February is a busy month for the kitchen gardener. In many regions, indoor and outdoor sowing and planting is underway. Some gardeners already have seed in the ground. In the coldest regions, where there is snow on the ground, February is still the time for making plans and preparing for spring. Here are some of the actions you take this month to get your garden growing:
Plan and design. Plan the spring and summer garden on paper. Sketch a base plan. Consider the location of house, garage, shed, fences, walls, and large trees that will cast shadows across the garden. Vegetables require at least 6 hours of sun each day to thrive. Locate your garden near a water source. If you’ve grown a vegetable garden before consider new crops this year and plan out succession plantings. Consult garden books for suggestions. If this is your first garden, monitor your planting area and map where the snow melts first, these will be good spots for planting early crops. Consider the light, water, and nutrient needs of each crop and crop family. Plant crops with similar needs or crops from the same families close together.
Consider your time and effort. If your time and space is limited, choose six varieties to grow this year. You’ll get the most for your money and effort from tomatoes, snap beans, carrots, and greens such as lettuce and chard.
Succession and companion plantings. Succession planting (growing one crop after another during the growing season) takes advantage of every day in the growing season. Plan succession crops by plotting germination and harvest days for each crop and then plan which crop can follow the crop before given the length of the growing season, an example, warm-weather bush lima beans can follow cool-weather peas. Companion cropping matches a fast-growing small crop with a slow-maturing crop, an example, quick growing radishes planted between slow-maturing carrots, or shade tolerant peas planted beneath corn.
Record keeping. Set up your garden record keeping system now. Keep track of dates of varieties, sowing, transplanting, blooming dates, and notes about each crop. Planting and harvest dates can be used for planning succession crops. Make a garden map to keep track of just what was planted where; this map will be invaluable should your garden labels become misplaced or illegible. These records will help you plan your garden in following years.
Seed orders. Study on-line and mail-order catalogs and order seeds and plants for spring.
Garden tools and frames. Clean and repair tools early this month. Repair cold frames and hotbeds and make sure they are ready for use.
Seed sowing items. Assemble flats, soil, and tools for sowing. Use flats about 5 inches deep for slow growing seedlings. Use a seed starting mix or a soil mix of two parts garden loam, one part sand, and one part leaf mold or humus. A hand seed-sower may be helpful.
Indoor seed sowing in cold regions. Check seed packets to determine the number of days from sowing to germination. Sow hardy and half-hardy vegetable seeds about 6 to 8 weeks before seedlings can be hardened off in the coldframe or under cloches in the garden–usually 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. Do not start seeds indoors too early. Sow cool-weather spring corps first: beets, cabbage family crops, celeriac, leaf lettuce and salad greens, bulb onions, parsley, radish, spinach, and turnips. At the end of the month, sow the seeds of tender warm-weather summer-harvest vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes that require 12 weeks or more indoors. When the seeds sprout, place them beneath bright lights. Set seed starting cell packs in water trays with a copper-based fungicide to prevent damping off. Ventilate the greenhouse or hotbed on warm days to prevent the buildup of diseases in the damp environment.
Cold frame in mild-winter regions. Sow cool-weather spring crops in the cold frame in milder regions: beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, lettuce and salad greens, onions, and parsley. Make sure that the soil in the seedbed is not overly nitrogen rich; this will cause succulent growth when early season plants are better strong and stocky before transplanting. Plants that have been started indoors can be hardened-off in the coldframe before being planted out in the garden. Ventilate the coldframe when the outside temperature rises above 40ºF. Close the frame again before sundown. If the soil is dry in the cold frame 6 inches down, provide a slow, deep watering directly in the soil on a warm day. Avoid wetting plant leaves
Rhubarb. Plant rhubarb roots in compost-rich soil spaced three feet apart. An open, sunny place is best. Rhubarb likes plenty of water during the growing season and is a heavy feeder; apply aged-manure heavily and turn it under.
Spring onions. Plant small onion sets closely in a flat or box and cover with about 1 inch of soil and provide moderate light for spring onions next month.
Tomatoes. Tomato seed sown in February will result in plants with one truss of bloom for the garden by mid-May.
Garden soil preparation. Check winter mulch around perennial vegetables, brambles, and fruit trees and add more if needed. Press frost-heaved plants back into the soil. Where weather permits and soil is dry enough to be worked, prepare planting beds this month. Turn, spade, or till the garden when the soil is not wet. Add lime if your soil is too acid. Mow winter cover crops and green manures and turn them under if the soil is dry enough to cultivate. Add 2 inches of aged garden compost to planting beds. If you won’t be planting for 6 weeks, add an inch of well-aged manure to each bed.
