February is the 'forcing' month for your garden

Get your tools ready and start your seeds; Spring is coming.

Bill Warren

February is the true beginning in-the-garden month, because February is the month to “desk check” the plans for the garden that were made in January. Desk checking is a COBOL term where the systems designer checks the flow chart at his desk to make sure the system designed will work before he takes the time to punch the cards and run the plan. How this applies to the garden is that in this last month of winter the gardener checks first his garden plan and needs and then checks his tools. Clean, sharp, rust free tools for the hand tools, clean flower pots and seeding trays (being careful to remove all of last year’s dirt and dead seedlings), and clean gas or electric engines for the motorized tools are prerequisites for the first day of working the soil in the garden. In February there are enough warmish days to permit work to be done in the tool shed, garden shed, barn or out of doors. Garden preparation is one of the most important items to having a successful garden.

(Judy Palm photo)

In the home, February is a good “forcing” month. Tulips, for instance, that have been in storage may be forced for early spring flowers. Forsythia can be forced to bloom inside along with Japanese quince and cherries. Spring flowering native plants can be brought into the home for early flowering to add color and cheer to late winter doldrums. Freesias, daffodils and pussywillows can be parts of the early spring inside the house garden. By February every gardener is tired of winter; tomato seeds may be started in the house or in the soil of a hot bed. (A soil area where heating wires or mat have been placed 4 to 6 inches below the surface of the bed. For seeds to germinate the ambient soil temperatures need to be 50+ degrees). Rhubarb that was forced in the fall can be pushed along at this time of the year by placing them in sand or soil in a warm, dark location in the basement. Remember that having forced rhubarb in the darkness the new shoots will almost always be white and very tender and juicy.

(Judy Palm photo)

If your yard has a single fruit tree or a large orchard, be they old established trees or new ones, February is an excellent time to check the bark for pests like scales. The big ones can be hand picked and killed (by dropping them into a jar of alcohol) and the small ones can be destroyed with an oil soap sprayed on if the weather is not too cold. One of the natural ways to control the pests is to encourage birds to feed on these trees. Chickadees and nuthatches will consume a wide range of insects that feed on the bark. They can be encouraged to come to your orchard by offering suet trays or a peanut butter, animal fat and seed mixture pressed into one inch holes drilled into cut off limbs. Then hang the “feed limbs” like ornaments from larger tree limbs. Even in the city (where we live) we have each winter a downy woodpecker and his companion that come to feed because we offer suet.

As mentioned in the January article, February is an excellent month for pruning trees and shrubs as the weather is not too cold to punish the person who is doing the pruning and yet cold enough to discourage wood damaging insects from penetrating the fresh cuts. With old, heavily damaged shrubs, drastic rejuvenation may be the only solution to save the cultivars and late winter (before spring growth begins) is the ideal time for the pruning chore. See the June Issue of Rye Reflections for an illustration and explanation of drastic rejuvenation of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) The Common Lilac requires special handling. Use this example as a model for pruning for other deciduous shrubs and bushes.

Winter pruning can be made a more simple activity by wrapping the limb to be cut off with some colorful construction tape in the fall. Not every gardener can identify dead limbs in the winter when all deciduous trees have limbs without leaves and appearing dead. But, by planning in late summer or early fall which limbs are to be removed before they drop their leaves, winter pruning is possible (without accidentally cutting off a live limb) if the limbs to be removed have been marked.

If starting seeds are part of the gardening processes in your home, then in February the windows and sills (where the seed trays will be placed) need to be cleaned to enable the most amount of light to get into the seed trays. Windows that face the south will be the warmest and through winter planning, these windows will be identified. A wise move to ensure success of using the windows for starting seedlings is to keep a gardener’s diary. Each activity undertaken can be written down for the month when the gardening was started and written down again when the first shoots appear. Over time the hit and miss experiments can be turned into known gardening facts to ensure success year after year.

February, 2009