What kind of gardening jobs are there to do in February?

If your fingers are itching and you can’t wait to get your hands back into the soil, here is what you can do, even as early as February. (At least if you live in the northern hemisphere and are living in a growing zone 7-8. Every climate zone is different and you may also have a micro-climate, so take this as general advice – no guarantees, rather than as gospel truth.

Although it is still winter and the weather has been pretty wild and stormy, I have spotted the first snowdrops and even the first Winter Aconite! They are such a welcome sight – the first signs that let you know beyond doubt that although there may still be snow around and temperatures are far from balmy – spring is definitely on the way.

The sight of these has been a kind of floral wake up call. My fingers have been itching ever since and I feel restless, yearning to get active in the garden. But where to start, and what to do? After all, it is still too cold for sowing most of my summer crop plants outside.

Crocus

(Crocus vernus)

The spring crocus is one of the most cherished spring flowers. Its flowers come in many different colors and to me, they are reminiscent of Easter Eggs – although Easter is still a long way away. It is the shape of the balloon-like flowers that create this association in my mind. Like the other early flowering plants, it too makes the most of dry sunny weather, to attract early pollinators, but close their flowers to protect their delicate parts as soon as cold or rainy weather is on the way.

Winter Aconite

(Eranthis hyemalis)

Like miniature suns, these golden stars warm the heart in early spring. Daringly, they open up fully to the first warming rays of the sun. But they are not stupid. As soon as the sky clouds over, they fold up their petals to keep their stamens and stigma protected and warm. While heart-warming and pretty to behold, it is good to remember that this is a Ranunculus species and all of its parts are poisonous.

Cyclamen

(Cyclamen coum)

Cyclamens are so cute! Their pink little flowers remind me of piglets, with the snout pointing down and their ears (petals) flying in the wind, so to speak. The dainty flowers appear to be ‘inside-out’, seemingly exposing their pollinating parts. But that isn’t actually the case. Their delicate stamens and sepals are sheltered inside the ‘snout’, which forms a tubular structure that protects them against the elements. 

Snowdrops

(Galanthus nivalis) 

These tender little flowers are the most daring of all! Long before other flowers wake up, this one has sent its spear-like flowers up, even piercing the snow, if necessary. Its bell-like dangles tenuously on the stem, protecting itself from the elements by facing the earth, rather than the sky, its petals sheltering the stamen and stigma. Snowdrops are heralds of hope at a time when winter is still raging. The message is clear. It’s early days yet, but spring IS on the way. Life will return…soon.

Indoor Gardening

Start some long-season plants indoors

At this time of the year, my house turns into a potting shed. I am not suggesting you should do this, too. Maybe you are better organized. Maybe you have a greenhouse or a heated cold frame or something like that, where you can start the earliest seeds, protected from the cold.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, as I do, the growing season is limited. To extend it as far as possible, start off long-season plants, like chili peppers or aubergines, by sowing them early indoors.

All you need are some starter trays and some soil. It is best to use special sterile starter soil that is not too heavy with nutrients. The reason why you want it to be sterile is so that your tender seedlings do not have to compete for nutrients. This is even more of an issue if the seeds you are sowing are slow to sprout.

Gardening shops sell both, the potting mix for starting seeds as well as the seedling starter trays. While they make things easier and often come with a tray to put them on as well as a lid to keep moisture in, you don’t really need them. You can improvise by recycling your yogurt pots, or other plastic containers. You can even use the cardboard tube of your toilet rolls. These are especially good for tender plants that develop long, fragile roots, such as carrots.

Give your warmth-loving, long-season plants a boost by starting them off 8-10 weeks before the last expected frost in your region. Cover the pots with plastic and keep the soil moist. Place them in a bright, warm spot and you should see the first seedlings pop up soon. Use a spray can only to water the seedlings until they are robust enough to handle a watering can. Once there is no more danger of frost and soil temperatures have risen to about 15°C/60°F you can begin to harden your ‘babies’ off before transferring them to their permanent spots.

In the garden

Once the snow has melted and the soil has dried off, it is time to get busy preparing the beds. Cut back dead plants if you didn’t do it in the fall (I keep most things standing through the winter to help the wildlife). Loosen the soil and get rid of the invasive weeds. (Some of those may well be edible!) Mix in some fresh compost. Beds that you are not going to use immediately should be mulched. Let the soil settle until it is warm enough to transfer your first seedlings or to sow directly into the prepared bed.

The earliest crops that can be sown directly into the soil include peas, early varieties of radish, parsley, spinach, and carrots, as well as lettuce, and onions sets. If you are worried about late frost, start them in a cold frame until the soil has warmed to about 15°C.

Carrots and parsley can be slow to sprout. You might want to start them in a dish of wet sand. Leave the dish in the cold for about a week, then take it indoors and you should see them sprout pretty quickly. The most important thing to know about sowing carrots and root parsley is that they like loose and even soil. So make sure their permanent spot is well prepared. You can do this by mixing sand and garden soil and sifting both to create a nice light soil.

By the end of February, you can start to sprout your spuds. For best results use seed potatoes. Lay them out in egg cartons on the windowsill until they start to sprout. Turn them so that the side with the most ‘eyes’ is face up. Let them sprout for 5-6 weeks, before planting them out.

For other veggies, it is best to delay sowing until early March, if you can wait that long.

Happy gardening!

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