By Gary Crispell, EMGV
Wasn’t January fun? A little rain (well, maybe more than a little) every two or three days whether we needed it or not, and sometimes a day of sunshine in between. We had some nights in the low 20’s and some days in the low 70’s. Fortunately, no more 10’s and no snow. I grade it out as a net plus.
The ACG (that’s short for the Accidental Cottage Garden) is asleep except for a lone grape hyacinth (Muscari sps.), Family Asparagacea!?, with a single open bloom. I would have missed it except our nine-year-old grandson who doesn’t miss anything pointed it out. The most exciting event here lately was the great horned owl (Buo virginianus) that landed in the driveway a couple of evenings ago. It just sat there until I closed the garage door. Then it employed some of its mystical wisdom and removed itself with a silent flapping of its great wings. What a magnificent bird.
So, are you ready to get your hands dirty (mud caked, frozen)? We may have to wait for the winter monsoons to abate along with some of the excess soil moisture. Should that happen, here are some tasks you may endeavor to undertake.
Break out the spreader if you are a caretaker of cool season grasses (tall fescue and non-banjo associated bluegrass). Follow the recommendations from the SOIL TEST you had done last fall and apply a slow-release product. (What?!? No soil tests? Follow the general instruction on the fertilizer bag and get a soil test done in the fall. They are free April through November.) For more information on soil testing see https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/2020/05/nows-the-perfect-time-to-test-your-soil/.
Later this month or early March before the dogwoods (Cornus florida) bloom, apply an accurately calibrated amount of crabgrass preventer. Too little will not provide the control you want and too much may damage the turf.
See LAWN CARE above and PLANTING below
Woo, woo!! Plants and seeds going in the ground! Oh, the anticipation. Warning; Unless you are planting rice (Oryza sativa) or cattails (Typha latifolia) you might want to wait just a bit. As mentioned above, the soil is a bit damp as yet. Most garden plants except the aforementioned genera and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)–doesn’t everybody plant bald cypress in their garden?–find saturated soils less than conducive for optimal performance. That said, when the soil moisture reaches an acceptable level you can plant a spring vegetable garden with any (or all) of these: cabbages, carrots, leaf lettuces, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinaches and turnips. It is assumed (with all the danger implied in that word) by this writer that lime was applied according to NCDOA recommendations from your fall soil test. Now is the time to follow the recommendations for NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer applications.
Prune fruit trees and bunch grapes ASAP to prevent excessive “bleeding” when the sap begins to rise.
Summer flowering shrubs and trees are ready to be shaped and thinned. Plants in this category include rose of Sharon (Hibiscus serriatcus), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (H. arborescens, H. panniculata) and crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia sps.). 1
A word about pruning crape myrtles. Excessive pruning of crape myrtles is referred to in the green industry as “crape murder.” That in itself should tell you something. There are now crape myrtle cultivars available in a wide variety of sizes and a multitude of colors within those sizes. It might be better to remove the plant that doesn’t fit its allotted space and replace it with a cultivar more suited to that space. The plant esthetics will be more pleasing, and you won’t have to prune other than to take out unwanted stems. Win, win.
Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl this summer.
After you prune the rest of the fruit trees break out the sprayer and apply a horticultural dormant oil. (This is a horticultural oil applied to dormant plants, not oil applied to dormant horticulturists in preparation for a massage.)
FEBRUARY DIRT DIGGING DEEDS DECICEDLY DETRIMENTAL TO DELICATE DIGITS
This is a good time to divide perennials that multiplied last summer. (See, your third-grade teacher was right. Math is everywhere.)
While not technically a digging exercise, propagating plants from hardwood cuttings can be a fun experiment this month. Try cuttings from crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia sps.), flowering quince (Chaenomeles sps.), junipers (Juniperus sps.) spiraea (Spiraea sps.) and weigelia (Weigelia sps). Dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone, stick them in a very loose planting medium (pine bark, shredded cypress bark) water frequently and see what happens. For more detailed information on all things propagation check with the Durham County Extension Master Gardener Propagation Team.
Finally, but by no means least important for this edition of the calendar, there is a widely celebrated holiday mid-month that seems to require the exchange of brightly colored plant material (or rocks formed deep in the ground under extreme heat, but we’re not about rocks here) between people who care about each other. You know, significant others or just good friends. One does not have to identify with a specific gender to either give or receive said brightly colored plant material.
And let us not neglect the more roisterous celebration exactly one week later. Laissez bon temps rouler!!
And eat pancakes. I know a place where they will be free (to eat, not run around).
Rosa sps. are red.
Some Viola sps. are blue.
Just to be clear,
Centurea cyanus are, too.
Fabulous February, y’all!
1–Some hydrangeas such as big leaf hydrangeas, also known as French or mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), and oakleaf hydrangeas (H. quercifola) bloom on last year’s wood. If you prune them now prior to blooming, you will have no spring blooms. Prune these plants after they flower, but as a good rule of thumb, no later than August 1.
Resources and Additional Information
For lawn care for cool-season grasses, check out North Carolina State University’s TurfFiles, where you will find information on lawn establishment and maintenance. Two of the most popular cool-season grasses in North Carolina are tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Find links to their maintenance calendars below.
Explore the world of plant propagation through the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook in the online link below. Also, as mentioned above the Durham Country Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Propagation Team holds workshops throughout the year, so check our calendar of events on our website for future dates.
Avoid the improper pruning known as “crepe murder” by employing these simple tips from Clemson University’s Home and Garden Information Center’s factsheet which has great photos of properly and improperly pruned trees.
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