By Brent Gray
Thankfully, at this time of year lawnmowers are retired to the garage or shed. That doesn’t relieve us of some lawn duties, however. Keeping deciduous leaves off the lawn area is very important. If you have procrastinated raking those leaves off, get busy! Besides the obvious benefits of having thankful neighbors and a neat yard, removing matted, wet leaves from the lawn will let needed air and sunlight reach the turf. This is particularly important on cool-season grasses.
It’s too late to apply preemergence herbicides to control winter weeds. If you failed to do this last August and September, your lawn probably has a thriving population of annual bluegrass, henbit and other undesirables. The game now is one of tolerance or applications of postemergence herbicides to control existing winter annual weeds. Postemer-gence herbicides are most effective if applied to seedlings less than three- inches tall. Wait until most weeds are two to four-inches tall before application.
The application of chemical herbicides is a handy tool. However, as environmentally conscientious folks we would do well to remember that keeping our lawns healthy through good management practices such as proper pH, fertilization, irrigation and mowing frequency and height does help control weeds, therefore cutting down use of herbicides.
Shrubs And Trees
Narrowleaf evergreens such as junipers, arborvitae, pine, cedar and spruce can be tip pruned now. Do not prune any branch beyond the foliage area into the dead zone, as new growth may not occur due to the lack of latent buds on the remaining branch stub. I have a good example of this in my own yard. A false cypress (chamaecyparis) was attacked by swarms of grasshoppers last fall. The situation was further aggravated by bagworms. My half-hearted attempts of picking and stomping the bags or shaking the branches to scatter the grasshoppers did little to save my little tree. The foliage was completely stripped and the tree now stands as a silent reminder of a gardener’s neglect. It would, however, make an excellent brush for a chimney sweep.
You can prune broadleaf evergreens such as Burford’s holly, photinia, viburnum, ligustrum and cleyera late in February. You should not prune broadleaf evergreens which offer early spring bloom, such as azaleas, until after flowering in late spring. Deciduous spring flowering shrubs including forsythia, kerria, weigela and spirea should not be pruned until after flowering unless you don’t want a lot of spring flowers.
Fruits And Nuts
February brings the arrival of home orchard plants at most garden centers, farmer’s co-ops, and nursery outlets. Blueberries, grapes, pecans, blackberries, muscadines, peaches, apples, plums and nectarines are just a few of the choices facing the homeowner. Be sure and select a variety that is recommended for Mississippi. For tips on making the best selection watch the MSU Extension Service Gardening through the Seasons video segment entitled Selecting Fruit Trees, at this link http://msucares.com/gardenvideos/ . When planting your selection, the hole should be 3 to 5 times as wide as the root ball, but not any deeper than the rootball. The roots should rest upon undisturbed soil. Water well and do no pruning other than removing dead or broken branches.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other cool season vegetable transplants are available now at some garden centers and farmer’s co-ops this month. Early-bird gardeners try to get their cabbage, collard and broccoli plants out as soon as possible. English peas, spinach, head lettuce, beets, radishes, and mustard can be seeded late in February. Sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t. It all depends on our capricious early spring weather that can be typified by a 40-degree drop in temperature in just a few hours.
Irish potatoes and onion sets or transplants can be put in the ground now. When planting seed potatoes be sure that each chunk of potato you cut from the seed potato has a least one eye or bud from which the stem of the plant will grow. For you novice gardeners, the eye should be looking up when planted so the potato can see which way to go. Remember the book entitled Don’t Bend over in the Garden Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes by Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard? Think about that the next time you’re bent over digging taters! One limiting factor for early spring planting is when the soil will be dry enough to till. One way to get around this is to grow your cool season vegetables in raised beds. These beds will be workable and ready to plant before beds prepared at existing ground level.
Flowers and Bulbs
This is the month of the narcissus. For a garden still in the cold grasp of winter nothing brings warmth and cheer better than the golden trumpets of the sweetly fragrant old-fashioned buttercup. These old-time favorites are forever unless you flood them or cover them with concrete. Many a bulb I have rescued from old homesteads threatened by the rolling juggernaut of our expanding highway system. It is a well-known fact that plants obtained in this manner will thrive only if you feel no guilt for having pilfered them from someone else’s property. Seriously, it is always better to ask permission before going on to what looks like abandoned or doomed property to dig plants. To keep your narcissus healthy and happy for generations to come fertilize them with a fertilizer specially formulated for bulbs. There are two ideal times to fertilize spring-flowering bulbs. Once in the fall around the time you would plant bulbs and again in the spring as the
foliage begins to emerge. If flowering declines, it may be due to overcrowding or shade.
1. Cut branches of forsythia, quince, and spirea when buds just begin to show color. Bring indoors to a warm room, put into a vase and they will reward you with cheery blooms.
2. When shopping for cool season vegetable transplants pass over the cabbage plants with large, woody stems. They will generally flower instead of making a head. Broccoli plants that appear hardened or show a small center bud will not be productive. Large onion transplants and sets larger than a dime will flower rather than bulb. Use them for green onions (scallions).
3. Transplant suckers from shrubs like kerria, spirea, and clove currant now.
4. It’s not too late to take soil samples from the vegetable garden, lawn or flower beds.
5. Clean the old fronds off the asparagus bed and apply a layer of good compost. The spears will soon be emerging. As the spears begin to peek through add a light application of complete fertilizer to stimulate growth.
6. If you order seed by mail, place those orders now for your summer vegetable and flower garden! Mail-order seed suppliers can run out of your favorite variety as spring gets nearer.