February is a time for planning the garden

February 15, 2012
The lilac plant is a sure sign of spring. Start planning the garden today by looking through catalogs and ordering plants.

It is February and one may wonder why we have winter at all.  In Greek mythology, Hades kidnapped Persephone to be his wife, but Zeus commanded Hades to return Persephone to her mother Demeter. Hades tricked Persephone into eating the food of the dead.   So in an ancient “child sharing" arrangement, Zeus ruled that Persephone would spend six months with her mother Demeter and six months with her husband Hades.   Poor Demeter missed her daughter so much when she was away that Demeter became depressed and gave the world winter.

Therefore, winter is really not a time of despair, but a time of getting ready for the return of all things sunny.

Now is a good time to plan and order perennial plants, trees, seeds and bulbs for flowers this summer.

Try easy-to-grow flowers such as lilacs, phlox, daisies, coreopsis, coneflowers, iris, asters and lilies.  While you are at it, inspect your stored bulbs and toss out any that are soft or diseased.

In a warm winter, it is tempting to rush spring by pulling back the mulch from perennials too early. In fact, it is a good time to patrol the garden and add to the mulch.

Otherwise, you risk damage from a spring frost or killing cold weather.

Because trees and shrubs are dormant now, it is a good time to prune.  Cut out any dead or damaged branches.  Also, remove shoots growing up from the base of trees, known as “water shoots.”

As a bonus, any of the branches you cut from pussy willow, all fruit trees, forsythia, lilac, dogwood and flowering quince can be forced for indoor bloom. Make long, slanted cuts at the base of the branches and place the stems in a vase of cool water. Change the water every few days and the blooms will last for weeks.

Keep feeding the birds through February and into March.

Order plants that provide bird food this year such as crabapples, bayberry, honeysuckle, and mulberry.

Red holly berries not only provide welcome color in February, but also are a favorite bird food.  Some shrubs such as butterfly bush (Buddleia) attract birds in the summer and fall, not with seeds, but with nectar.

February can be a time for reflection and planning in the garden.  Soon enough it will be summer’s turn to host your garden, you and perhaps the godess Persephone.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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