By Brent Gray
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.
Plant nut trees like pecan, walnut and Chinese chestnut. Remember to plant two or three chestnuts so they can cross-pollinate. Also, select at least two cultivars of rabbiteye blueberries to plant so that you get good pollination and fruit set.
This is a good time to prune most shrubs. Before you cut, identify specific problems, and work with a goal in mind. If the plant has overgrown its location, you can reduce its size while still maintaining its character. Take out each tall limb at this point of origin. If the plant needs to be restored to a more natural habit, take out any limbs that are dead, crossing, or growing toward the center. After that, thin the branches as needed. Spring-flowering shrubs have already formed flowerbuds, so wait until after they bloom to prune.
Pruning of evergreen shrubs (other than those like azaleas that bloom in the spring) should be done now or anytime before spring growth begins. If no pruning is necessary on your trees and shrubs, but there are some obvious cold-damaged stems, resist the temptation to cut out these winter-killed branches until March or April when you can determine exactly the true extent of winter damage.
Pruning of established fruit trees can be done now and anytime before spring bud break. Be careful not to remove fruiting spurs when pruning apples, plums and pears. Prune muscadine and bunch grapes.
Always try to maintain the natural form of a plant unless it is used in a formal situation. If a plant constantly needs pruning to control its size, consider replacing it with one that won’t outgrow its location.
One way to have masses of perennials to plant is to grow your own from seeds. Good choices are blue salvia, columbine, Shasta daisies, rudbeckia, coneflower, cardinal flower, bee balm and yarrow. You can start seeds now if you have a cold frame or greenhouse, and then set the seedlings in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Use a sterile potting soil to prevent damping-off, a fungal disease that attacks emerging seedlings.
Before trying to work your soil judge its condition with this simple test. Squeeze a small amount of soil in your hand; then drop it from about the height of your waist. If the soil doesn’t crumble easily, wait until it is drier before you till; otherwise it will form rock-hard clods.