February: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, there you have it—our annual snow.  Came and went in the same day.  Mother Nature put it here and she took it away.  Perfect.  Way better than the experiences of my youth in upstate New York.  So, now we can have Spring, right?  No??  Oh.  The seeds you ordered from the catalogue haven’t  A) arrived, B) sprouted, C) grown to transplant size, D) all of the above?  Pick one?  Unfortunately, the deadline for this is before February 2, so I am unable to say how much longer winter will last.  The prematurely plucked from hibernation prognosticator has not yet “spoken.”  However, it is supposed to be sunny on Tuesday.  Draw your own conclusion.

While we are all waiting for whatever there are a few things we can do to remind us that we are all gardeners after all and Spring isn’t nearly as far away as it was at the winter solstice.

LAWN CARE

Time for the 2nd most important fertilizer application for cool season grasses (tall fescue & bluegrass).  Apply a slow-release product as per the recommendation of the SOIL TEST I know you took in the Fall.

Late this month or early March is the ideal time to apply preemergent crabgrass control to all lawns.  Do it before the dogwoods (Cornus florida) bloom to achieve optimum control.  Accuracy is important.  Read the label and calibrate your spreader.  Too little product will not give good control.  Too much may damage the turf.

FERTILIZING

See LAWN CARE above & PLANTING below.

PLANTING

Here we go!  The long wait is over.  Get your hands dirty (muddy, frozen?).  Work that soil.  At least be ready in case it dries out.  Stick some salad greens and root vegetables in the ground.  Things that will tolerate early planting include (in alphabetical order, no less) cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips.  For sure you tested the soil in the Fall when it was free and added the lime recommended by NCDOA.  Now add the fertilizer.

PRUNING

Last call for pruning fruit trees and bunch grapes.  It is also a great time to trim summer flowering shrubs and trees e.g. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps) (Please avoid severe pruning of crape myrtles otherwise known as crape murder.  It isn’t good for the tree and it certainly messes with its aesthetics.), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that  bloom on new wood (H. arborescens & H. panniculata).

Ornamental grasses should be cut back this month before the new growth emerges.

This is also the best time to do any major remedial pruning of broadleaf evergreen shrubs.  If they are way overgrown go for it.  They can be cut back to 12” t0 18” and not only survive, but thrive.

SPRAYING

Those of you with fruit trees it is time to break out the sprayer.  Peaches and nectarines need a fungicide application to control leaf curl.  Shooting your fruit trees with a dormant oil now will help control several insects later in the year.

MORE FREEZING FINGER FEBRUARY FUN STUFF

Do some hardwood cutting propagation.  This time of the year you can take cuttings from plants like crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), Junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps), and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

Perennials can be divided.

Make the bluebird of happiness happy by cleaning out her house.  She and her mate will reward you by moving in in the Spring.

One last thing.  There’s this sorta special holiday that we usually celebrate with plant material of some sort in the middle of the month.  Order it now or sleep on the couch on the 15th.  FYI; flowers as a gift are gender neutral.  Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.

*Resources & Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/organic-lawn-care-a-guide-to-organic-lawn-maintenance-and-pest-management

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/central-north-carolina-planting-calendar-for-annual-vegetables-fruits-and-herbs

**Want to learn how to start your own warm season vegetable garden? Check out our upcoming seminar!
https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/getting-started-with-warm-season-vegetables/

General Pruning Tips
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/general-pruning-techniques#:~:text=Remove%20dead%20branches%2C%20suckers%2C%20crossing,died%20due%20to%20water%20stress.

North Carolina Pruning Calendar
https://polk.ces.ncsu.edu/pruningcalendar/

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
plants.ces.ncsu.edu

Learn With Us

Virtual Garden Tours: Sometimes on these cold, dreary winter days it feels like spring will never arrive! Why not brighten your day by looking at the videos of NC Cooperative Extension’s Pollinator Paradise Garden in Pittsboro? These virtual tours feature many of the garden’s 225 different species of plants and the pollinators and other beneficial insects and critters that depend on this habitat. You can learn about new species of plants to include in your garden. Click here to view the videos on the Growing Small Farms website.

Online Learning: Vance/Warren EMGVs will host an on-line learning series with the theme “Gardening in Harmony with Nature”, featuring presenters from NC State Horticulture, the NC Botanical Garden, NC Audubon and Cooperative Extension. The series will be held on alternate Wednesdays at 1 pm, beginning 2/11. Get all the details, including the registration link, at http://go.ncsu.edu/mastergardenerchat

Virtual Bee Hotel Build-along, Feb. 27, 2021, 1-3 PM: Bring some happiness to your backyard native bees with your very own bee hotel! Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt will kick off this event with the biology of native bees and then the expert crafters at the Makerspace will guide us on a build-a-long. We’ll end up with more understanding and love of our native bees and a hotel for them to call home this spring. For the build: You can bring your own materials from a list provided at this link. Or, for those who do not have saws and want to avoid a trip to the hardware store, we have a limited number of pre-cut lumber kits available for purchase, too ($25, shipping to NC and surrounding states only). Kits must be purchased by February 15th. Registration and more info, here: https://cals.ncsu.edu/applied-ecology/event/bee-hotel-build-a-long/ The event is free to attend with registration, open to all, and we welcome anyone who wants to learn about native bees, whether you stick around for the build or not.

Tomato Project Updates and How-To Videos!

We’ve been diligently adding new content to the “Tomato Grafting Project” of the blog, and wanted to make sure everyone sees what the amazing Durham County Master Gardener Tomato Team has been up to! Check out the Tomato Grafting Project tab, or view our how-to series directly below.

