February garden chores: bit by bit

Pulling daylily foliage away from plants.

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 my garden broke dormancy and is growing whether I like it or not. I might as well get ahead of the game. 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 those hellebores. Want to join me? I could sure use the help. Click To Tweet

Hello hellebore!

Hellebore 'Honeyhill Joy' (hellebore)
Helleborus x nigercors ‘Honeyhill Joy’

So glad to see you sweet hellebore. Missed your sunny face all winter.

H. ‘Blue Lady’

What about your sisters, they of the drooping heads? Why don’t they let us have  a peek? You are always first to the party even ahead of H. nigersmithii ‘Ivory Prince.’

Hello Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane.’ Lovely to gaze upon your elegance if only in spring. Later, you’ll be covered with rough leaves, but now, you wear your finest frock. Since those same rough leaves turn a brilliant red/orange in fall we forgive them.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ always blooms before ‘Arnold’s Promise’

Hello Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise.’ You’re just starting to unfurl, but your scent is awesome.

The beginnings of bloom . . . Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’

Hello Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snow Bunting.’ You are as beautiful and welcome as Elizabeth Lawrence described you in A Rock Garden in the South.

C. chrysanthus appears in gardens in many forms and among these are found some of the best of the early-flowering sorts. E.A. Bowles raised a group which he named for birds. ‘Snow Bunting’ is the first to bloom. I think if I could only have one spring-flowering crocus it would be this.”

Hit keys Control + to make this page and the ‘Snow Bunting’ collage larger. When you want it to go back to normal, hit Control -. You can do this several times each way to make your pages larger or smaller.

Crocus ‘Snow Bunting

Hello viola, you of the cheerful heart. I don’t know your name having simply picked you up one day at the nursery, but you kept your face turned to the light in spite of wicked weather challenges. I salute you. I did notice some of your sisters, V. x wittrockiana ‘Imperial Antique Shades’ didn’t fare so well at -17F as you. Perhaps, I should only plant them in the spring. I was warned.

Unknown, but very pretty violas

Planting beautiful early flowering shrubs, bulbs and flowers which winter over makes for a cheerful heart in late February. Something to consider. Also, if you read Elizabeth Lawrence, that famous North Carolina gardener, you’ll know what will do well in middle and southern Oklahoma, much of Texas (except the most arid parts) and the south. Although she lived in USDA Zone 7 (which is most of Oklahoma), her plants usually bloomed one month earlier than mine. Everything I’ve placed in the garden which were her favorites are stalwarts in mine.

I can just smell spring around the corner even if we’ve two months to go.