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February Gardening Guidelines

by Keith C. Hansen, Extension Horticulturist, Smith Co. - Tyler, TX

The new gardening year really gets in full swing in February with many activities and options for growing and learning. Keep in mind that the average last freeze for the Northeast Texas area is not until mid-March. Even so, many plants normally begin to show signs of growth in February. Narcissus and daffodil foliage is already up and growing, and blooms are not far behind. Wild plum is beginning to bloom, along with deciduous magnolias, quince and bridal wreath spirea.

EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS:

East Texas Garden Lecture Series, East Texas Turfgrass Conference, and East Texas Fruit & Vegetable Conference are some the annual programs held each spring in our area. Check the Educational Programs link for more information.

PRUNING:

February is a good time to prune. Before buds begin to swell for spring, finish pruning summer flowering trees and shrubs. Do not prune spring-flowering plants such as spirea (bridal wreath), azalea, forsythia or quince until after they bloom. Most plants, if properly selected for their allotted space, need very little pruning. Ornamental plants should be appreciated for their natural forms and usually look better and are easier to care for if heavy pruning is avoided.

Finish pruning peach and plum trees early this month. These fruit trees are not pruned for looks but for better harvests and easier picking. Pruning regulates tree height and stimulates new growth for next year's crop.

Prune hybrid tea roses in February to induce new growth and spring blooms. Remove top growth 18 to 24 inches above ground, retaining several healthy canes. The older the plant, the more canes you should leave. Make clean, sharp cuts just above buds which point outward. Postpone pruning of climbing roses if necessary until after their major flush of spring bloom. Many antique roses should not be as drastically pruned as hybrid teas.

If those seed heads on crepe myrtles bother you, you can remove them this month. Just clip back the ends of the branches, but do not destroy the beauty of the gracefully sculptured trunks by severe pruning. Heavy pruning is not necessary for abundant blooms.

PLANTING:

This is a great time for visiting your local nursery. New plants are arriving now for late winter and early spring planting. By planting early, plants will be off to a better start and can become adjusted before the stresses of summer arrive (remember last summer).

February is time to plant several types of plants including roses, bare-rooted fruit and nut trees, along with grape, blueberry and blackberry. Select varieties recommended for East Texas growing conditions. Many fruit trees require higher levels of pruning, fertilization and pest control. Find out the requirements of the types you are interested in because some require more work than others. Some of the fruits requiring less pest management include fig, blackberry, blueberry, Japanese persimmon, and pear.

When purchasing fruit trees, know which types require a second variety for pollination, such as plum, apple, pear, blueberries and some muscadine grapes. Always plant in full sun.

February is the month to apply fertilizer to peach and plum trees. Apply 1 pound (2 cups) of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) per inch of trunk diameter for established peach trees at and slightly beyond the edge of the tree canopy, never against the trunk.

It's time to select and plant gladiolus bulbs for summer blooms. Cannas, daylilies, ornamental grasses and mums may be divided once new foliage appears in early spring. It's also time for planting groundcovers and planting cool season annuals such as calendula, hollyhocks and nasturtium.

LAWNS

Early to mid-February marks the time to apply a preemergence herbicide for lawns that had a summer weed problem last year. These products kill germinating seed. The mild weather may already be triggering weed germination. A second application may be needed in late May or early June. Remember that the best defense against lawn weeds is a healthy, thick turf resulting from good management. Don't rely on chemicals alone!

VEGETABLES

Early to mid-February is vegetable planting time for cool season crops including onions, Irish potatoes, radishes, greens, spinach, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, beets and turnips. Early planting assures a good harvest prior to summer heat. But, don't be in a hurry to plant summer vegetables such as tomato, peppers, squash, etc. A late frost or freeze will result in repeated plantings. Summer vegetables require warm days and warm soils to quickly establish.

INSPIRATION

Finally, enjoy the beauty of spring bloom. If you haven't been to Mrs. Helen Lee's Garden, 5.6 miles south of Gladewater off Hwy. 271 to see the thousands of daffodils, be sure to take advantage of visiting this beautiful ranch, with free admission, to see the daffodils when the bloom peaks in February. And take your camera!