Gardening in February

– Posted in: Garden chores, Weather

image of Snowy path through the woods
Forget the weeding. That was an anomaly. Back, sort of, to the real February. I say “sort of” because yesterday and today the temperature is hovering a bit above freezing, which is on the warm side for February around here. (Average high for the month is 30F, and my outdoor thermometer registers 35F right now.) More importantly, the sun was shining gloriously all day yesterday. Don’t ask me how to explain this, but it was spring sunshine. I don’t know the science behind it, I only know that there was a different quality to the light than there had been in weeks past, and I had to be out in it. Had to.

What kind of gardening can you do outdoors when the soil is frozen like iron? All right, yes, I concede I could have just gone out for a walk; there’s no law that says one has to be productive all the time. I did one better than a walk: I went on a pruning walk.

Most of you have figured out that we live in the country, and some of you may already be aware that we have a system of paths threading through our mostly wooded 15 acres. What I did yesterday could be called trail maintenance. Pruners in one hand and loppers clutched in the other, I started walking the paths, looking for errant branches that might conceivably whack foreheads, poke eyes, or scrape the knuckles of the wonderful person operating the brush mower–the one who, let’s not kid ourselves, really maintains the trails.

There were a few occasions where I had to drag fallen branches off the path, which had been knocked down sometime this winter either by the weight of ice and snow, or more likely, by the terrific wind we had last Friday. (Unlike Sign of the Shovel, we didn’t lose power–though I had expected to.) But for the most part I just kept my eyes open for anything that looked like it might grow into the path come spring. I either followed the branch back to the main trunk and lopped it off there, or I cut the twig back to a bud that faced away from the path. Which pruning cut I made depended on a lot of factors, such as how thorny the tree or shrub was, how fast I thought it grew, how ornamental I felt it to be (Juneberries are coddled; hawthorns are dealt with severely, and brambles are cut to the ground) and how wide the path was at that point.

Calming, meditative work. Glorious sunshine. Ah, gardening in February!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Kathy Purdy February 23, 2006, 9:13 pm

Judy–so sorry to hear about your accident. If soreness is the worst of it, I guess it could have been worse. I think a lot of our trails started out as deer trails, but we’ve widened them. White-tail deer don’t have the bulk of moose and elk.

jenn February 22, 2006, 4:01 pm

I think the dramatic pruning might have varied success based on the age of the wood.

In my youth we had a pair of what I believe were annabelles that had been grown to a standard, and then coppiced yearly.

They had a nice shape, huge leaves, and flowered abundantly. This was in zone six.

I also know that many vigorous bushes can be treated like woody perennials in the border – trimmed down to a few inches above ground every year and kept to a border height. I’m thinking if I ever get another purple smokebush I might try this.

(My first was a large transplant that did okay the first year in its new home, and then slowly faded away. In retrospect, it needed to be in better soil than the sand it ended up in. Duh.)

Judith February 22, 2006, 1:52 pm

Definitely something about the angle or intensity of the sun feels springy some days, doesn’t it? And especially as it’s moving north quickly now.
One day we gained a half hour of sunshine as the sun rises now north of Black Mountain rather than south of it.
We had a mild week and one sunny day like that I got some raking done up near the house where there’s no snow, gingerly as I’m sore from a car accident, and then it was back down to zero. The germinators keep me busy indoors now anyway. Some of Mom’s crocus at her foundation are blooming–none of mine are even sprouting yet.

And I confess I just use the game trails when I walk in the woods, the deer/elk/moose folk do the bushwhacking for me. Enlightened laziness?

I don’t grow hydrangeas, but I agree if you’re going to cut off all the sustenance they have stored in their wood, you’d do well to feed them extra to make up for it. Some things (Potentilla for example) don’t seem to mind such drastic treatment, but after a while they can dwindle without replacement TLC.

Kathy Purdy February 21, 2006, 9:55 pm

Michele–I don’t have Annabelle hydrangeas, but those chop them down to the ground scenarios always make me nervous. Being the cautious type, I would probably prune one or two hard and leave the others be, and then compare. If you know someone who’s actually done it, and the shrubs grew just fine, ask them if they take special pains to baby them after the surgery. I always find it hard to believe that a plant would take such drastic pruning in stride. Surely it must need top-dressing or extra watering to make it through, and I commonly forget to provide such aftercare. But you’re probably better about such things, in which case, prune away.

Laurie Gano February 21, 2006, 6:41 pm

My winter chores consist of pruning whatever needs doing after using most of the watersprouts on my apple trees to smoke sausage earlier. I got most of it done last week on a quiet day in the 40’s. The next day it plummeted down to below zero. The low temp was -33 here, some in our neoghborhood had -40. Ugh! And there’s virtually no snow cover. So I am back inside the house quilting!

Zoey February 21, 2006, 6:40 pm

That sounds like it was a wonderful way to spend a winter day!

I don’t venture out until at least April.

Michele Owens February 21, 2006, 6:24 pm

I am thinking it’s time to cut all the Annabelle hydrangeas in my garden down to a few inches. I’ve never done it before, but I noticed that people who do cut them down wind up with nicer-looking plants.

Alice Nelson February 21, 2006, 2:42 pm

My February gardening consists of thinking about various clients’ gardens and the challenges they present, like one where the backyard is almost completely rock with cracks and fissures, and another business place that will have about 150 feet of fence in an area that is quite linear. I alsohave lots of plants that I have held over and that need caring for.
With three feet of snow and the zero temps we have had finally, inside jobs are the way to go.