February, the second month of the year, is an interesting month with only 28 days (unlike the rest of the months with 30 or 31 days). Every four years there is Leap Year and we can celebrate the month for 29 days. According to internet sources, having the extra date allows the calendar year to be synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. Our next Leap Year is in 2024. Always wondered what the babies born on the 29th did for birthday celebrations: once every four years, or just pick another date?
February got its name from the Latin Februa, the ancient Roman celebration of cleansing and fertility on the winter’s last full moon.
Despite its shorter length, February still has its share of special days: Groundhog Day (the 2nd), Valentine’s Day (14th — when flowers assume an important role in everyone’s lives), Presidents Day (21st) and more than a dozen days earmarked for one reason or another (National Love Your Pet Day). Sports lovers all recognize Feb. 13, the Superbowl game which has gained its own notoriety.
February is a month keeping gardeners on their toes. One day I am gardening in a heavy coat; within days I might be out in a short sleeve shirt. Its inconsistencies make it stand out. Beautiful February days provide hours to keep the pansy bed and other areas of the gardens weeded. Winter weeds can be pests. I try to manage the weeds all season to prevent being overwhelmed in the spring.
February is the end of our second best planting time (the first being late fall) for shrubs and trees. It is still time to take advantage of cool days and rain. Once spring arrives (when typically most people start to plant), the heat and drought are around the corner. Planting in the cooler weather gives our plants a better start on life in our gardens. Remember the basics: Put the right plant in the right place. It is helpful to know where you want to put a plant before you shop, to be aware of what the growing conditions will be for the plant. Frequently, we buy a plant because we like it, get home and wander around looking for the best home. That activity may lead to putting the wrong plant in the wrong place.
Catalogs, especially seed ones, are flooding my mailbox and my inbox. They are fun and a great source of information. Give some thought to what you can and want to plant before starting to order. The seed packages provide guidance on how to plant. Seeds need a good garden home to flourish. Check the reviews online for a company you plan to use as your source. Checking the Garden Watchdog site will help you become a more educated shopper. I often hear gardeners mention receiving plants in poor condition, an unhappy experience (for the company and the gardener).
Get a soil test if you have not had one in the last two years or so. Throwing down handfuls of fertilizer when the plants do not need it is expensive and bad for the environment.
By February, the daffodils and other winter bloomers will be putting on blooms. What a happy event for gardeners.
Before those little heads start to open, add a layer of mulch. Walking in gardens with emerging bulbs can cause harm to tiny plants and may compact wet garden soil.
I try to finish spreading a layer of fresh long needle pinestraw over the leaves in my gardens before February’s tiny green sprouts start showing. Many gardening experts are encouraging the gardeners to leave the leaves; I did. I tell myself it is better for our native insects and not just a case of laziness. I do remove the leaves from the lawn and places, however, where their mounds could be dangerous — walkways or hardscape paths. Safety first. I also uncover shrubs which have been covered by fall’s bounty.
I walk through my February garden daily. It is camellia japonica season and surprises are everywhere. Freezes may destroy the open blooms but tight buds will open in their place.
When you are strolling, do an inventory of your garden’s needs. Check for dead, diseased or dying limbs on deciduous shrubs and trees; plan judicious solutions for these three trouble makers. It is a good time to give deciduous trees shaping if they need it, as the gardener can see the structure of the tree.
February is the time to prune the sun-loving hydrangeas such as ‘Limelight,’ which blooms mid-summer. Mine get a strong haircut. It is not the time, however, to prune mophead hydrangeas! Pruning them now will remove your summer blooms.
Knock Out roses also benefit from a February pruning. Cutting them back to about 12 inches or less from the ground produces a beautiful rose with lots of blooms and sturdy stems.
As you set out to prune, it is important to remember the “May Rule” of pruning. If a plant blooms before May (azalea or forsythia, for example), prune after it flowers. If it blooms after May, prune when it is dormant (February: butterfly bush). The exception to the second half of this rule is mophead or French hydrangeas. They should be pruned when they finish flowering — by mid July.
When pruning, safety is foremost. Larger limbs are best left to the professionals. For small pruning jobs, the sharper the tool, the easier the job will be.
Somehow, word has spread that all crepe myrtles should be pollarded (usually in February or even all year), viciously cutting them across the trunk and removing the beautiful limbs. Sprouts grow back instead of limbs; these sprouts have trouble supporting the weight of summer flowers. The trees do not produce the beautiful bark and develop ugly knuckles, creating something that has nothing to do with the original tree. Gardeners call this crepe murder. When homeowners ask why they commit crepe murder, the answer is everyone does. Let’s start a movement to stop the cruelty to these gorgeous trees and abandon crepe murder. If you need a smaller crepe myrtle, there are many available. Check the mature size before purchasing. There are excellent publications on extension web sites to help you return your tree to its former state.
Check for adequate moisture, especially on recently installed plants, if there has not been ample rain.
Some may use the colder months to spray dormant oil on plants that have been troubled by sooty mold or other problems. If you decide to use dormant oil, READ THE LABEL. Find out when and what to spray and if the product is the solution to your particular issue; willy nilly spraying of any chemical is never a good idea.
February is a good month to have power tools serviced before the spring rush. Many yards get winter weeds and it is nice to keep them mowed to keep lawns tidy. This second month is also a good time to take care of rusty or dirty tools. Thus, when spring comes, you will be ready.
Let’s use the nasty days in February to do research on best gardening practices. Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Clemson Cooperative Extension Home and Gardening Center are excellent sources of correct gardening information. The more we can learn, the better off our gardens can be. It is possible to sign up for a weekly newsletter from Clemson. Growing conditions and climate are just about the same there as here.
Some of these extraordinary February bloomers can be brought in the house; closed buds will open. Forsythia and quince are excellent choices to force into flower.
February should be officially called the month of the camellia (our state flower) as they are in their glory. The photographs are a tribute to the exquisite camellias and other winter bloomers that bring joy to a gardener’s heart on gray cold days.
The sheer variety of intriguing flowering and evergreen plants make February fabulous. Include them in your garden design; thus, every month is magnificent.