Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February Garden Plans


Today here is Pennsylvania, we are enjoying a balmy, sunny day. The children are outdoors at the moment reveling in the sunshine and mud. On a day like this, I can imagine that spring is right around the corner.

But in a few days, we will likely have a change of weather and return to the frigid temperatures again. It will be weeks before it is safe to plant, even if it dries out enough to dig in the soil..

But February is a perfect time to make some garden plans. If you spent some time last month evaluating your garden, you are now ready to make some decisions.

Here are the tasks I'm doing or planning this month in my Zone 6 garden.

1. Check old seeds for germination.

I have had good success keeping seeds for several years. The key is keeping them cool and dry. My mother-in-law taught me to keep seeds in the freezer. But even though I have kept seeds for years and still had them grow very well, I don't want to risk a bad crop on old seeds. So I check the germination of any seeds that I'm unsure of – especially corn seeds. If I'm planting early corn, I don't want to find out three weeks later that the seeds never came up and now I only have time to plant a late corn crop. Or worse, the stores may be out of corn seed and I'll lose my whole garden crop.

To check for germination, I choose the seeds I want to test and mark the name on paper towel. Then I sprinkle ten seeds on the paper towel and cover the seeds with a wet but wrung out paper towel. I want it very damp but not soggy. Place the paper towel in a plastic bag and set it in a warm place.

This year I had several kinds of seeds I wanted to germinate so I placed them on their paper towel, one on top of the other, on a pizza pan and covered them with plastic wrap. I placed the pan on top of the fridge.

One week later I check the seeds for germination. (If it takes longer than a week in this perfect warm, moist environment, they are not worth growing.) Since I used ten seeds I can quickly figure out the germination rate. If eight seeds sprouted, it has a 80% germination rate. If the germination was very poor, I throw them out and buy new seeds. If the rate was fair (maybe 70%) I may choose to still use the seeds, just plant them closer together to make up for those that don't sprout. But usually, when in doubt, I buy new seeds.

This year, all the seeds I tested, including some that were over five years old, had a 90-100% germination rate.

2. Place a seed order.

I sometimes buy seeds at my local garden center but by buying by mail order I can get good qualities seeds and a much larger variety.

A seed catalog can be like a walk through a candy store. I typically enjoy perusing the pages of the catalog, reading the descriptions, and circling anything that I'm considering purchasing.

If you don't receive any seed catalogs in the mail, it sure an easy problem to remedy.
Many companies send a free catalog on request. Check out their website for a request form.

A few years ago, I narrowed down my seed companies to one–Stokes Seeds. I'm sure there are many other good companies out there but I have been very pleased with Stokes. I chose them because of their fast service, great selection, good prices, and (probably most of all) because they have extensive trial gardens in Pennsylvania, New York, and southern Canada. I figure that a company that is in my growing zone will have seeds that our best for me.

So wherever you garden, look for a company that is growing seeds for your climate and growing conditions.

My method of placing a seed order is to lay out all my old seeds, my list of garden plans, and the seed catalog. I check off all the seeds I already have. Then I flip through the catalog checking all my scrawled notes. I begin to make a list of seeds to purchase. This is when I try to remember to be realistic. Probably half of the items that first caught my eye don't make it to this list. It is easy to dream of a perfect garden in February but I try to remember August. Most of us gardeners are far too optimistic about our energy and our time. It is demoralizing to plant a garden that is too big to keep after.

Stokes has a very quick and easy way to order online, so after I've made my selection, and checked it twice, I place my order online instead of actually using the mail order form. And before hitting “send” I again go over my list and delete a few items. I really do have a problem of too big of dreams in the winter!

And then the fun of waiting for a package in the mail (which for Stokes was about four days—I am honestly not paid by this company to advertise but I do like them.) All that potential in a few packs of wrinkled seeds. Now I can really dream of spring.

I've done these first two items so far this February, but the rest of these items are yet to be done.

3. Prune grapes.

Pruning is best done in late winter before the sap is running in the branches. It is also much easier to see what you are doing before the branches are leafed out.

There is a right and wrong way to prune but
don't ask me for hints. I study pictures in my gardening books, check online pruning sites, and then jump into the project hoping for the best. In almost ten years, we have only had one good grape harvest. We have had numerous problems, so I don't blame my lack of pruning skills. But neither do I know that I'm doing it right.

