have an out-of-the-way pile available when you have time to dress beds. Sometimes that’s only an hour here or there.
● If the ground is fully frozen, scrape winter weeds such as bittercress, dead netttle and chickweed with a sharp hoe. If the soil is soft, it’s probably also muddy — tickle the weeds up instead, exposing their roots, with a long handled fork.
● Brush clearing (if necessary) should go on all month. Use this time to get on top of things like Rosa multiflora, oriental bittersweet, wild grape and Japanese honeysuckle. Once the foliage grows in, it’s a nightmare, and best dealt with next winter.
● Prune fruit trees.
● Prune roses (Two little words, but so much work….)
● Mark the stems that need to be removed from early spring flowerers like lilac and forsythia, so you know which ones to cut for forcing or remove entirely after bloom. With leaves removed, this job is so much easier and better choices can be made.
● Ensure that the areas around early spring bulbs have had perennials cut back in order that the display can be enjoyed fully.
● Cut back the old, ragged leaves of hellebores to set off the blooms when they emerge. There is no need to fully remove foliage that is still looking good – just tidy up the plant.
● 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.
● Re-fill raised beds that have settled with compost and topsoil.
● Set up a cold frame or plastic covered rack to receive transplanted seedlings in March.
● Check potted plants that are under the overhang of a porch or covering and may be drying out.
● Start laundering money out of the budget to cover the big spring blow-out in a couple months.
February’s Inside Garden:
● Sort seeds.
● Plant seed flats of cold season veggies such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, leeks, lettuce and celery indoors or under glass.
● Prepare a place for the seedlings to go when they are big enough to transplant. Basement? Cold frame? Garage?
● Start to put together real plans for one “big project” for this growing season.
● Keep basement or garage stored plants lightly watered. Not wet, not dry. This is just to prevent desiccation.
● Check for mice getting into overwintering plants. My cats are great mousers, but they also love to use that soil for other reasons so I use a layer of gravel to discourage them.
● Nearing the middle of the month, bring in flowering stems to force inside.
● Force tulip, hyacinths and paper whites indoors from bulbs you’ve been storing in cold conditions.
● Aim for a little less screen time at bedtime by going to your local library or your own gardening collection, and picking out a couple of inspiring picture-filled books to pepper your dreams. You’ll find a few suggestions at the end of this post.
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?”
-(Don Pedro to Benedick)
-Much Ado About Nothing