Tidewater Gardening - February 2011


Another Snowmageddon?
K. Marc Teffeau


Well ... we will have to wait and see if this February will produce another “Snowmageddon” like last year. Let’s hope that it doesn’t. I’ve had enough snow experience lately, even though my wife, who works for the Caroline County School system, does her “snow dance” just like the kids. The good news is that with the snowfall so far this winter, and probably some more before spring arrives, we should be in good shape, water level wise, for the spring and early summer.
Bring spring into your home early by forcing shrub branches during the drab days of late winter and early spring. Winter honeysuckle (hot Japanese!) produces fragrant, white flowers. Fragrant viburnum has sweet smelling pink-to-white flowers. Japanese Andromeda has white flowers in upright open panicles.
Branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spireas and dogwood can also be forced for indoor bloom. Make long, slanted cuts when collection the branches and place the stems in a vase of water. Change the water every four days. They should bloom in about three weeks. Buds of native trees such as dogwood, spicebush, serviceberry and redbud will blossom indoors, as will azalea, rhododendron and mountain laurel.
For something unique for winter arrangements, consider forcing red maple, buckeye, birch, hickory, larch or oak branches. They will soon unfurl flowers, foliage, catkins or red leaves that change gradually to green. If you don’t have any of these in your yard, try a few branches of similar trees.
As you know, we do occasionally get some weather breaks in February, when the days warm up. This usually happens toward the end of the month. When those nice days occur, there are some gardening chores that you can do outside. Pruning woody ornamental trees is one of those activities. Look over your trees now and remove dead, dying and unsightly parts of the tree such as crossing branches.
Water sprouts that are growing on or at the base of the main trunk can be removed. Remember – do not paint the pruning wounds with tree paint or any other paint. This will impede the wound callousing process that the tree uses to close the wound.
With larger, more mature trees, take the time to give them a good visual examination. Check for any large branches that are dead or dying and large holes or cavities in the branches or trunk.
Trees with large cavities in their trunks should be evaluated yearly as to whether or not they should be removed for safety reasons. When a cavity takes up over 75% of a limb or trunk, the wood could give way anytime. If you have a question about the safety of a specific tree, or need pruning work done on a large tree, contact an ISA Certified Arborist to come out and do an appraisal.
February is also an ideal time to cut down vines which are strangling or weighing down trees or covering shrubs in the landscape. I have a honeysuckle vine that has taken over a shrub rose that has to come out. Down on my stomach I go to work at ground level and whack it out at its base.
Japanese honeysuckle is native to eastern Asia and was introduced into New York in 1806 as an ornamental plant and ground cover. Curse the person who introduced this plague into the landscape – and its notorious counterpart – kudzu!
Vines have a place in the overall landscape design, but if allowed to climb trees and infest shrubs, they may cause damage. Some vines twist tightly around young trees causing deformed ridges in the main stem. Others grow so heavily that their weight can break limbs. They can also grow so vigorously that their foliage blocks the sun from the leaves of the tree.
If time or weather doesn’t allow for complete removal of the vines now, there is an alternative. Cut through the main stems of the vines where they begin to climb the trees. Remove six inches of the vine stem to help assure that the vine will die. Later, during the spring or summer, you can remove the dead vine.
The root section of the vine will sprout again vigorously in the spring. Keep it cut or apply an herbicide like Round-Up to kill out the roots.
Remember – if the vine is poison ivy and you are allergic to it, you can still have a skin reaction to the sap in the vines. Be sure to wear heavy gloves while working around any vines.
Indoor gardeners who want to have tuberous begonias for summer-long flowering in pots, beds or hanging baskets should start the tubers indoors during late February or early March. Sprout the tubers by placing them, hollow side up, fairly close together in shallow, well drained pans. Use a mix of equal parts perlite, sphagnum, peat moss and vermiculite; or chopped sphagnum moss and perlite. This should be kept damp (not soggy) in a shady window with a temperature in the lowers 60s. Transplant the tubers to pots or baskets when growth starts, normally within 3 weeks. Place outside only after all threat of frost has passed.
Geranium seeds started now will produce plants large enough to transplant to outdoor beds in May. Plant in sterilized potting soil, covering them about 1/4-inch deep. If you overwintered geraniums indoors, root cuttings now.
Start slow-developing flowers such as alyssum, coleus, dusty miller, geranium, impatiens, marigold, petunia, phlox, portulaca, salvia, vinca and verbena in late January or February.
If you are a vegetable gardener, February is the time to evaluate any leftover seed you may have. Even under ideal storage conditions, some vegetable seeds have a fairly short life and will probably not be good one or two years after purchase. These include sweet corn, onion, okra, bean and parsnip.
When in doubt, buy fresh seed each season. Send off seed orders early in February to take advantage of seasonal discounts. Some companies offer bonus seeds of new varieties for early buyers.
Don’t throw out leek roots – replant them. In just 60 to 90 days you’ll harvest a second bunch of long, thick stalks just as tasty and tender as the first ones. You can even use roots of leeks bought at the grocery store, giving you, in effect, two leeks for the price of one.
An easy way to get a jump on early spring planting of cool season crops is to use floating row covers such as “ReMay.” You can order this product through garden supply catalogs or check with your local hardware store or garden center.
To hold these covers in place, stretch wire or string at ground level and using clothes pins to attach it. This makes for easy loosening for harvest or just to check the progress of the plants. Floating row covers also help to reduce early insect problems by shielding the plants.
Although we sometimes have a warm spell in late February, don’t rush the planting season. Before working an area in the garden for early season planting, check the soil. It should be dry enough to crumble in your hand before you work it.
Plan on hanging a few vegetable plants on your porch or deck for a convenient harvest. Bush cucumbers, small tomato varieties and even lettuce and spinach can be grown in hanging baskets. Many herbs including chives, parsley and thyme are also well suited to baskets.
This year, plan to grow at least one new vegetable that you’ve never grown before. It may be better than what you are already growing. The new dwarf varieties on the market use less space while producing more food per square foot.
Try growing broccoli raab. This vegetable is best grown in cool weather. The green shoots have an interesting flavor. It is recommended that you cut 6” pieces when the ‘broccolis’ are the size of a quarter. Lightly sauté with garlic and olive oil, use fresh in salads or boiled in soups.
An alternative crop you might try is celeriac. This vegetable takes from 105 to 115 days to mature. Celeriac is a versatile ingredient for soups to sauces because it brings a clean celery flavor. Like celery, celeriac is an excellent source of Vitamin K. It is also a very good source of fiber, a good source of Vitamin C and phosphorous.
Try something different this year! Who knows – maybe the kids or your meat-and-potatoes-only husband will even like it.
Happy gardening!