Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Natural Gardener: February Gardening

          February in Grants Pass is when the garden and the gardener really start to wake up.  January has its snowdrops, but we don’t really care; it is too cold and dreary to draw us outside.  In February, sunny days get warm enough to make cold weather gear too warm by afternoon, and coax crocuses and daffodils to bloom.

Daffodils in oak leaf mulch for weed control.

February is the time to kill annual springweeds like bitter cress, heron’s bill, groundsel, foxtail and cheat before they bloom and spread; it has been since October, when they started to grow and some started to bloom.  Cut any annual weed under the crown and it will be gone; you can clear a lot of them quickly with gardening scissors or a knife. 
Winter is also time to cut and dig rampant perennials like violets that are in stasis until this month, when they will start to bloom in earnest, set seed and make the matter more urgent.  Cut blackberries back and dig out their crowns.  Dig excess raspberries, transplant them, and prune out dead canes.  You still have time to transplant trees, shrubs and perennials while roots grow before spring top growth begins.  Winter is the best time to do heavy tree pruning with a saw, but lopper work is better done in midsummer.  "Crown" your roses when their buds start to grow, cutting them to the hard crown at the base to stop black spot until fall.
It is also time to start new gardening beds with compost, edging the beds with 6-12” boulders, choosing rocks with flat bottoms from the pile at Copeland.  Leaves can be used in the fall, several inches to a foot thick.  But new beds can be started at any time of year with compost.  One can build compost beds in the heat of summer for summer vegetables and fall perennials, or in the depths of winter for winter and spring planting.  Two inches is good for ornamentals, but six inches will give them a better start and grow great vegetables. 
Compost needs to be covered with coarse mulch like walk-on fir or nugget bark to protect it, roots and seedlings from rain, wind, and drying sun.  Avoid using fine bark, which kills soil with its natural preservatives. 
Blueberries and azaleas don’t even like to be planted into plain soil; they do better set on top of the ground and surrounded by compost covering their roots; their fine, spongy roots will sink into the soil as the compost is worked in by worms.  The more general rule is that #1 pots and larger need to be planted in soil, or they will be left high and dry as the compost is worked in and rots, while 4” and smaller pots will sink into soil with the compost.
          Paths need to be controlled too.  Two inches of wood chips, walk-on fir or ¾ inch nugget bark, will stop most weeds for a season, but need to be refreshed yearly.  4 x 8 sand, ¼-1/8 inch sifted river sand available at Copeland, laid one inch deep, covers mud and makes it easy to hula-hoe and rake young weeds as the sand brings them up.  (It also is good for starting a lawn and covering its mud.)  It is also easy to clean 4 x 8 sand by blowing and raking the tree trash into the beds for mulch.  Some trees, like mimosa, demand it, as they drop sticky flowers half the summer, leaves in the fall, and seed pods all winter, none of which are easy to clean off bark or chips.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040