While 2020’s grafting trials may be over, we’re excited to hit the experimental plots again this summer to try out several newly developed tomato cultivars against some old favorite heirlooms and hybrids. We’ll be testing productivity and flavor (do heirlooms really taste better across the board than hybrids in blind taste tests?) to see which cultivars really shine in terms of performance and tastiness. Watch the Tomato Grafting Tab for updates!

Learn With Us, January 2021

Learn With Us has a new format! Some in-person programming will be happening in 2021, but space is limited to allow for distancing. Instead of publicizing events happening in the following week, we will advertise events further in advance to allow more time for registration. Since most lectures and presentations are still virtual, we will be posting links to programming in Durham and beyond, highlighting a few talks while providing our readers with the opportunity to view full schedules of events if desired.

Virtual Programming from Durham County

Durham Garden Forum: January 19, 7:00 – 8:30 PM.
Our program this month is on “Tomato Grafting” presented by Dr. Ashley Troth, Extension Agent, Agriculture, NC Cooperative Extension Durham County Center and Kathryn Hamilton, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer. Learn how to get the best of both worlds – great tomato taste and vigorous, disease resistant tomato plants in your garden by grafting two tomatoes together. You will receive all the information needed to do this on your own in the spring. This Zoom presentation is being made available free of charge. Register here: https://ncsu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUrd-uvrzojGdKhYoZN2iGx9qjB9MmDr7aw
A confirmation email with information about joining the meeting will be sent. Contact durhamgardenforum@gmail.com for information on future programming.

Getting Started With Warm Season Vegetables: February 11th, 2021, 6-8 PM
For more information and registration: Getting Started With Warm Season Vegetables | North Carolina Cooperative Extension
This class is part of the Bull City Gardener Learning Series – see the full schedule of online and in person events here: go.ncsu.edu/bullcitygardener2021

Integrated Pest Management (Workshop for small fruit growers): February 23, 2021, 6-7:30 PM
Additional information and registration link here: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/01/upcoming-online-workshops-for-small-fruit-growers/

Programming from Sarah P. Duke Gardens: Duke Gardens Winter 2021 Adult Programs – Browse program listings

Events at JC Raulston Arboretum (many are online): https://jcra.ncsu.edu/events/calendar/index.php

Follow this link to learn about several NC Cooperative Extension webinars in February that may be of interest to gardeners:
https://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/01/piedmont-landscape-and-green-industry-2021-webinar-series/

January: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Well, THAT year is gone. It’s hard to decide whether to be happy, sad or both. It seems premature to be relieved. Perhaps we can be hopeful that the light we see at the end of the tunnel is a good thing and not an Amtrack express train. We can be hopeful that the vaccines will be successful against Covid-19 and its mutant offspring and that enough of the world population will get vaccinated to at least cage the beast. Perhaps we will be able to salvage at least part of the summer and plus the Fall/Winter holidays. Let us be optimistic. Let us GAR—DEN! (A word about the weather; When NOAA predicted a wetter than normal December, I did not anticipate the potential for rice paddies in the backyard. I shall re- access the backyard plan.)


LAWN CARE
Keep the accumulations of leaves off the turf. They should be through falling by now making that job easier.

Think about how you could change your landscape to eliminate some (or all) of your grass. It is after all the most expensive planting in the yard (unless you have an extensive planting of tea roses) and the most ecologically unsustainable. Just sayin’.


FERTILIZING
Not much here either unless you need a place to dump wood ashes. You can spread them on the veggie garden, bulb beds or non-acid loving shrub beds if the pH is low, <6.0.


PLANTING
See introductory paragraph.

Should the soil dry out enough to actually be workable asparagus crowns can be planted now.


PRUNING
Sharpen those hand pruners and loppers and go to work. Here’s your get-out-of-the-house excuse. Studies have shown that January pruning cuts heal more rapidly than those made in other months. So, take down those branches over hanging the house and the ones that shade that corner of the garden. Cut back those misshapen or overgrown shrubs. Please prune the branches individually to shape the plant. Unless you are trying to recreate Buckingham Palace or Versailles or the Imperial Palace in Tokyo leave the power hedge clippers where they are. Shearing is not the best thing you can do for a plant. However, if you must…be sure the finished product is wider at the base than the top. This allows sunlight to reach the lower leaves and keep the plant looking full from top to bottom. When pruning entire branches of anything make the cut at the outside of the branch collar (flared area at the branch origin).


SPRAYING
Did you bring in some friends when you brought in your houseplants for the winter? Yeah, me, too. Try to catch a warm day and run the plants outside for a quick dose of a light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Be sure to READ THE LABEL!


HINTS FOR STAYING WARM AND DRY UNTIL MARCH
Wear lots of clothes when you go outside, ‘cause I know you are going to go outside. You’re a gardener.

Seed catalogues are highly entertaining and in abundant supply. Enjoy!

Put up a squirrel resistant (squirrel proof is an oxymoron) bird feeder.

Google (or Bing or whomever) North Carolina native plants and determine if there might be something new and interesting you could add to your landscape. (or just check out the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox)

Make homemade soup with the bounty from your garden and drink warm beverages.

Stay warm. It’s only two months until March.

*Resources & Further Reading

Organic Lawn Care Guide
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/organic-lawn-care-a-guide-to-organic-lawn-maintenance-and-pest-management

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Annual Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/central-north-carolina-planting-calendar-for-annual-vegetables-fruits-and-herbs

General Pruning Tips
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/general-pruning-techniques#:~:text=Remove%20dead%20branches%2C%20suckers%2C%20crossing,died%20due%20to%20water%20stress.

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
plants.ces.ncsu.edu