February garden chores: bit by bit

February has decided it’s March, and so the late winter season waltzes on into spring. Many years ago, I read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, wherein Lamott’s father told her the only way to accomplish anything–including writing a book–was “bird by bird.” So, as I do my garden chores, I will do them bit by bit, bed by bed, or bird by bird. Bird by bird sounds much more pleasant, doesn’t it?

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.

I could wait until March to do many of these garden chores. We will have more cold weather, but my garden broke dormancy and is growing whether I like it or not. I might as well get ahead of the game.

I could wait until March to do many of these garden chores. We will have more cold weather, but… Click To Tweet

Let’s get started:

  1. Clear away dead perennial foliage. My garden is mostly perennial plants. I leave their dead stems remaining all winter partly because small pollinators and other native insects overwinter in the hollow stalks. The other reason I wait? I’m lazy. There it is. As I take debris to the compost pile, I leave it mostly intact for the pollinators to emerge when they’re ready.

    Cut off seed heads from 'Annabelle' hydrangea. Before you trim back any shrub though, especially hydrangeas, make sure your variety blooms on new wood. 'Annabelle' is one that does so you can trim it back as much as you like.
    Cut off seed heads from ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. Before you trim back any shrub though, especially hydrangeas, make sure your variety blooms on new wood. ‘Annabelle’ is one that does so you can trim it back as much as you like.
  2. Cut back ornamental grasses. It’s quite the chore if you do it by hand. Many of my friends use a Sawzall like this one by DEWALT DWE304 10-Amp Reciprocating Saw, but I find them cumbersome. I like my Fiskars 23 Inch PowerGear Hedge Shears much better. Speaking of Fiskars, with their help, I’m doing a giveaway next week. Check back for details, or better yet, subscribe!

    Ornamental grasses only need care at the beginning of spring. Cut them back and wait for the show to begin. February garden chores.
    Ornamental grasses only need care at the beginning of spring. Cut them back and wait for the show to begin.
  3. Trim back hellebore foliage and press heucheras back into the ground. We’re having another 70F+ degree day today, so you’ll know where to find me. I’m working on the back garden where I’m doing all of the above trimming and cutting back. Because the hellebores have ugly foliage, I’ll cut it back to expose the flowers. As I’ve written before, not everyone does this, but our temperatures fluctuate so much in winter, I have to cut off the ugly foliage. That way I can enjoy the beautiful flowers in all their glory. I’m particularly fond of the Winter Jewels™ series of hellebores right now. I bought some at my local nursery last year, and I may run by there this week to see what else they have. I posted ‘Red Sapphire‘ on Instagram this week, and people loved it. It’s a beautiful upward facing hellebore with a scrumptious color. I just went to Bluestone Perennials and bought three, whoops, five more: Helleborus Flower Girl, Golden Lotus, True Love, Rome in Red and Sparkling Diamond. Some of these–I bet you can guess which–are part of the Wedding Party™ series. Actually, Sparkling Diamond is another Winter Jewels™ selection. I’m planting them in a shady area in the back garden. It’s one of the few places I can still expand that has some shade. In Oklahoma, hellebores appreciate the shade of a tree, and like the same spots heucheras do. Heucheras like to heave themselves out of the ground in winter so push them back into the soil. Apply the same procedure for any other unhappy heaving plants. Hint: Shasta daisies do this too.

    Hellebore Red Sapphire, part of the Winter Jewels series.
    Hellebore Red Sapphire, part of the Winter Jewels™ series.
  4. Weed the paths, or spray them with horticultural vinegar, or a weed killer if you’re not organic. Those early spring weeds can be prolific so get started now. You can also use a blow torch to top kill many weeds. It won’t kill the roots, though.

