February: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, I guess January showed us!!  Obviously, winter is still a thing in North Carolina—all of North Carolina.  We got “teened” to death and then there were the three-in-a-row weekend snows.  Enough already!  Now it’s February and time for winter to go back to Canada (or Vermont) where people actually claim to like it.  My theory is that the extended periods of excessive cold have a detrimental effect on one’s cognitive functioning.

Did I mention that it’s February?  Time to at least contemplate gardening things again.  Deadline prevents me from incorporating the official prognostications of esteemed groundhogs Phil and Sir Walter, but there is stuff to do no matter their dubious forecasts.


Cool season grasses (bluegrass—sans banjoes—and fescue) are eagerly awaiting their first feeding of slow-release fertilizer.  They trust that you had the soil tested in the fall so you will apply the right amounts of N, P & K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium).

Late February/early March is also the best time to apply preemergent herbicide.  Do it before the dogwoods (Cornus sps) bloom for optimum control.  Read the product label and calibrate the spreader.  Too little product won’t give you the control you want and too much will displease the turf itself.  No one wants unhappy turf.


See “LAWN CARE” above and “PLANTING” below.


Of course you can start planting!  This is The South (except for last month when it wasn’t) and the veggie garden is just lying there waiting to be productive again.  Plantable stuff includes cabbages, carrots, leaf lettuces, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips.  Add the amount of fertilizer recommended by NCDA in the results from the SOIL TEST you had done last fall. (Yes, there’s a theme here.  Soil tests are free from April through November.  Soil nutrient levels and pH change over time.  So, test it, already.)

If the soil dries out a bit you can divide perennials that didn’t get divided last fall.  Right, fall is the better time to do that little task, but I didn’t get mine done because it was so very dry and the family comptroller with whom I reside was already dismayed over the water bill.  Ergo, perennials are still multiplying when they actually need dividing so I can add them to the garden without subtracting from their overall health.


Final call for pruning fruit trees and bunch grapes.  Best to accomplish this before the sap commences to rise.

Many summer flowering trees and shrubs that flower on new wood (this year’s growth) react favorably to late winter pruning.  Plants like butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), rose of Sharon (Hibiscus serriatcus), certain hydrangeas (H. arborescens & H. paniculata) and crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps) can be pruned now.  A word on crape myrtle pruning:  It should be limited to thinning of excess stems and broken branches.  Crape murder (the irrationally severe butchering of the entire plant) should be avoided.  The plant won’t like it and the new aesthetic is horrendous.  It is better to transplant the plant that doesn’t fit the space to somewhere more appropriate and replace it with a crape that will fit the space.  There is a vast array of hybrid plant varieties in nearly all the colors and sizes to select from.  Also, it’s an excuse to visit a local nursery or two.  (You needed an excuse?!?)

Ornamental grasses should be cut back this month before the new shoots emerge.

About those overgrown broadleaf foundation plantings that you’ve been tip pruning for years just to keep them off the house, but not from blocking the windows.  Whack ‘em.  They will be just fine.  Cut them back to 15”to 18” (disregard the 1/3 rule for this excursive).  Cut them now and be amazed by mid-May when they are all green and leafy and away from the house AND you can see out the windows.  Astounding.


Yup, for some of y’all it’s time.  Peaches and nectarines need a fungicide treatment to control leaf curl.  Applying a horticultural oil to problem plants now will control several insects and diseases on many plant species.  The oil smothers whatever form the pests have overwintered as.


Play with some hardwood cuttings and start some stuff for the Spring Plant Sale (or to share with friends).  Plants that can give you hope for a reasonable amount of success include crape myrtle, (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomeles sps), junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraeas (Spiraea sps) and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

Remember the delightful mid-month holiday celebrating the patron saint of lovers, bees and epilepsy with a tradition of gifting significant relations (especially the romantic kind) with brightly colored (mostly red) plant material (I suppose I should also mention chocolate, but it should be covered under the “plant material clause.)  This is such a lovely gesture particularly for gardeners.  In the interest of equality and inclusivity it is here noted that this is a gender-neutral holiday.  So, find somebody to love and give ‘em a flower (and /or chocolate).  Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.  March and therefore Spring, is only 28 days away.  Woo Hoo!  Bring it!

*Resources and Further Reading

NC State Extension Organic Lawn Care Guide

NC Extension Gardener Handbook – Vegetable Gardening

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

How to Prune Specific Plants

NC Extension Gardener Handbook – Tree Fruits and Nuts

NC Extension Gardener Handbook – Propagation

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)