VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

February in the Garden

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

We are still in mid- winter, but on February 2 we celebrate the returning sun, on Groundhog Day, when days begin to get noticeably longer and brighter. The seed catalogues have appeared, enticing us to plan far more than we could possibly accomplish between now and high summer. Now is the time to walk through the garden, and take a good long look at how we can repair and improve it in the never-ending evolution of the green spaces we all love so dearly. Some planning now will make less work later, and get us outside, moving, stretching gently, and ready for the warm seasons ahead while we await April’s first thaw.


First, Make Lists and Take Names

Carry a notebook on your assessment tours. Make a list of chores that need doing before April. Don’t worry if the list seems long. Mark chores that must be done now, and those that could be started now and finished or postponed into March.
Make a supplies & wish list: potting mix, planter soil, perlite, manure, organic amendments, dormant oil, non-toxic slug bait, tanglefoot, bird netting, tools to replace last year’s breakage, spring bulbs, seeds not ordered from the catalogues. Get the supplies for that building project that didn’t get finished last year so you can work on the next rainy day. Having your list on hand allows you to compare prices, catch sales, and save money during these tough times.


Spring Prep & Plan -- Outdoors

● Turn the compost. If it has turned soggy or sour, add more “brown,” (even pine needles, and bits of mulch
   where it can be spared from the landscape). Cover the bin if needed against rain. This will also help trap heat
   and it will warm up and finish its work.
● Turn under any cover crops as the month progresses. You can postpone this until you spread compost toward
   the end of the month.
● Loosely wrap / drape hedges & shrubs with bird netting against the deer so new growth tips are not eaten. If
   crocus, tulips and hyacinths noses are emerging, cover them as well to protect against mice, deer, rabbits.
● Clean and set out hummingbird wells: the Anna’s are building nests now, and the Rufus will return when the      
   wild current blooms in March. If a feeder is already hung the birds will choose territory near it.
● Clean the bird nest boxes, disinfect against E. coli, and line them with fresh sawdust untainted with chemicals
● Check hoses and sprinkler systems for obvious winter damage, and begin a list of parts to order. This will
   lessen the work later if these are already repaired when all are opened up again, and can spread out
   the cost over a couple of months if more replacement parts will be needed.
● Check your stash of soil and amendments, and list what you have (by volume) so you know what and how
   much to buy. Will you also need more shredded bark or arborist clippings for spring mulch?

Who’s Been Hurt?

● Replant “heaved” bulbs that were planted last autumn. Many round bulbs are pushed up as their roots begin
   growing, and exposed bulbs quickly rot, get drowned, or predated by sow bugs, slugs and birds.
● Check trees and shrubs for snow and wind damage. Make note, then prune and repair over the next 4 weeks.

Who’s Got Wet Feet?

 Take a close look as you walk, and note boggy areas. As our climate changes, winter storms are increasing in number and duration so yards may be developing permanent trouble spots where favourite shrubs and trees are beginning to suffer from standing water or seasonal mini-streams. Rather than planning new drainage, consider turning these places into rain gardens which require much less labour. Move the suffering plants and turf. A mini-bog (it can be as small as 2 ft X 2 ft!) becomes an environment for new plants and wildlife while adding a lovely dimension to any sized yard. The birds rain gardens attract (like swallows and chickadees) not only feast on biting bugs, they will clean your garden of many pests. Rain gardens hold native water in place longer, feed tree and shrub roots during summer drought and slow nutrient run-off in all seasons.

Spring Prep & Plan – Under cover

● Gather up your pots and planters. Check your non-movable planters for repairs. Mark each with a tag of what will be planted. (Recycling centres take unwanted pots and planters, of plastic, wood, metal.)
● Calculate pot volumes (height X mouth width equals volume) and mark each pot. A white wax marker or
   correction pen works well on black pots. Add up the volumes in your notebook for how much to buy.
● Put the garage floor to good use: spread a tarp, empty the old pots, add compost and mix up your potting soil
   and seedling tray soils. Remember, they are very different, so make the seedling soil first unless you buy a
   soilless mix. If you bag the newly refurbished soil after mixing, you can set the empty pots on the patio table
   and umbrella to work there. Because all tis prep work is done now, you can visit this task over time, and just
   plant when the weather warms or as you buy new plants. And you can put the car back in the garage!

Spring Prep & Plan -- Indoor

● Review your seed stash and set aside seed you will not use. Contact neighbours, friends, and your local seed
   saving group; make arrangements for them to pick up your freebies. It can be a wonderful way to get social
   while remaining distant, and it may motivate others to begin their gardening year, too. Any tools to trade?
● Start your seeding trays: annuals, sweet peas, lettuces, tomatoes, tomatillo, squash, slow growing perennials
● Bring over-wintered potted perennials into the light, and give their soil a light watering. If the soil in the
   planters is old, top it up, adding perlite for aeriation and warm castings to activate beneficial bacteria, or set
   pot aside for complete renewal while the plant is still dormant.
● Clean & set up the mason bee condo. Check the cocoons to make sure they are healthy.

Watch the Weather

 There will be many more storms and even freezing days over the next 8 weeks. But that small green house or garden hot box can give you a great jump-start in the newly brightening sun when you put electric warming mats under the seedling trays and perennial fuchsia hangers or tender plants.

I forgot!

● Apply dormant oil and tanglefoot on fruit trees. Oil must be applied before bud burst, and before winter moth females emerge from the ground. Now!
● Fertilize the rhubarb
And finally …
Enjoy. Take it step by step, do a little, dream a little. With list in hand all the work will get done in good time, and your spring garden will earlier, healthier, more satisfying.