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

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: Is it really March?

Can this only be March 15 and Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day? The temperature feels like late April, but before you run to the nursery and get tender plants, please don’t. This weekend, Oklahoma is forecasted to get down to 34°F which is too cold for tender tropicals–the basis of our summer gardens. We may still get a freeze too. Remember, April 20 is our last average freeze date.  You’ve been warned. If you simply must, bring those flats home and let them sit in the house for a couple of weeks. You can move them in and out everyday. Doesn’t that sound fun?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that over the years.

Helleborus x hyb. Ballerine Mix that's grown in my front bed for years.
Helleborus x hyb. Ballerina Mix that’s grown in my front bed for years. It’s now really strutting its stuff.

Alternatively, you can go buy yourself a new hellebore. That will help stave off spring fever for a week or so. I’ve bought five so far this year. They aren’t cheap, but give them a few seasons, and they will reward you with blooms before anything else even thinks about flowering.

The front border is just beginning to take off in March.
The front border is just beginning to take off in March. ‘Jane’ magnolia is the centerpiece this time of year.

My front border is planted to really show off in spring. I felt like people on the garden tour didn’t get to see the front gardens at their best because it was fall. ‘Jane’ magnolia always blooms pretty early with the redbuds, and it is often ruined by late freezes. I hope this won’t happen this spring. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. You’ve got to roll with the punches in gardening. It’s a humbling hobby.

Another view of the front border shows that the daffodils are in the middle of their bloom cycle with the tulips just beginning. Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
Another view of the front border shows that the daffodils are in the middle of their bloom cycle with the tulips just beginning.

Most of the daffs in the front border are white with pink cups which means they are actually apricot. I used Van Engelen’s Smoldering Tangerine/Pink tulip collection this year. The jury is still out on whether I like it better than the collection I used the year before.

Below is one of the prettiest vignettes blooming so far. My sixteen-year-old daughter told me this morning that it is Instagram worthy. That made me happy.

Another pretty vignette in the garage border.
Another pretty vignette in the garage border.

In another corner of the front yard, my Hamamelis ‘Arnold’s Promise’ is blooming for all its worth.

'Arnold's Promise' hamamelis witch hazel
‘Arnold’s Promise’ hamamelis witch hazel. That color! That scent!

It also smells like honey. How many plants do that?

In the garden border, the blooms are just starting.
In the garden border, the blooms are just starting.

Let’s take a walk around back to the garage border where things are just starting to get interesting. I have so many narcissus in here that when I plant something, I dig up two more. I just replant them in another spot. Most of these are white with ‘Thalia’ being predominant. The double-flowering white narcissus is ‘Rose of May.’ I bought both at Old House Gardens. The multiply each year and smell delicious in the mornings. I love the little heirloom narcissus because they do their thing and fade away.

The garage border from the opposite view.
The garage border from the opposite view.

The tulips are just beginning. It won’t be long until the bed is full. People ask me if the tulips return year after year. No, they don’t. They’re hybrids that are bred to give one year’s good show. I pull them after blooming. Maybe that seems extravagant, but it’s like using any other annual, and after winter, I need the color.

Leucojum aestivum is one of the best bulbs for naturalizing in our gardens. I started with a few from Leslie in California. Now, I'm giving bunches away.
Leucojum aestivum is one of the best bulbs for naturalizing in our gardens. I started with a few from Leslie in California. Now, I’m giving bunches away.

Last week, it rained twice, and we got half an inch each time. That’s why the grass is starting to green up and grow. The shrubs in the photo below are ‘Ogon’ spireas. Just a week ago, they were covered with white blossoms. They looked like snow mounds. Sorry I didn’t get a photo then, but I think they’re still nice with their lemon-yellow leaves. At the bottom of the hill is a mound of clover. I’ve been working for years to increase the clover in my yard. I know many people don’t want it, but it helps the bees and makes for a more diverse lawn. It’s also a nitrogen fixer, and you can make clover chains with it. I did as a girl.

Looking from the garage border to the back garden.
Looking from the garage border to the back garden.

Plus, clover is pretty. Last fall, we planted lots of pansies and violas in the back garden because we had some open areas that needed filling for the tour. I’m glad we had such a mild winter because they all came through and are growing so well. Pansies in Oklahoma planted in the fall sometimes overwinter great, and other years, well, no. Gardening in Oklahoma is always a crapshoot.

Back garden in the morning light.
Back garden in the morning light.

In the potager, we have a few violas and the blooming tatsoi. I need to pull up the tatsoi, but the little honeybees have enjoyed it so much I just keep stalling.

Purple violas in the potager from last fall.
Purple violas in the potager from last fall.
Tatsoi blooming in the potager.
Tatsoi blooming in the potager.

That’s all I’ve got blooming this month. Thanks for stopping by. Go visit Carol’s blog, May Dreams Gardens for more Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day goodness.