By Brent Gray
As the weather begins to warm in your area, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, English daisies and other cool season annuals will begin to grow and bloom. Give them a boost by feeding with a slow-release fertilizer at the rate recommended on the label.
It may still feel like winter in north Mississippi, but it will soon be time to plant seeds of nasturtiums. They will germinate even when the soil is cool, and by giving them a head start, you will have larger plants. Use both blossoms and leaves in green spring salads for their peppery zest. For best results when planting, soak the pea-size seeds in a saucer of water overnight; then push them about an inch deep into containers or garden soil. Generally speaking you can sow these seeds early in February in Zone 8 and two weeks later in Zone 7.
Late January and throughout the month of February is the time to set out rose bushes. Choose a sunny spot in the garden with well-drained soil. You don’t have to create a bed dedicated only to roses. Consider planting them with perennials, annuals or flowering shrubs so they become a part of the landscape. When selecting a rose bush, avoid those plants that are showing evidence of new growth, since the winter weather may damage the new plant. Also make sure the canes are a healthy green color.
Buttercups are beginning to bloom across the state. Cut some of these and bring indoors for some winter cheer. Soak the stems of freshly cut daffodils in their own container of water for 6 to 8 hours before arranging them with other flowers. If you don’t, the sap of the daffodils could clog the stem of surrounding flowers and prevent water uptake.
Don’t include French or big leaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) when you are doing your pre-season pruning. If you do, you will cut off flower buds that formed last summer. So let them bloom and then prune them if they need it. The ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea, (Hydrangea paniculata), is pruned in late winter, as it blooms in late summer on current year’s growth.
Deciduous, spring-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia, spirea, flowering almond, quince, or pearlbush should not be pruned until after flowering. Otherwise, you are going to cut off your blooms.
If you are in doubt as to how to prune crapemyrtles—don’t. Certainly do not butcher them by whacking off the entire canopy leaving large, limbless stumps! If your crapemyrtle is growing too large for its location, this is a good time to move it. Even moderate size trees can be transplanted successfully. If you do prune your multi-trunk tree form crapemyrtle, limit it to removing suckers from the base and removing interior branches that conceal the beautiful bark. You can also trim off the old seed heads if you wish, although this is not necessary. For general guidelines on pruning refer to the “When to Prune?” table below for general pruning guidelines.
When to Prune?
• Spring or winter flowering plants: after bloom
• Summer flowering plants: during the dormant period (late winter) or in early spring
• Evergreen shrubs: in late winter or early spring before new growth appears*
• narrowleaf (conifers)
• Avoid pruning shrubs after midsummer to prevent winter damage of new growth
*For evergreens with attractive flowers, prune after flowering
Now is the time to cut back winter-damaged, unattractive liriope foliage. Avoid tipping the new growth or there will be brown edges for the year to come. If you do it now before growth begins, you can use a string trimmer or the lawn mower set at its highest setting.
Continue to plant dormant container-grown, balled and burlapped or bare-root trees and shrubs during February. Fruit trees and berry plants will be arriving in nurseries soon. Choose your selection early and get them in the ground for the greatest chance of success.
For whatever reasons you want to grow your own fruit, there are some things you need to consider. Choose a site for your trees that is well drained. Planting on a slope would help take care of that problem and planting on a northern slope would be even better. Since northern slopes take longer to warm up in spring, this would help to delay spring bloom; thereby lessening the chance of losing your blooms to an early spring freeze–an all too frequent occurrence in our neck of the woods!
You can purchase fruit trees, bareroot, in plastic sacks or in pots. Research has shown potted fruit trees have a much higher survival rate than the others; but, of course, the cost is usually higher. This holds true for potted pecan trees also.
Apples, peaches, blueberries, muscadines, and blackberries can all be set out this month. If the plants at your garden center are growing in containers with soil, look for flexible stems. If plants have their roots in plastic bags with moist sphagnum moss, remove the covering and soak the roots overnight in a bucket of water before planting. With these also, look for flexible stems and avoid if new foliage is beginning to emerge.
When you plant your tree, dig the hole only as deep as the pot, but make the hole at least twice as wide as the pot. Digging the hole only as deep as the pot keeps the root ball from sinking too deeply in the hole as time passes. Widening the hole makes it easier for the new feeder roots to grow out of the sides of the root ball into the loosened backfill soil.
A good warm weekend is a good time to turn the garden soil and get ready for spring planting. Mix in whatever organic matter you have available—last fall’s leaves, rotted sawdust, etc. Tilling will also help destroy weed seeds as well as bring insects to the surface where they will be victims of hungry birds or winter temperatures. If the soil is wet, wait until it dries enough to crumble easily in your hand. If you work it wet, you will have dirt clods all summer!
Lelia Scott Kelly, Ph.D., writes North Mississippi Gardening Tips monthly and is a Horticulture Specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Her office is in the North Mississippi Research & Extension Center, Verona.