Direct seed. Take a handful of garden soil and give it a squeeze; if the soil crumbles and fall apart, you can direct sow crops. To warm the soil for early sowing, cover the bed with polyethylene. Carrots, onions, and early potatoes can be seeded in warm, sandy soil. Other cool-weather crops that can be sown where the soil is workable are beets, cabbage plants, carrots, cauliflower plants, chard, lettuce, mustard, onions plants and sets, peas, Irish potatoes, salsify, spinach, and turnips. Check seed packets to make sure the varieties you are planting are suitable for early sowing. Most seed requires a soil temperature of 45ºF or greater to germinate; use a soil thermometer to check before you sow. Delay planting until the soil is warm otherwise you risk seeds rotting or poor germination. Be ready to cover plants with cloches, row covers, and plastic tunnels if the weather turns cold.
Compost. Start new compost bins this month.
Squash boxes. Make cheesecloth covered frames to put over melon, squash, and cucumber hills to keep out cucumber beetles and squash bugs later this spring. A cover should be about three feet square and one-foot high.
Fruit trees and vines. Transplant deciduous fruit trees and vines during the dormant season. Give new transplants plenty of water, both at planting time and afterwards.
Prune fruit trees and vines when the weather allows: apples, pears, berries, brambles, and grapes. Remove broken and damaged branches. Complete pruning while the plants are still dormant.
Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries. Cut vines that fruited last autumn back to ground level. Raspberries planted last spring should be cut back to about 12 inches above soil level. Tip back summer-fruiting raspberries to just above the top wire and cut down newly planted canes to about 9 inches. Prune back the stems of newly planted and two-year-old gooseberries by about one-half. Spray gooseberries and black currants for gooseberry mildew.
Spray fruit trees for over-wintering pests with dormant oil spray when the temperature is greater than 45ºF; this must be completed while plants are still dormant. Spray peaches, nectarines, and almonds with a copper-based fungicide to prevent peach-leaf curl. Spray apples and pears prone to scab infection. Spray fruit trees no later than when buds begin to swell. Apply a second spray to trees susceptible to peach-leaf curl about 14 days after the first application.
Plant fig, blackberries, blueberries, currant bushes, raspberries, and strawberries. Fertilize established citrus and tropical fruits.
Mulch all newly planted trees, bush, and cane fruits with well-rotted compost. Mulch grapevines and gooseberries with well-rotted manure or compost.
Regional garden guide for February:
Regional gardening suggestions. These suggestions are divided into 4 major geographical areas: North and East and Midwest (zones 2 in the northern most areas to 6 along the coast), the South (zones 7 in the north to 10 in the far south), the Southwest and California (zones 7 in the coolest areas to 11), and the Northeast (zones 5 in the highest elevations to 8 along the coast).
North and East and Midwest. Plan the spring and summer vegetable garden. Force rhubarb and endive. Sow indoors early cabbage, cauliflower, celery, radishes, peppers, and tomatoes. Late in the month where the ground can be worked, set out asparagus roots, horseradish, onion sets, and rhubarb. Lift over-wintered parsnips. Late in the month, plant early potatoes in hotbeds.
South. Sow or plant in the garden where the ground can be worked asparagus, beets, black-eyed peas, broccoli, cabbage plants, carrots, cauliflower plants, chard, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, onion sets or plants, parsley, peas, Irish potatoes, radish, spinach, turnip. Be sure to check the average date of the last frost in your area before setting out transplants. Late in the month in far southern regions where all danger of frost has passed set out starts: tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers (be ready to protect these crops should the temperature drop). Sow indoors early this month warm weather crops: bush and pole beans, limas, butterbeans, squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and watermelons. Most of these crops will require 7 to 8 weeks of growing before they will be large enough to transplant into the garden.
Southwest and California. Early in the month, plant perennial vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, and horseradish while roots are still dormant. In warm, sandy soil, plant potatoes. By mid-month, set transplants out into the early spring garden: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, Italian sprouting broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard, onion seedlings and sets, parsley, Irish potatoes in well-composted soi, radishes, and turnips. By the end of month in all areas, sow indoors warm weather crops: bush and pole beans, limas, butterbeans, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons. Do not place any warm-season plants in the garden until the night temperatures stay above 50°F. Avocados can be planted this month to ensure they develop good leaf growth before summer. Young trees can be protected against trunk sunburn by constructing simple shade cloth frame to shade trunks on south and west.
Northwest. Early this month where the soil is sandy and warms more quickly, sow carrots, onion seeds, and early potatoes. Do not plant in cold, wet soil. Where the weather remains cold, make a cold frame or hot bed. About the third week of the month, start cool-weather crops: asparagus roots, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, onions, peas, early potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, turnips. By the end of the month make a second planting of peas.