    Crapemyrtles may look dead while they're still dormant, but they're not. Wait for signs of life before pruning.
    Crapemyrtles may look dead while they’re still dormant, but they’re not. Wait for signs of life before pruning.
  5. Wait for crape myrtles to leaf out before pruning. You can cut off seedheads if you don’t have anything else to do–see me laughing here–but please don’t over prune crape myrtles. It’s very hard on them. Some would even call it crape murder. Just wait a bit longer instead so you can see where to cut.

    February garden chores. Newly pruned rose from the blog in 2008. Have I been writing this blog that long?
    Newly pruned rose from the blog in 2008. Have I been writing this blog that long?
  6. It’s time to prune roses. Again, take your time. Pruning roses is a bit like parenting teenagers. Most of my roses are already leafed out which is way too early, but what is a gardener to do about the weather? Nothing, my friends. Nothing.
  7. You can also plant bare root roses now. I know we’re still seeing Rose Rosette Disease, but I see less and less of it around town recently. Maybe it’s finally blown through. Because I don’t live in a housing development where anyone grows roses, I’m willing to give them a try. I bought three new David Austin roses this week. Two of mine, ‘The Lady Gardener’ didn’t make it last year, so they are replacing them. I bought ‘Boscobel,’ ‘The Alnwick Rose’ and ‘The Poet’s Wife.’ We shall see how they do in my unforgiving garden. ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ planted last year is plugging right along.
  8. Fertilize roses, daylilies and fescue lawn. I ordered Mills Magic Rose Mix for my roses. I like this natural fertilizer a lot. I will also fertilize my daylilies and front fescue lawn with Milorganite. You can also overseed your fescue lawn now. Don’t wait until the weather gets hot.
  9. Sow seeds. You can now sow seeds for cold crops outdoors, and if you have a greenhouse or a seed sowing station, you can now sow indoors too. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc. are ready to start indoors. Lettuces, spinach, beets, chard, kale and other cold weather veggies can be sown outside now. Turnips from the garden are especially good. They taste nothing like the turnips you get in the store. I find cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli hard to grow here in spring. It’s easier to start them indoors and transplant in fall.

    Leaves cover every path in the back garden including the one between 'Annabelle' hydrangeas.
    Leaves cover every path in the back garden including the one between ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas.
  10. Clear away leaves. I live in a wooded area of Oklahoma because we are east of I-35. My garden is always covered up in leaves. I either blow them away or rake them into compost piles. I also have piles of shredded leaves that I use as garden mulch.
  11. Speaking of Mulch. Use whatever type of biodegradable mulch you like. I use shredded leaves and shredded pine bark on my gardens. I keep my homemade compost for planting.

Okay, you have your marching orders for February garden chores. It’s supposed to be beautiful all week. I’m headed out to cut back more foliage and trim up those hellebores. Want to join me? I could sure use the help.

It's supposed to be beautiful all week. I'm headed out to cut back more foliage and trim up… Click To Tweet

24 Replies to “February garden chores: bit by bit”

  1. I know you’re in Oklahoma, but I’m not exactly what hardiness zone you are in. 7? 8? I’m in zone 6, so my chore list is not exactly the same for spring. It’s similar, of course. And we are several weeks ahead of time. My hellebore flowers popped up long before I went out to clean off the old foliage. Oops! I have the winter debris cleared away on about 3/4 of the garden, but it turned back to winter again, so cleanup came to a halt. Sure is nice to see flowers again. Tomorrow I’ll probably see my first daffodils, always a pleasure!

  2. I haven’t even thought about chores yet. I can barely wade through the mud to get to the compost pile. My hellstrip is dry, and no longer covered with snow – revealing daylily sprouts! I better start thinking about a chore list.

  3. I’ll come and help you, Dee, if you’ll come and help me. You’ve made a good start. Well done! I haven’t gpt going yet, although we’ve had some pretty nice days already. I walk a mile on our property every day and can see the enormous amount of work needed — I’ll just take it bird-by-bird! Sounds like an excellent book. P. x

    1. Hey Pam! It’s best to not look at the whole picture because it’s always overwhelming. I have to just do a little bit at a time, and this afternoon, I’m back out there again.

