“When your garden is finished I hope it will be more beautiful that you anticipated, require less care than you expected, and have cost only a little more than you had planned.” — Thomas D. Church
During the cold month of February, gardeners may appear calm and serene on the outside — but inside there is something rather primeval stirring. You can tell by the glint of gluttonous satisfaction in our eyes when we pass the 2-foot high stack of garden catalogs on the kitchen counter.
We betray ourselves by the stacks of little plastic nursery pots soaking in bleach water in the bathtub and by the peat pots already seeded and soaking up the rays under the grow lights. Spring is just around the corner — and we know it.
Here are a few chores to keep us busy and get us ready for spring:
• Make your garden plan for this year. Rotate crops to help preserve soil nutrients and to avoid potential disease problems. Your garden journal is a great help with this task. If you don’t have a journal, start one this year.
• Sharpen and oil your garden tools. Play with the new garden tools and toys you received for Christmas.
• Organize the potting shed.
•Mist stored tubers such as dahlias, begonias and gladiolas. Discard any tubers or corms that are shriveled or moldy or that feel soft.
• If the weather’s agreeable, divide perennials. Carefully lift the entire plant then divide into appropriate-size pieces. Replant new starts in other parts of the garden or share them with friends and family. Be sure and include the full name of the plant so the recipient knows what they’re getting and can then determine the plant’s needs and its size at maturity.
• Cut back any perennials that weren’t cleaned up last fall. Remove the dead stalks before new growth begins, especially with ornamental grasses. When working in your garden, beware of stepping on emerging bulb foliage.
• If the weather warms up for a few minutes you will see flushes of weed seeds that have germinated. They look like a plush carpet of green emerging from the soil. Get rid of them now by running a gloved hand over the soil and roughing them up.
• Keep an eye out for any disease or fungus problems on your plants. Early identification will make treatment more effective.
• Rake up any leaves remaining in the yard and add them to your compost pile.
•Cut branches from spring-flowering shrubs to bring inside and force into bloom. Branches of pussy willow, forsythia, flowering quince and ornamental flowering trees all work well. Make a clean cut and place in water. In a few days, enjoy an early and colorful spring.
• If the weather cooperates, finish any winter pruning. When pruning fruit trees and grapes, cut flush with the swollen collar near the base of the branch rather than flush with the trunk. The cut will heal faster.
• Now is the time to build a cold frame. Frames are great for keeping young plants from freezing until they can survive in the garden unprotected. Old windows can work well for constructing cold frames.
• Sow some tender annuals and vegetable seeds indoors this month. It will take 10 to 12 weeks before they are ready for transplanting into the garden. May 15 is the average last frost date in Yakima County.
• Keep feeding the birds. There is little left in natural food and they will pay you back this spring by eating insects for you.
• Remember to treat your favorite gardener for Valentine’s Day. You might snip some branches from your weeping birch or weeping willow and shape them into a heart. Place this heart where that special person in your life will see it and love your thoughtfulness for Valentine’s Day.
Other great gift ideas include a new gardening book, a pair of new gardening gloves, a pretty pot, a subscription to a gardening magazine, a flowering houseplant, a gift certificate to a local nursery or registration for one or more of the Master Gardener Spring Workshop seminars listed at the beginning of this article.
• WSU Extension Master Gardener Program is an organization of trained volunteers dedicated to horticulture and community service. Questions about gardening, landscaping or this program can be directed to the Master Gardener Clinic at 509-574-1600 or visit us at the WSU Extension office,