my february 2010 garden chores

shoes-trowel2NEW BEGINNINGS, ALMOST: The last bit of winter’s the hardest, to my mind, with patience wearing thin (wish some icy spots would wear thin, instead). Getting ready for seed-starting action provides a distraction, and one could always order a few more packets to soothe the soul. My list of favorite sources is in the sidebar of every blog page, and not long ago, readers shared their favorite seed catalogs. Did you do your germination testing yet to see what leftovers are still viable? And do you have a light stand to grow your seedlings on (my seed-starter stand plan is here).

OR TRY THIS ESCAPE: Force branches of spring-blooming shrubs and trees like pussy willow, forsythia, apple and cherry once buds have begun to swell. Cut on an angle and put indoors in water. I submerge them overnight, then place them in a bucket of water in my mudroom, draped with a plastic bag, until the buds push off their coverings. The closer to actual bloom date you try to force things, the higher the success rate (no big surprise).

COLORFUL TWIGS from shrub dogwoods and willows would make good indoor arrangements now, and many want stooling (cutting to maybe 8 inches from the ground) every other or third year.

TAKE A WALKABOUT, unless the ground is muddy (I don’t walk on sodden soil; it does such damage). Check to see if mulches are in place or if they’ve heaved, or if burlap and other protectors have come loose, exposing vulnerable plants to possible heaving damage or windburn.

MOLE PATROL CONTINUES, in perpetuity: I am still re-baiting mousetraps under boxes, buckets or cans in the gardens where I see any activity, to rid them from my beds and borders. Strange note: I catch many of my moles in my basement mousetraps, so set them there, too, if yours is a foundation with crevices like mine. I have even caught them in the attic. True.


SEED-CATALOG SEASON is in full-tilt. I am thinking in vegetable Technicolor and shopping through some new listings, thanks to reader suggestions.

STIFLE THE URGE to start vegetable seedlings too early. Small, compact seedlings are better transplants than older, leggy ones. Only leeks and onions should be started indoors this month in my zone; most seedlings take eight weeks or less to be garden-ready, so I count back from final frost about two months for my very first sowings. More on that next month and beyond.

I AM PONDERING THE IDEA of grafted tomatoes, for better disease resistance and yield. Can you believe? A fascinating topic.

IF YOU HAVE a cold frame, sow an early crop of spinach and lettuce in it. In fact, you can start spinach in the open ground if snow has melted.

PREVENT DAMPING OFF, a fungal disease that kills seedlings, by starting with clean containers and sterile soilless mix each year. Wash previously used flats, cell packs or pots this month with a 1:10 solution of bleach and water, and stock up on medium, to prepare for use later.


ARE AWAKE again, nudged by longer days and stronger late-winter light. They will need a bit more moisture (let them dry between waterings, though) and an occasional half-strength fertilizing.

KEEP AN EYE OUT for signs of houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. If tackled before they get out of hand, nonchemical methods are usually successful: a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray (as directed on label) or with the most tenacious (like mealybugs) sometimes an alcohol swab and Q-tip. Overwatering is the biggest risk to houseplants in winter…go easy and always check with a finger poked well into the pot first.

ANY SIGNS OF LIFE from your Clivia yet? What an easy, lifetime investment of a houseplant.


PRUNE GRAPE VINES to no more than four fruiting canes with 7 to 10 buds apiece.

PRIME PRUNING TIME for deciduous trees and shrubs (including fruit trees) is right now, while they are dormant. Don’t paint the wounds—let them heal naturally. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts, and be on the lookout for dead, damaged, or diseased wood and prune out as discovered. This is especially important in winter’s harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.

DID YOU CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents? Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well.

All based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly. If you want to refer back to last month’s chores, they’re here; next month’s (if your garden is ahead of mine) can be found in this post.

Categorieschores by month
  1. Helen in Connecticut says:

    I went promptly out to cut branches for forcing–that’s my idea of an attractive garden chore. To my horror, I found that my witch hazel does not have a SINGLE flower bud. The bush looks healthy; lots of leaf buds. This is it’s third season; lots of flowers the other two. Suggestions?
    The forsythia that I wouldn’t let my husband take out is the only substitute; I should have flowers soon.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Helen. I assume it bloomed the other years? Usually lack of flowers in a plant is controlled by not enough light, or too much Nitrogen (makes lots of leaves at the expense of bloom) or improper pruning (at a time that removed the buds). Do any of those ring a bell? As for forcing forsythia…maybe I’ll go down the road and cut some now from those huge old bushes left behind when there was a farm there a century ago. :)

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