February is an excellent time to work outside – cool temps, no bugs, no hurry. Here in Missouri Zone 6, in the time of Imbolc (an ancient Gaelic celebration of Spring), just after The Day of Marmota Monax (according to him, Spring will be early this year)
and well into the Mayan New Year, the sun is shining, the temperature is in the upper 40’s, and it is quite pleasant. Which brings us to how now is a good time of year to do a few things for your landscape, and your trees and shrubs will thank you.
Prune for Structure
If you haven’t already done so, corrective pruning works well now because the plant’s energy is still in the roots. It is much less stressful for the plant or tree if you do a more vigorous pruning when the plant is dormant. You can easily see the branching structure of your trees and shrubs, and at this time of year, you won’t have to dispose of all the leaves. Be careful that you do not cut off your spring flowers, because many of the spring flowering plants are budded and just waiting for enough warmth to open up. These particular plants (viburnum, lilac, azalea, etc.) should be pruned after flowering. So, you don’t want to tip-cut the early blooming plants like this, but it is okay to remove old canes that are less vigorous. Cut those canes back as close to the ground as you can. Keep in mind that maple pruning at this time will cause a lot of sap loss, unless you want to collect it in a bucket and cook it down for maple syrup! It’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for dead wood and remove it when you see it. Dead limbs provide an entry into the live wood for insects and rot.
Cut Back Grasses
Now is a good time to cut your grass! Ornamental grasses (such as liriope/monkey grass, maiden grass, fountain grass, etc.) should be cut back to about 6″ from the ground for larger grasses and about 2″ from the ground for smaller monkey grass. When the dead or old grass blades are gone, the soil will warm up faster; the plant will begin to grow sooner and will look lovelier.
The spring digging season is about to begin. Now is a good time for transplanting deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, and to make arrangements to plant larger trees and shrubs that will be field dug at the nursery. This timing will help you get better choices, as quality plants can get picked over by spring. Also, early planting eliminates transplant shock when no foliage is exposed. You will also be able to take advantage of the spring rains and have less watering and maintenance work. If you have very little experience, I recommend you consult a Horticulturist for advice on transplant information regarding your specific plant or tree choice and your location and/or help in accomplishing your goals.
For the DIYer, some things to bear in mind, which is not total but will give you a good start when planting a new nursery tree or shrub:
1) “Call Before You Dig”, that is, dial “811”;
2) Be certain that the plants you have chosen will work well in your landscape – Does it need well-drained or moist soil? Will the plant like the intense heat/sun on the western side of your house or does it prefer the sunny south or cooler north side, or what?
3) The width of the new hole you dig should be twice the size of the root ball, and the depth should be a little bit shallower. If the root ball is planted in too much depth, the tree could drown; too high, it could dry out. Create a little ring of dirt around the root ball that will bring some water to the roots and not dry out too fast. Mulch and water it in.
4) When digging out a shrub, keep as much of the soil and root base intact as possible. Move root ball and place it in a newly dug hole that is well-aerated and larger than the root ball. Then, you can fill it in with amended soil, if the original soil is not adequate. Keep the base of the plant slightly higher than the surrounding dirt. Mulch and water it in.
A Word About Natives
We really want to encourage native plants and edibles instead of large areas of mono-culture non-native lawns. In fact, check out this blog about starting a veggie garden (with great resources too!). Also, read this article if you would like to know “How to Start an Organic Garden in 9 Easy Steps”. Try to buy or grow as many native plants, shrubs and trees as you can; they will attract all manner of birds, butterflies, bees, and dragonflies, will resist drought and require less water once established, and they do not require chemical inputs to survive. Many natives are perennials or will reseed, giving you years of enjoyment from the original plant or seed.
Take Time for the Small Pleasures
Implementing these suggestions now will help you stay caught-up in your landscape gardening. Instead of hurrying through spring with the usual business of over-burdened schedules and appointments and last-minute gardening, you can approach the excitement of spring in an unhurried manner, able to pay full attention and smile. 🙂