What kind of gardening jobs can there possibly be in February?
Around about the middle of February is the time that I itch to get back into gardening. Granted, it’s early days and there isn’t that much to do – but there are some things that can be done even as early as February.∗
It is still winter, and it has been pretty wild and stormy, yet, I have spotted the first snowdrops and even the first Winter Aconite! They are such a welcome sight – the first tentative signs that spring is on the way. Even though temperatures are far from balmy, Mother Earth is stirring…
It’s a kind of botanical wake-up call. Suddenly, I feel restless, itching to do some gardening. But where to start, and what to do?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Start some long-season plants indoors
I live in climate zone 7/8, so gardening starts indoors, in February. My house turns into a potting shed. I am not suggesting you should do the same. Maybe you are better organized. Or, you have a greenhouse or a heated cold frame where you can start the earliest seeds, protected from the cold.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the growing season is limited. To extend it as far as possible, start off long-season plants, like chilli peppers or aubergines, indoors.
All you need are some starter trays and some soil. Sterile starter soil, not too heavy in nutrients, is best. It should be sterile so that your tender seedlings won’t have to compete for nutrients. This is particularly important for slow germinating seeds. Garden centres and DIY stores sell both.
DIY seed trays
The fancy seed trays make things a little easier: they often come with a clear plastic lid to prevent the moisture from evaporating. Sometimes there is even a mechanism to open them without taking the lid off. But, truth be told, you don’t really need them. It is easy to improvise by recycling your yoghurt pots, other plastic containers or even empty milk cartons with one side removed.
The right time
The rule of thumb is to start warmth-loving long season plants 8-10 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. If you are doing the DIY seed tray route, spray the seed trays regularly with water to the soil moist and cover with cling film. Place the starter trays in a bright, warm spot, and you should see the first seedlings pop up in 7-10 days, on average. Don’t let the seedlings dry out! That would kill them! Once all danger of frost has passed, and soil temperatures have risen to about 15 °C/60 °F, you can begin to harden off your ‘babies’ before transferring them to their permanent spots.
∗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 have a microclimate, so take this as general guidelines – there are no guarantees.
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There is a strange fever going around. Strangely, it only affects gardeners: ‘Topiaria Gaudium Fever’. It is a special condition marked by high levels of excitement caused by the anticipation of the new gardening season.
Outdoor Gardening Jobs
Once the snow has melted and the soil has dried off, it is time to get busy preparing the beds.
Loosen the soil and get rid of any invasive weeds. (Some may well be edible!) Mix in some fresh compost. Beds that won’t be used immediately should be mulched. Let the soil settle until the temperatures are high enough to transfer your first seedlings or to sow directly into the prepared bed.
Sowing directly into the soil
Sow hardy crops, such as peas, early varieties of radish, parsley, spinach, and carrots, as well as lettuce, and onions sets, directly into the soil. If you are worried about late frosts, start them in a cold frame and wait to transfer them 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 nice light soil.
By the end of February, you can start chitting your spuds. For best results, use seed potatoes. Lay them out in egg cartons on the windowsill, with the side that has the most ‘eyes’ facing up. Let them sprout for 5-6 weeks, before planting them out.
For less hardy vegetables, it is best to wait until early March.
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