  4. I used to like to do lots of things at once – and felt very proud when I could spin plates. But now I find so many chores a . . .well a chore, the only way I can tackle them is . . . now you’ve given a name to it ‘bird by bird’!

  5. Love the chore list. I am so ready to get my hands in the dirt. Bought lettuce and kale seeds today. Best of all, I’m glad to know I’m not the only lazy gardener who leaves some plants in the garden all winter.

    1. Thank you Mary. Yes, I think I’ve felt so much better since I’ve been out and about. Haha! About the lazy gardening, I’m with you my friend.

  6. Love your journal and updates. I have a hydrangea I need to move from the east side of my house. It doesn’t bloom but I don’t know where to move it. No, I don’t know what kind it is. It blooms on the old woos I think.

    1. Dee, if it blooms on old wood and you live in an area that gets late freezes, it’s not blooming because the buds get killed every year. I think I would give up on it and choose a hydrangea that blooms on new wood. There are so many of good ones now. We’re in a hydrangea renaissance.

  7. I’m always glad to learn that I’m not the only “crazy” gardener who waits to cut back her perennials until spring, then stacks up the spent stems to allow potential pollinators and other insects to emerge. The only perennials I don’t do this with are summer phlox. I learned the hard way that phlox bugs overwinter in those and they can decimate phlox plants the next year, so now I always put my phlox stems into the trash.

    This year I’m having more internal questions than usual about when to start cleaning up my garden for spring – not only is the weather ludicrously warm and early, but I’m back down along the Gulf Coast and less confident about what plants can handle a late cold spell without too much issue. (Speaking of “bird by bird”, rather than going bed by bed, I often will leave more tender plants for later clean-up, to allow last year’s foliage to give them a modicum more protection in a sudden cold snap.) Finding the right balance feels a bit tricky this year. Too bad the foresight isn’t 20/20!

    1. Hi Cynthia, for some reason we don’t have phlox bugs. Yet. I should probably start doing the preemptive cutting anyway. I think I will this year just to be safe. The weather is just crazy here. We were so hot, and now we’re cold again. I try to watch the native trees for when to do things, but even they seem confused. Too bad it’s isn’t 20/20 indeed. We just do the best we can and let those chips fall where they may.

      1. I haven’t seen phlox bugs here…but, then, I’ve just started gardening down here! LOL. I’d not seen them in Kansas until a few years ago, then I suddenly lost almost all my passalong phlox to them one year. I assume it was the weather conditions combined with a chance mating pair, but tossing the stems rather than composting them seemed like such a targeted, simple preventive measure that I’ve done it ever since.

  8. As crazy as this sounds…my garden is ready for spring. We have had this spring weather for a couple of weeks. My garden is way ahead of schedule. I have never had my garden in this good of shape by this time of year. It feels good too. The only bad thing is that now I have more time to develop plans to expand areas and plant more plants.

  9. As if my own case of Spring Fever wasn’t bad enough, this post sent me right over the edge. Goodbye housework and other projects. I have my marching orders from Dee and I am so happy. xoxo

  10. A good list of chores. I didn’t know Southern gardeners had to push heucheras back into the soil, too. I thought it was just something we Northerners had to do. I wonder what heucheras do in their native habitat, with no one to push them back in?

  11. Your post reminds me of Monty Don’s “Jobs for the Weekend,” which you turned me on to. I’m very new to gardening and in my first house and have been reading your posts for the past two and half months. I’m all the way back to 2009, but I’m loving all of your advice and encouragement. I’m fact I just made my first public blog post and linked it to Wildflower Wednesday. Thank you for your posts and advice.

  12. Thanks for all the good advice. I am marching out to my garden, too, and taking it slow. Plants are much further along than I’d like but that’s life in the grden.

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