Early February – What to Do in the Garden

Blireana_budsGiven the strange weather we’ve had so far this winter I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the plants and trees are showing signs of life. I see white blossoms on Flowering pears and the huge pink flowers of Saucer magnolia starting to open. My Blireana flowering plum is covered with rosy buds ready to scent the garden with fragrance when they open. This mild weather signals the birds to eat as much as they can in preparation for the breeding season. The other morning an Anna’s hummingbird landed on the mulched ground to pick up a spider or insect. Hummingbirds seek out small insects during the breeding season as they contain the protein needed to start a family. Spring is afoot to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes.

Seemed I had so much time to complete my winter-dormant season gardening chores a month ago. But time has a way of getting away from you and now I need to do some of the more important tasks in the next few weeks. I’m not a “weekend warrior” type, preferring to enjoy working in my garden so I’ll just do a little here and there until I’ve gotten my list checked off. Here are my priorities.

I used to live in mostly shade where invasive and noxious weeds were not a Hedge_parsley_weedproblem. I now live in more sun in Bonny Doon and I am engaged in a great battle. There exists here an annual weed that produces seeds covered with tiny burrs. They stick to your socks, your shoelaces, your dog’s fur, your pants, your gardening gloves- anything that brushes against them and they are nearly impossible to remove. It’s called Hedge parsley or Torilis arvensis and now is the time to control it. If you have this weed on your property pay attention to the following advice. It applies to most any annual weed you might need to get rid of.

My goal is to prevent the production of seed in this obnoxious weed. Hedge parsley can set flower umbels as early as late spring so I still have some time to get a handle on it before the dreaded spiny balls appear to ruin my clothes and the dog’s fur. I prefer to use non-chemical control methods. These are more time consuming but life’s a trade off the way I see it.

In larger areas where I see this weed has germinated I can cut the taproot with a hoe or spade 1-2” below the surface. The seedlings look like small carrots or parsley now. Do not rototill or turn the soil. This will just bring up more buried seed.

I can also pull the seedlings while the soil is moist if they are growing next to or within a perennial or shrub. If some still persist when the flower stalks start to lengthen but well before they have gone to seed, I’ll mow or weed wack them down. I may have to do this a time or two but I’m determined that this noxious weed will not rule my life and prevent me from wandering on my hillside come fall. There’s a saying about weeds- “One year’s seeding means seven years’ weeding”.

I also might try a homemade natural weed herbicide in a few areas. The recipe is 1/2 gallon vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons dish soap. Worth a try on this annual weed. In a nutshell, weeding is one of my top priorities.

Later mid to late February I’ll have other tasks to add to my list. Right now I’ll concentrate on pruning roses, hydrangeas, fuchsias, fruit, nut and shade trees and deciduous vines like clematis. Cut back woody shrubs to stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage, artemisia and butterfly bush. You can cut back these plants close to the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Prune them lightly after blooming.

I’ll also wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost. It’s been fairly mild at night lately but the next month or so can bring a cold snap.

I won’t prune spring flowering shrubs and trees like lilacs, flowering cherries, plums and crabapples, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela or spirea until after they flower.

As always spend as much time enjoying your garden as you can. Reward yourself for your efforts.