Get ready to make garden grow

February good time to address variety of outdoor issues, experts say

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Free February seminars

11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 2, "What To Do In The Garden: February," at Tsugawa Nursery.

11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 9, "Inviting Mason Bees to Your Garden," at Tsugawa Nursery.

10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 23, "Rose Seminar," by the Fort Vancouver Rose Society at Yard 'n Garden Land.

11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 23, "Early Spring Vegetables for Your Garden," at Tsugawa Nursery.

Information at these businesses' websites: Tsugawa Nursery; Yard 'n Garden Land.

Oregon Yard, Garden and Patio Show

What: More than 300 companies with exhibits and showcases on a host of garden, yard and patio related topics.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland.

When: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8 and 9, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 10.

Cost: $12 at the door, free for kids age 12 and under.

Information: Click here.

There's just something about the cold, bleak February weather that blares out, "It's gardening time!"

OK, maybe not quite so loudly.

But there really are many things you can do this time of year to prepare your garden for a great spring and summer growing season.

It's the perfect time to put in bare root bushes, spray plants for certain diseases, prune trees and even plant of a variety of cold-loving vegetables.

"Right now, there's all kinds of stuff you can do," said Doug King, manager of Tsugawa Nursery in Woodland. "It's a great month for bare root fruit trees, shrubs, and even planting vegetables like spinach and lettuce for a quick harvest."

You don't want to dig in frozen soil or if the weather is too wet, but there are usually several days in February where it's dry enough and warm enough to start preparing a plot, he said.

"If your shovel doesn't go in to the ground easy, don't dig," King said. "And if compost is sopping wet it's also not a good time, but more than likely, things will thaw out this month and you can start amending the soil."

If you amend — or mix together — soil and compost in poor conditions, it can make it more clumpy and less workable, said Rob Sculley, who works at the help and advice counter at Shorty's Garden and Home in Vancouver.

"When (the soil is) warmer, you can plant bare root trees, dormant roses, berries," Sculley said. "The most important thing with that is to not plant too deep in our Northwestern soils. Make sure your hole is wider than deep."

Bare root trees and bushes tend to fare better if planted when dormant, because they're less likely to go into shock or dry out when they start budding.

They're also cheaper to buy that way, before nurseries have to put them in pots for spring, King said.

"Our bare root trees, we have them in bins and we bag them for you and give you a planting guide," King said. "In spring, we move them to pots, and they're about $10 more expensive per plant because of that."

Cooler temperatures also create great conditions to plant cold crops, which include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips and watercress, said Mark Sonney, owner of Yard 'n Garden Land in Hazel Dell.

"If the weather's fine, you might want to start them outside," Sonney said. "If there's a cold spell (and the ground is frozen), you might want to start them inside and move them outdoors in March."

Peas, fava beans, radishes, spinach, garlic and onions can also be planted outside starting in mid-February. Planting them in a raised bed is a great idea if you're worried about frozen soil, Sculley said.

"The soil is fluffier and easier to work with, and raised beds tend to be about 10 degrees warmer than the ground," Sculley said. "They're fantastic, and they can really push the envelope on the growing season."

Apartment dwellers who want to grow some herbs or vegetables on their patios can also start off with some of those cold-loving plants. Using seeds is often better than buying a partially grown plant, because the seeds are fairly hearty and you can't always find grown spinach or other vegetables as starts in the spring, he added.

If the weather remains closer to freezing early in the month, gardeners might want to do some dormant spraying. Products for dormant plants can kill overwintering diseases and insects on bare limbs before they restart their growth cycle, Sculley said.

"Diseases are more common than (problems with) insects here," Sculley said. "We've had some rainy mild temperatures this year, and plants can be susceptible to all kinds of diseases."

You want to do that before flowers and leaves begin to pop open on plants. Usually it's safe until mid-February, he said.

Pruning plants while it's cold — so the sap isn't flowing through them — is another good plan for winter gardening. Plants tend to respond better when dead wood and unproductive growth is removed while they're dormant.

"What you don't want to prune are spring flowering plants," Sculley said. "They're already setting their buds to flower and if you prune them, they won't flower."

Indoors, you can start more finicky seeds for plants like tomatoes that you want to move to the garden come spring. Most seed packets will suggest a date to plant them before the last frost date.

In Clark County, the frost date can be anywhere between May 15 and April 15, so Sculley said a good general plan is to assume the last frost will happen around May 1.

If a seed packet said to plant eight weeks before the last frost, for example, you'd want to plant them indoors on or around March 6.

Folks who want a nice lawn in the spring can also get started in February by using products that prevent or kill moss, Sonney said.

"Iron sulfate is usually the best moss killer," Sonney said. "You use that, then wait a few weeks and you can go back with fertilizer."

And February is a good time to weed garden beds with perennials and other plants, he said.

"If you look around perennial beds in February, probably the only thing you'll see popping up are weeds," Sonney said.

If you have questions or need some advice, garden stores in the area offer a variety of services, including free seminars and informational handouts.

"If in doubt, consult a nursery professional," Sculley said. "We're always willing to help."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457;;