THE FRAGRANT GARDEN: Gardening tasks in mid-February – Austin American-Statesman

This repeated cycle of “northers” coming in, temperature dropping into the mid to upper 20s, a few days of cold and perhaps some ice, and then warming to the 60-70s is getting old. Generally, I would welcome the cold weather (since it means a lot fewer insects next spring/summer) if it didn’t mean repeated covering and uncovering somewhat tender plants. Instead, I am out there every 3 to 4 days taking the blankets and towels off, washing them, only to find out I need to go back and protect once more. I heard one weatherman say he expects it to go on for weeks more, so I need to be a little more diligent about checking the weather report before I make the mistake of uncovering them at all.

I’ve been transplanting pansies, alyssum and lobelia from 4” pots into the flower beds for the last several months. I am protecting them with fallen leaves raked up close; they seem to be growing slowly and continuing to bloom, but look a little peaked after each frost. Once they thaw out each morning they bounce back and I know are spreading their roots far and wide. With every warm spell they will grow a bit and I expect to have a really lovely early spring bloom as they reach maturity.

I planted carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, parsley, radishes, onions, garlic, shallots and spinach over the last month or two. They all germinated and are apparently healthy little plants, but the routine of covering them with leaves each cold spell has limited their growth. The English and Chinese snow peas that I planted in November had had their tops frozen off, but there appears to be new growth from the base with each warming trend. If I don’t see them making progress up the trellis in this next week or two, I plan to re-seed them before the end of the month.

There are a wide variety of vegetables that can be planted in February. Artichokes (from crowns), asparagus (crowns), beets, broccoli/brussels sprouts/cabbage/cauliflower/collards/kale/kohlrabi (transplants), carrots, Swiss chard, leeks, lettuce (and other cool season greens), mustard, onion (sets), parsley, peas (both English, Snap and Snow varieties), potatoes, radish, shallots, spinach and turnips can all go in the ground this month.

Since I have most of those in place, I plan to start my warm season vegetables and flowers over the next week or two and then grow them in my cold frame acquired last year. I have four tomato seedlings (to get an early, early start) and seed for basil, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, squash (Patty Pan and Yellow Straight-neck), cherry tomatoes (yellow, red and orange), tomatoes (Juliet, Roma and Abe Lincoln) and finally, cantaloupe and watermelon. All these will be started in 4” pots, placed in the cold frame and expected to be ready for transfer into the open garden in mid-April. Corn and beans are best planted directly into the soil once it warms sufficiently.

My grandchildren helped me pick out some flower seeds to their liking and we have two varieties of zinnias in pink and purple (Maren’s favorite colors) and Sunflowers and Verbascum for Trace. Renee’s Garden (www.reneesgarden.com) Seeds still offer me as many as 15 free seed packets of choice because I am a garden writer and I plan to have fun selecting those this coming week. They, too, will go into the cold frame if there is room.

Now is also a good time to plant bare root or container grown roses, shrubs, nut trees, fruit trees, grape vines and berry bushes. Perennial herbs can also be planted at this time. Getting the plants in the ground early and giving their root systems time to grow and take hold will give them the head start they need to survive our long, hot and dry summers.

The only fertilization needed now is for those new vegetables that have emerged from seed or recent plantings and the winter flowering annuals you have set out. I give my garden a once a week irrigation if there is no rain and I always water before a hard freeze is expected. Plants are more resistant to cold if they have sufficient moisture in the leaves. Another trick that works to protect them in a serious freeze is to water just as the temperature reaches freezing and insulate them with ice.

Mid-February is the usual time to prune roses in Central Texas. I think I may wait a week or two later just in case we have more of this freezing weather and because I am having my garden open to the Pioneer Unit of the American Herb Society in mid-April. When pruning for a designated bloom time, for rose show or other reason, it’s generally six weeks from pruning to major bloom. Often April 1 or so is peak bloom in my rose garden, so I hope to delay that a little. I am also considering having the garden open to my readers about that same time this year, but will announce that a bit later if it is to happen. I have written many times (over the past five years) about the process of rose pruning, so I won’t repeat it here. You can visit my website for a complete set of instructions. Either use the search tool to find three or four different articles or try thefragrantgarden.com/publications/24-smithville-times-2010/308—66-dead-of-winter-care-and-pruning-of-perennials-and-vines, which seems to be the most in-depth.

Please address any questions or suggestions you might have for me by visiting my website www.thefragrantgarden.com and clicking on the “CONTACT” tab.

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