Do not prune any of your spring blooming shrubs or you will lose your blooms this year. Shrubs, such as lilacs, should be pruned immediately after they
finish blooming. Fruiting plants, such as grapes, apples, and peaches are pruned in the spring so that more strength goes into fruit production. For other plants, such as clematis, the proper pruning time can vary by type, depending upon whether they bloom from old or new wood.

4. Start early seeds indoors.

I don't start a lot of plants indoors. I don't have a very good place to put seedlings. But maybe since I worked at a greenhouse before my marriage, every February has me itching to put some seeds in the soil. Early flowers and vegetables such as pansies, snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce, can be started in February indoors. Other flowers and vegetables such as tomatoes are not started until March so they don't get lanky waiting for the weather to warm up outside. Fast growing plants like vine crops, basil, cosmos and zinnias, should be started in April or just sown directly in the ground.

5. Roto-till the garden as soon as it dries.

Most of us gardeners are rather impatient to get those first early seeds in the ground. But tilling up wet ground will only cause problems, so
I try not to rush. Our garden lays low and stays wet a long time. We typically don't get into the garden until March and sometimes it has been April.

6. Force some flowering branches.

I have enjoyed forcing some spring blossoms indoors. I cut some branches of our forsythia. Other options include spirea, plum, cherry, or apple. Cut a two inch slit up the bottom of the stem and place in warm water. Change the water every week and wait for blossoms! It is a perfect way to add some spring cheer when there is still snow on the ground.

What are your plans for your garden this month? (Feel free to say "ignore it.")


  1. I'm ignoring it!!! Thanks for the permission to be honest!! I like to garden but I haven't gotten through all my winter projects yet!

    1. Ummm...if we start talking about winter projects - you'll find that I've barely started! Maybe that is why I want to talk about spring - so I can forget what I haven't gotten done this winter!

  2. Ohhhh, my thoughts exactly... sorting seeds, starting things, itching to get out there and go digging!

  3. We never till anymore. We love the Back to Eden gardening method. Check out the movie for free online.

  4. Nothing much happening here yet, on my part. My oldest has taken over all garden chores around here and I don't miss the work. Our last frost is May 15 so we have a while yet. When the harvests start coming in I will handle the preservation.

  5. I wish I had a garden to think about, but maybe I will again this year. We are looking for a house to move to but haven't found anything suitable yet. I miss gardening a lot. However with the termperature around -20 F today, I don't think I'd be thinking about it. I won't be seeing any mud for a long time yet...more like April or May. :) Gardens get planted late May or early June around here....but maybe that's enough time to find a house by then! :)

  6. I want to tell you something about pruning your grapes. I asked a friend of ours once how he pruned his grapes. He told me he looks at how it is growing and anything that is growing where he doesn't want it to grow he cuts it off. I know this sounds funny but I have done this every year since he told me and have had good results so far. The only year I haven't had results is when I listened to someone else and cut them back way too far. Anyway, I thought you would enjoy hearing this. God bless.

  7. Thanks Donna. That is sorta my method. I've looked at lots of info, but when it comes down to it, I just start whacking off what it out of place and let there what seems in the right place. If I can just get on top of our blight problems, I think we would actually get a nice crop. We had a small bucket last year which was the best in several years, so maybe we are having some improvement.

    Thanks again for your input.

  8. No "garden" for us. I'll be lucky if we get petunias going. We have a big construction project this year. Tearing off the old deck & awning & rebuilding it bigger. The flower beds will come out. Been nursing hydrangeas for 8 years (3 of them came from Alabama with us) and in 2014 they were finally BLUE. That figures since they're all coming out in like a month. Flowers & flowering shrubs are about the only gardening to get any attention. While I no longer have children at home - I have a regular full time job out of the home that is better than 40/45 hours a week. One day folks! One Day. I will have a vegetable garden! A good one.

  9. We have ordered our seeds and looking forward to planting! I have been following Home Joys since we bought an acre of land and built our retirement home. I have started a blog about my adventures on My One Acre:
    I have learned to be pretty self-sufficient these past couple of years and want to show others that they can too! Thank you for all your advice, especially on canning!

  10. Thanks so much for the advice on checking to see if seeds are worth keeping..I have lots of seeds a few years old that I have been hesitant to use. I will try this method out!

  11. I can't wait till garden time. We just bought the empty lot next to us to garden in. I have container gardened for the last 13 years and am very happy to add land to the mix also. I have to watch because I always make the garden to big. It is not that I lose energy to do it, it is that there isn't enough room to walk. My goal is to be able to get land and grow enough for my family for the year. Praying this is God's plan also


I love to hear from you.


Related Posts with Thumbnails