Seasonal Tips for Gardening Zones February-March 2003

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ILLUSTRATION: DIANE A. RADER
Timely gardening tips for where you live.

Learn about current February and March  seasonal tips for gardening zones in the U.S.

New England/Maritime Canada Gardening

Winter for the Northern gardener is a time to read the
catalogs and plan next spring’s garden. Fruit trees can be
pruned from January at least until March. If you are going
to graft, cut scion wood now and wrap it in four or five
layers of plastic to store in the refrigerator. (The
plastic protects the wood from any ethylene gases emitted
by fruit in your refrigerator) Start early seedlings of
leeks, onions and celery; even peppers can be started in
late February. Wait until March for most other veggies.
Check the root cellar and pantry for spoilage in onions,
apples and squash. If there is a small problem, make soup.
If the problem is worse, consider freezing food before it
all rots.

Mid-Atlantic Gardening

Improve your germination rates by starting seeds in an
incubator. You can create a toasty, well-ventilated spot
using an old refrigerator, a shielded lightbulb and a small
fan powered through a thermostat set at 86 degrees. Use the
incubator to presprout radish, spinach, pea, carrot and
beet seeds on moist paper towels — then plant them
outside under row cover as soon as they send out their
first little roots. Start seed for transplants of bulb
onions, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce,
and some early tomatoes and peppers. Plant cool-weather
greens in a cold frame for a jump on the season. Try some
globe arti chokes in a cold frame, too — if exposed
to temperatures between 35 degrees and 42 degrees while
they are young, they often produce the same year. Plant
potatoes around St. Patrick’s Day for high, early yields.

Southern Interior Gardening

February and March are transition months for Southern
gardeners. By now you’ve already planned out (or at least
thought about) your garden for the upcoming season. In
February, start warm-season crops (tomatoes, cucumbers,
peppers, eggplants, etc.) indoors to have healthy
transplants ready to plant after winter’s last frost. Till
soil four to six weeks before transplanting. This also is a
great time to get your soil tested and add any nutrients it
might need. Other activities for these months include
pruning — especially roses (See “Pruning Made Easy,” page 78 in this issue).

Gulf Coast Gardening

Garden fever starts early along the Gulf Coast. Our average
last frost is around mid-February, but often we can plant
tomato transplants in early February. A lot depends on how
many you are planting. If you’re only setting out a dozen
plants, then take a chance — and keep the covers
handy. Wait until March to transplant cold-sensitive
eggplants and peppers. Plant a late crop of broccoli and
lettuce transplants in early February and sow fast-growing,
seeded crops like radishes, turnips and mustard. March
begins the hectic planting of warm-season crops like beans,
corn, cucumbers and melons, but whit until April to sow
hot-weather crops like okra and southern peas. Apply a
dormant-oil spray to fruit trees early this season before
they begin to break dormancy. Don’t forget the flower beds
— plant dahlias and gladiolas now. In March, plant
sunny beds with seed or transplants of marigolds, zinnias,
gomphrena and rudbeckia, and brighten shady spots with
impatiens and caladiums.

Central/Midwest Gardening

Spring is coming! Time to start many plants inside —
be sure that you are beginning with disease-free
conditions. Wash used trays and inserts, and fill with a
quality seed-starting medium. Peppers will not germinate
well at room temperature — keep them at a constant 80
degrees for best success. To avoid leggy plants, keep your
light source as close as possible to the seedlings. Wait
until the soil outside is workable and about 50 degrees to
seed some early flowers and greens. If you are itching to
plant outdoors, try using a cold frame or a mini-greenhouse
tunnel to heat up a patch of soil.

North Central and Rockies Gardening

Sprinkle fireplace ashes on lingering snow to warm your
garden soil weeks early. After the soil warms to 40
degrees, begin planting frost-tolerant greens like arugula,
Chinese cabbage, cress, kale, mustard, bok choy and
spinach. To speed germination, cover with fabric row covers
or, if you are more ambitious, make a simple cold frame. I
(Bill McDorman) built one from a great set of plans found
in the book Solar Gardening by Leandre Poisson (on
MOTHER’S Bookshelf, page 129 in this issue). My community garden plot,
where I used the cold frame, was the only plot completely
green at the beginning of May. I was harvesting delicious
greens when most of the gardeners were showing up to plant
their first seeds. Don’t rush the season when starting
tomato and pepper transplants. Small, vigorously growing
plants will surge ahead of stressed, larger ones.

Pacific Northwest Gardening

Time for green thumbs of the Pacific Northwest to come out
of hibernation. Garden peas and sweet peas can be planted
directly into the garden as early as mid-February. To give
the sweet peas a jump-start on the season, lightly scratch
the seed coat with sandpaper and soak the seed in water
overnight. Transplant or direct-seed lettuce, spinach,
mustard and other greens, protecting them with a cloche or
row cover. This is also the perfect time to start many
vegetable, herb and flower seeds indoors. Build a compost
sifter of hardware cloth nailed on a frame of 1 by 4-inch
boards and add the sifted “garden gold” to your soil mix
for flower and vegetable starts. This is a great way to
concentrate all the nutrients around the transplant roots
for season-long feeding. Cool-season cover crops will
nourish summer plantings if you sow them now and turn them
under in late May.

Southwest Gardening

In central California, we go through exceptional droughts
at least once every 10 years where, by law, we are forced
to stop watering the European turfgrass lawns for the
summer. They die, then everyone rolls out new turf when the
drought restrictions are lifted. Wouldn’t it be better to
expect and prepare for future droughts with native plants
in our landscaping and thick mulch in our vegetable
gardens? One strategy is to plant vegetable varieties
adapted to growing in drought conditions, like tepary beans
from the Pimas of central Arizona and Hopi corn developed
to grow in sand dunes without irrigation. Hot peppers also
are a good choice. The beauty of growing a pepper crop in
these conditions is that the hot weather and lack of water
really help to develop the heat of the peppers.


Our thanks to the following for their contributions to the
Almanac: Roberta Bailey, FEDCO Seeds,
Waterville, Maine; Cricket Rakita, Southern
Exposure Seed Exchange,
Mineral, Virginia;
Connie Dam-Byl, William Dam Seeds, Dundas,
Ontario; Matt Barthel, Seed Savers
Exchange,
Decorah, Iowa; Bill McDorman,
Seeds Trust/High Altitude Gardens,
Hailey, Idaho;
Josh Kirschenbaum, Territorial Seed
Company,
Cottage Grove, Oregon; Rose Marie
Nichols McGee, Nichols Garden Nursery,
Albany,
Oregon; Craig and Sue Dremann, Redwood City Seed
Co.,
Redwood City, California; Dean
Lollis, Park Seed Co.,
Greenwood, South Carolina;
William D. Adams, Burton, Texas.