Gardening During February
2012 Gardening Workshop: Frugal Gardening
All day class. Join WSU MG Dave Shephard to learn effective and efficient uses of resources in gardening. Topics include planning, preparation, planting, protecting, production, container gardening and feasting.
For more information – see the FLYER
The annual Mason County Master Gardener Plant Sale will be Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12 from 9 am—4 pm at Kneeland Park.
Gardening During February -- Hints of Spring!
During the first three weeks of the month, keep the garden's winter protection in place. February's weather can often unleash a week or so of hard, freezing weather before month's end. Mild temperatures in late January are often followed by a deep chill.
Hardy spring bulb shoots will continue emerging this month, and if mulch remains around them, they are remarkably resistant to cold temperatures. Many gardeners worry about the three-inch daffodil shoots, or snowdrops and crocus beginning to bloom when a cold snap hits. Generally, the spring bulbs manage cold very well. By the third week in January this year, snowdrops, early crocus, and narcissus had emerged in my Seattle garden. In case of a freeze, they'll have to rely on their natural genetic hardiness. The only action gardeners can take if a serious freeze is predicted is to place 2-3 inches of organic mulch around any shoots that are exposed. With mulch for root protection, these plants will manage well, stopping their growth during cold spells and reviving during warmth. The message for February is: enjoy the promise of new bulb shoots and trust that their beauty will survive cold spells.
Check the landscape for early-season pests. Spruce trees, for instance, may begin to show
evidence of a damaging critter, the spruce aphid. Repeated infestations of spruce aphid will leave a spruce tree defoliated along the branches, with no needles in the interior.
The spruce aphid begins its nasty work early in the year. Now, and during the next 6 weeks, is the only time of the year to check for spruce aphid. Take a piece of white paper and hold it under a branch. Grab the branch firmly. Look at the white paper for evidence of these small, greenish aphids. They will crawl around on the paper. A magnifying glass may help you see them.
If you see evidence of spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum), treatment with chemicals is necessary now to get rid of them. The aphids appear in early February and increase through March. They will cause spruce needle drop if left untreated. Several different products are registered for this use. Insecticidal soap, in many different brands, and horticultural oil are the least-toxic of the possibilities. The horticultural oil can alter the color of some blue spruce, but it is effective. Thorough coverage of needles is important when spruce aphids have been spotted. There aren't any effective non-chemical treatments.
Some gardeners have realized that most spruce don't thrive well in western Washington and have replaced them with other conifers like pines, firs, or hemlocks that survive more readily. It may be of no use to try to treat an old spruce with lots of interior defoliation and damage, because the tree will never look attractive. A younger spruce may benefit from treatment. The best choice may be using another conifer altogether.
February offers good opportunities for pruning the garden, but only when the temperatures are above freezing! Freezing weather prevents most garden activities.
Do not walk on frozen soil or frozen lawns, do not prune, do not transplant or install plants if temperatures drop below the mid-30s. However, on milder days prune hydrangeas and other shrubs that bloom in summer, such as butterfly bush (Buddleia), escallonia, and cotoneaster. Hydrangea pruning often puzzles gardeners. If the hydrangea is thickly overgrown and stuffed with old branches, remove about 1/3 of the stalks that bloomed last year, keeping a balance in the plant. Then shorten some of the remaining stalks (but not all of them) back to an outward facing growth node.
Toward month's end, prune and fertilize roses. Many growers, after pruning off old growth, treat the bush immediately with a fungicide, helping to control diseases such as black spot that overwinter on the old canes. A new, relatively non-toxic fungicide called Remedy (potassium bicarbonate) has recently been registered, and is labeled for control of rose diseases. Wetable sulfur is also registered, and is also less toxic than other fungicides currently registered for use on rose diseases.
If you choose to spray roses, do it on a day with temperatures over 40° F. and no rain. (If you find such a day in February, rejoice!) Read the label carefully and wear appropriate protective gear, including goggles, gloves, and a hat when using any pesticides. Eye protection is particularly necessary when mixing pesticides. Read the label!
By Mary Robson (Ret.), Area Extension Agent