by Carina Langstraat, Landscape Designer
As I write this, I look out my window and can’t deny that nothing has changed in my garden for the last month. Perhaps certain sword ferns are laying a bit flatter than they were in December, and my ornamental grasses look a tad browner, but to my mind the garden feels so static that even after all these years of intently watching plants awaken each spring, believing that change is coming is more intellectual than intuitive right now. So, cerebrally looking forward, I make plans for the month of February in my garden, knowing that once I get myself out there both my enthusiasm and my spring to-do list will begin to grow.
Plant Bare Root Apples, Pears, and Berries
Bare root material is cheaper because the nursery doesn’t have to take the time to put the plant into a pot and wait for it to form roots before it’s in saleable condition. Now is a great time to get an orchard going if you are looking for a lot of bang for your buck. A new variety of apple called Pinkabelle is an excellent choice if you want a self-pollinating dwarf tree that will do well west of the Cascades. On the berry front, consider blueberries, marion berries, tayberries, boysenberries, and raspberries (Tulameen and Cascade Delights are my favorites). No blackberries are allowed unless you sign an oath to use only the thornless Blackberry Black Satin, which has all the virtue of a Himalayan without the vice. Bay Hay & Feed carries all of these edibles and more. The advantage of going there is that their seasoned buyer, Shelly Schaefbauer, takes great care to stock fruit trees that are meant to be grown in our maritime climate.
The big confusion about how to prune roses has more to do with the various types of roses (climbing, rambling, hybrid tea, floribunda, groundcover, or shrub) than the difficulty in pruning them. Start by doing the things that all roses, no matter the type, need: Take out the dead wood, remove any stems that are obviously diseased, remove any stems that are touching each other, and remove any suckers. Then decide if you want to do a light, moderate, or heavy pruning. If you have a hybrid tea or a floribunda rose, you’ll want to do a moderate pruning if the plant is established and be a bit more aggressive if the plant is new so that you can encourage root growth. Moderate means cutting the stems back to half their current length. Hard pruning means cutting the plant back to three or four buds from the base. If you have a climbing or rambling rose, there are several methods of pruning available to you depending on the variety of rose you have (please don’t guess). I recommend choosing one the three pruning methods Dr. D. G. Hessayon suggests in his book The New Rose Expert. If your mind is spinning and you’re about to give up, go buy a shrub or groundcover rose so you can either do nothing or sheer it heavily. Either approach will produce summer bloom and, more importantly, allow you to enjoy the beauty that roses offer without having to reach for a reference book.
Waiting until the end of the month is best, and if we are in the midst of a cold snap you are fine if you delay into the first half of March. For Hydrangea paniculata, remove dead wood and old blooms. For hydrangea macrophylla and Hydrangea quercifolia, find the old blooms, follow the stem into the plant with your pruners, and cut just above the first fat bud. For a more detailed description of how to prune hydrangeas, refer to my article: Happy Hydrangeas: To Prune or Not to Prune.
Prune Fruit Trees
Now is a reasonable time to begin the process of pruning your fruit trees. I say begin because you can really prune them anytime between February and April. If your trees have been neglected for several seasons, then start by removing the dead wood (you have time now and you’ll have less time later in the spring). Then, as the weather warms, make smaller but more numerous cuts that eliminate suckers and branches that grow below horizontal (warmer weather will allow the cuts to heal faster). Your macro-level goal is to get light into the tree so your fruit will ripen.
What Not to Prune
Don’t prune any of the spring bloomers, including, forsythia, quince, deutzia, weigela, philedelphus, and deciduous viburnums. Instead, prune them after they have bloomed, allowing them the whole growing season to set new buds for the following year.
Order Vegetable and Flower Seeds
Order your vegetable and annual flower seeds now so you won’t find yourself, as Henry Mitchell says, “in a snit” in March when you can’t find what you want on the turn styles at your local nursery. If your family is divided on asparagus, consider trying Sweet Purple Asparagus (available at Bay Hay). This plant’s eggplant-colored stems are pretty enough to attract the attention of modern floral designers, and its taste is so unique it is reputed to turn even the most reluctant into asparagans.
[This article from the archives originally appeared February 1, 2013.]
- Small Gas Engines for Dummies: The Agony and Ecstasy
- How Not to Endear Your Garden to Deer
- Happy Hydrangeas: To Prune or Not to Prune
- Glorious Grasses
- Uplighting Your Garden
- Complement Colors with Softer Tones in the Garden
- Ask the Gardener: Slug-Proof Plants?
- Ask the Gardener: Creating Texture
- Ask the Gardener: How Do I Get the Hydrangea Blues?
- Ask the Gardener: Who’s Been Eating My Strawberries?!
- Ask the Gardener: To Grow Great Apples, Talk to the Pros in Puyallup
Photos courtesy of Steve Jurvetson, Liz West, Hans Braxmeier, and Lee Davenport.