Wednesday, February 08, 2012
February in the Garden
Look closely and you will find flower buds slowly swelling on fruit trees, early spring bulbs, and some very brave perennials. Here in zone eight, February promises that spring is not too far away. It is still cool enough to plant bare root roses, fruit and nut trees, and other flowering ornamentals. Which, by the way, should be going on sale at bargain prices this month; because they need to get in the ground very soon. As the days lengthen, the bare root plants will begin to grow. If they are not able to sink new roots in soil, they will soon expend any stored energy. This will weaken the plants and some may not survive. Act fast and your bargain bare roots will thrive for many years.
It is time to Plant:
Bare Root Plants
When shopping for bare root plants make sure the stems, twigs, and buds look plump and healthy. Any growth of leaf or flower should be minimal, and it should not look wilted or limp. Bare root plants that look dry, are being stored indoors where it is warm, or that have extended much new growth are not really a bargain at any price. Dry or shriveled plants may already be dead. Those actively growing, especially if they are indoors where it is warm, may have already expended any reserves that they would need to adapt to their new environment. Plants that are plump looking but fully dormant or barely showing signs of spring life are the best bets.
Most bare root plants will come with labeling that lets you know what zones they are hardy in, whether they prefer sun, part sun, or shade, if they are drought tolerant or need regular irrigation, and other important information. Be sure to read the labels so you can plant them where they will get the exposure and the care or neglect they need. The labels should also explain how to care for your plants until you get them in the ground and that they need planted right away.
Most importantly, keep your bare root plants outside in a cool or cold spot, until you can get them into the ground, which needs to happen as soon as possible. If you must delay planting them a few days, open the packaging and check the saw dust or other packing material around the roots. It should be moist but not soggy. If it seems soggy, carefully poke some holes in the packaging, without damaging the roots, to allow air circulation. If the packaging material seems dry, poke a few holes in the bottom of the package for drainage, and slowly pour in enough water to moisten everything up.
The first opportunity you get, you will need to dig a hole for your new plant. Take the plant out of the package and carefully inspect the roots. If they are flexible and can be moved without breaking them, gently spread them out so you can get an idea of how wide and deep you should dig. You want the upper-most roots to end up about an inch or so under the surface of the soil, unless the package directs you otherwise. Soak the roots before planting by filling a bucket or other basin with cool to cold water and let them hydrate while you dig your hole.
Finished compost or planting mix can be sprinkled in the bottom of your hole and mixed into the dirt as you fill in around the roots. While many of our vegetables and annual flowers appreciate being planted over buried compost or manure--trees, shrubs, and woody perennials do not.
Careful attention to watering will be necessary for the first year for all bare root plants. They must grow new feeder roots to take up moisture and nutrients. Even drought tolerant varieties need to be watched closely through their first season. After a year or two you can expect them to behave just like any other well established plant in your garden.
Seeds to Start Now
Many seeds can be started indoors this month. Peppers, tomatoes, and gourds, which originated in warm climates benefit from a head start. They all need a warm bright spot to get going, and once they do start growing they may have to be moved up to larger containers before the weather turns warm enough to plant them outside. Those who can’t be bothered with setting up a special indoor germination area can always wait until spring and purchase starts; however, the best selection of varieties is available to those who start seeds.
Many cool season veggies can also be started now. Lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, sugar and snap peas, as well as scallions can be started in six packs—indoors or out, or direct seeded into containers or raised beds.
Don’t forget to plant some flowers! Pansies, violas, larkspur, and sweet peas can all get started right now. They can be planted just like the veggies mentioned above; in six packs, indoors or out, or directly into containers or raised beds.
Spring Planted Bulbs
Catalogs and garden centers are bursting with bulbs that can be planted from now through spring. These bulbs typically bloom from mid-summer through fall, depending on the variety. If you don’t already have gladiolas in your garden, now is the time to think about adding them. Glads are an old fashioned flower prized by gardeners over much of the world. They are available as heirlooms in many colors. There are also modern hybrids which include giant glads up to five feet tall, as well as miniatures and dwarfs that only reach two feet. (Tall varieties should be grown against a fence or wall, unless you are prepared to support them with stakes.) In climates colder than zone eight, Gladiolas must be dug up every fall and stored through the winter. Many people love them so much that they don’t mind this extra work. Unless you live above the snow line or in a particularly cold canyon, we can practically plant our glads and forget them. Our main gladiola worry is hungry gophers. If you have gophers you might want to protect your glads by planting them in buried hardware cloth baskets, in containers, or in raised beds. With nominal care, they will multiply year after year, providing plenty of flowers to attract humming birds and for arrangements.
Straw Bale Garden Report
I have read about straw bale gardens a number of times, and decided to give one a try. Last summer I bought a straw bale for the purpose (I also use them for mulch). I gave up on getting it moist enough to germinate seed after about a week. The straw seemed to resist soaking up water; and what little water it did soak up evaporated right away. I decided I would just let it sit there until fall and try again. (According to what I read, you are supposed to be able to use your straw bale garden for at least two years.) After our rains started in good, I went out to check on the bale. Low and behold, it had self sown parsnips germinating all over the top. I was pretty impressed. That is, until just recently; the middle of the straw bale as completely collapsed. Even though the cords are still in place, it now looks like a sprawled out “U” sprinkled with young parsnip seedlings. The straw in the middle section of the bale is almost completely decomposed. I am so glad I only tried this with one bale and didn’t really expect much from the experiment. Perhaps it works better in other climates, but this is one technique I am not going to recommend for here. (Hoopa, California)
[Note: I wrote this article Feb. '08, and I have since learned that I should have placed the bale so the stalks were perpendicular to the ground, not horizontal to the ground. It would have taken up water much more effectively this way. I am still no expert on straw bale gardening. Even if I had placed the bale more correctly, it may have rotted out in one season. However, this is a very good technique for areas with rocky or unworkable soil--so please don't be dissuade from trying it based on my lack of successful experience.]
Published in the Hoopa People News, 2.2008. Copyright Harvest McCampbell. Please feel free to share short excepts with a link back to the blog post. Written permission is required for any other use.