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Unlock your garden’s potential this February

Gardeners on the Gulf Coast are fortunate to have mild winter weather, giving us flexibility that those farther north can only dream of. Garden plans made in January can be implemented this month, as our weather will soon allow us to plant outside.

Here are some February gardening tasks to put on your to-do list:

Soil samples

Soil tests should be done every three years, as plants use up nutrients. You can send your sample to the Mississippi State University Soil Testing Lab for a small fee. Each sample can be evaluated for up to a dozen crops. You indicate what you’re planning to grow in that bed or field, and results will be available online within a few weeks. Although any time is a good time to test, results take longer in spring, as many farmers use the lab at that time.

Plant

February is still a good month to plant trees and shrubs because they’re still dormant, thus allowing roots to become established before plants start putting on leaves, flowers and fruits. Always dig planting holes twice as wide and deep as the pot or root ball. Mix into local soil a small amount of compost at the bottom of the hole. If roots are compacted or circling the plant, tease them out to encourage roots to grow outward. Backfill the hole, tamping down soil. Water well, adding more soil if needed.

A ring of soil can help capture any rainfall and aid in moisture retention. Mulch around plant, three to four inches at outer edge, one inch close to the trunk. Transplants need at least an inch of water a week. If rainfall doesn’t provide this, supplemental water is needed for at least a year after planting.

Fertilize

Camellias, fruit trees, shrubs, and vines need fertilizing. Pecan trees need fertilizer with zinc. Soil tests will indicate what amendments should be made to each type of plant you’re growing.

Clean garden tools

Garden tools are expensive and made to last many years, some passed down to future generations. To keep your garden equipment in good shape, yearly maintenance of hand tools is easy and inexpensive. Keep a bucket of builder’s sand with oil in your shed. Clean metal shovels, hoes and rakes of accumulated dirt using a stiff brush. Cutting tools should be sharpened with a metal file, then inserted into oily sand several times to prevent rust.

Plan

If not done already, now is the time to plan your garden for next year. A garden record is essential to document what was planted in which row last season. If a particular variety was successful, you may want to replant it. New varieties of vegetables and ornamentals are available through seed catalogues, so order seeds now for direct sow or growing transplants.

Think natives

Last summer’s drought negatively affected non-native plants. Local nurseries are starting to stock more natives, and there are several nurseries in Mississippi that specialize in native fruit trees, shrubs and flowers. Why not give some a try? You may be surprised by how successful they can be in your overall garden design.

Written by Darlene Underwood

Darlene Underwood is a Mississippi master gardener, national
accredited flower show judge and Garden Clubs of Mississippi
third vice-president. Reach her at darlene.underwood@att.net.

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