Garden Guide: Garden chores in February

Winter is a quiet season in our garden, and my recommendation is to wait until the weather begins to clear up before starting to clean up.

Alex Calamia

Feb 14, 2024, 11:18 AM

Updated 61 days ago

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Winter is a quiet season in our garden, and my recommendation is to wait until the weather begins to clear up before starting to clean up. The dead leaves and perennial skeletons might look ugly but serve a purpose. 
They are a home for some beneficial insects and animals, recharge the soil with nutrients, and add some interesting shapes to the landscape, especially when brown branches are dusted with a fresh coat of white snow. Use this as an excuse to sit back and relax the next few weeks. 
However, if you’re anxious like me to get involved in the garden, there are things to do now! February is the last maintenance-free month before spring, and it’s a great time to plan out next year’s garden. If the ground is thawed out, you can start to work on replacing soil in your garden beds. 

How to make a vegetable garden on the front lawn

My garden is short on space, and that’s why this year I’m turning part of my front yard into a vegetable garden. It’s a lot easier to dig up grass when it isn’t actively growing, so winter is an ideal time to take on the project. 
My front lawn is not treated with pesticides so it is a safe spot to grow fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, the soil here is a problem for crops. Our native soil is perfectly fine for landscape trees and shrubs, but crops have fast growing roots that prefer soil that is loose and full of organic material to feed off of. 

Improving garden soil for crops

To remedy the heavy soil issue, I’m using a “peat moss alternative.” Peat moss is used to help “fluff up” heavy soil so it can hold more oxygen and it also increases water retention. It comes as a dry, powdery fiber made up of dehydrated organic compounds on the bottom of peat bogs. Unfortunately, because peat moss is extracted from sensitive ecosystems, it’s worth considering “peat moss alternatives” containing renewable matter like coconut coir and wood fiber.
Peat moss and its alternatives are sometimes used as a soil medium for seed starting, but they do not contain nutrients. That’s why once plants pass seedling stage, peat moss is mixed in to improve soil, not as a total substitute for soil. 
I’ll also add compost and till that into the soil on my lawn to give a fresh boost of nutrients. 
My raised beds in the backyard are getting a fresh coating of soil on the top to replace some of the soil lost from compaction and erosion over the past year. I’ll use the raised garden bed for herbs and leafy greens. 
How often does soil need to be replaced? 
Lazy gardeners, rejoice! Although it’s important to work on your soil when you are starting a new garden, you can leave your soil alone after that. 
“No till gardening” is an idea that encourages gardeners to avoid mixing their soil year after year. This lets beneficial organisms and bugs in the soil do all the work. So the soil needs to be left undisturbed and all we need to do is add a healthy layer of mulch each winter to protect the organisms in the soil. Gardeners can pile old leaves each winter to use as a mulch that protects the soil from foot traffic, erosion, and wild temperature swings. 

When is it time to prune shrubs? 

There’s no rush here! Pruning flowering shrubs should be done when plants are just starting to grow, or right after the blooms are finished. 
Don’t prune shrubs too soon. The freshly cut wood could be a pathway to problems thanks to our cold winter weather. It’ll also be easier to see where new leaves are sprouting from if you wait a few more weeks, because you don’t want to a branch below all the heathy leaf nodes. Without those leaf nodes, you may not see new leaves sprout from that branch in the spring

When is it time to fertilize?

Most landscape plants don’t require much fertilizer, but I do like to treat my most high maintenance shrubs with some organic fertilizer in March when they start to break dormancy. This gives acid loving flowers like Rhododendron and hydrangea time to soak up some extra nutrients and support a spectacular bloom season. Don’t fertilize too early. Plants are not absorbing as much water or nutrients from the soil when the weather is cold. 


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