Timely Gardening Tips For Where You Live

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Illustration by Diane A. Rader
Tips and tricks for gardening in the United States.

Timely Gardening Tips

New England & Maritime
Canada

When February starts to feel interminable, get outside and
do some skiing, skating or walking. Put on a pair of
snowshoes and pack down the snow around all your fruit
trees. The packed snow is difficult for rodents to burrow
through and may help reduce chewing damage to tree trunks.
Then, warm up back indoors. Sit in the sun with a cup of
hot tea or soup, some homemade dried cantaloupe slices and
a stack of seed catalogs. Soon, March will bring noticeably
longer days, with the sweet smell of spring hanging in the
evening air, and you’ll be back in the garden again. By
then, overwintered and newly seeded greens will be
sprouting; try sowing some cilantro, spinach, mustard and
mache this year. The first genuine mud appears, too, so
don’t get out your garden fork yet. Instead, a sunny day
makes cleaning out the greenhouse a welcome task.

In late March when you’re out and about, don’t forget to
listen for the “Peent” call of the male woodcock as he
whirls skyward, claiming territory and calling a mate.

Mid-Atlantic

“F” is for February and “f’ is for flats. Early in the
month, pull out the flats and start eggplant, parsley,
celeriac, habanero peppers and the last of the dry bulb
onions. In mid-February, seed other peppers, broccoli,
cauliflower, cabbage, celery, Chinese greens and lettuce.
By the end of the month, start the fast tomato seedlings.
Try ‘Zarnitsa,’ a cold-tolerant Russian variety, for an
extra-early harvest, ‘Mule Team’ for heavy main-season
production of top-notch fruits and ‘Strawberry Red’
(sometimes called ‘German Red Strawberry’) for an
exceptional slicing tomato. In early March, transplant
raspberries and blackberries, and shortly after St.
Patrick’s Day (March 17), plant potatoes. ‘Red Cloud,’
‘Carols’ and ‘Rose Apple Finn’ are regional favorites with
high yields and disease resistance.

Also in mid-March, start transplanting cold-hardy greens
(but keep them under row covers), and begin biweekly
sowings of beets, carrots and radishes. Spring has arrived!

Southern Interior

Time to start tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds indoors.
When the seedlings get their first true leaves, move them
to 3-inch pots to grow on until after the frostfree date
for your area. Then, transplant them outside.

Plant cool-weather starts like broccoli and cabbage
outdoors, and sow English peas, snow peas and sweet snap
peas now, before the weather warms up. Try ‘Maestro,’ a
great, high-yielding English pea variety. Also, the nearly
leafless ‘Sugar Lace II’ sweet snap pea and ‘Snow Wind’
snow pea devote their efforts to producing delicious peas
and don’t waste energy on extra leaves. Along with edible
peas, plant some ornamental sweet peas for their wonderful
fragrances and charming flowers; ‘Matucana’ is a beautiful
heirloom variety.

And don’t forget the perennials! It’s a good time to clean
up any lingering dead foliage from last year. Also, many
fall-flowering shrubs and trees can be pruned safely
through March.

Gulf Coast

If you haven’t already worked compost into the garden,
now’s the time. Remember, the gardener with the most
compost wins! Use transplants in February for a quick crop
of lettuce and broccoli before the weather heats up and the
plants bolt. Brave souls transplant their tomatoes as early
as mid-February. These early plants may not last as long
into the season, but July usually ends it for tomatoes in
our region anyway. Don’t forget cherry tomatoes, either.
‘Sweet 100’ and the old-time ‘Porter,’ now an heirloom, are
hard to beat; these small-fruited varieties can take the
summer heat and continue to produce.

Cool temperatures can stunt peppers and eggplants, so hold
off on planting these until mid-March, when it’s OK to put
out all the warm-season crops. Spray fruit trees with
horticultural oil just before bud-break; this is when
overwintering insects are at their weakest and, therefore,
most susceptible to this low-toxicity pesticide.

Central/Midwest

Even though the weather looks like winter, this is the time
to work on your summer garden. Start seeds of vegetables
like onion, leek, pepper, eggplant and tomato now. To keep
them from stretching as they grow, maintain a strong light
source at 4 inches above the plants. Fertilize
seedlings after six weeks, and transplant them to bigger
pots as needed.

For the flower garden, start perennial seeds now, too. Many
varieties grown from seed will bloom the first year, making
them attractive additions to your garden bed. Annuals to
start right away include geraniums, begonias, snapdragons,
petunias and impatiens. Hold off on celosias or you will
not have optimum garden performance from the plant. Your
best results for starting plants from seed will be obtained
by using a good-quality seeding mix, having adequate light
and following the growing instructions for each variety.
Have fun!

North Central & Rockies

Most plants are very sensitive to day length. When day
length increases, they immediately begin to add new growth.
We are reminded of this every year when we see intense new
growth on our indoor tomatoes and herbs beginning after the
winter solstice (Dec. 22 in 2003; Dec. 21 in 2004).

Tomatoes, peppers and herbs for the next growing season can
catch this wave of momentum; large growing containers will
keep them from becoming root-bound before outdoor
temperatures warm.

Meanwhile, gather your arsenal of season-extenders to melt
the snow and warm the soil: Fabric row covers and cold
frames can transform the March garden from lion to lamb,
boosting the growth of young transplants and seeds. The
real payoff is a late-spring harvest that occurs while
other gardeners are just getting started.

Pacific Northwest

The dormant season for Pacific Northwest gardeners
officially is past, and plenty of tasks await to help you
get back into the swing of gardening. Vegetables such as
cole crops, eggplants, onions, peppers and tomatoes really
need to be started indoors in order to mature in a timely
fashion. Due to our lack of sunlight in the early spring,
seed starting on the windowsill usually results in leggy
plants, so artificial lighting is preferred. If you
are new to starting seeds under lights, don’t be skeptical;
it’s not difficult or expensive.

Outdoors, sow cold-hardy crops like lettuce, spinach, other
leafy greens and peas. If it takes a while for the seeds to
germinate, have patience, as these seeds usually will
survive in the soil until it warms to the proper
temperature. If you’re impatient, try spreading clear
plastic over the garden beds for a few weeks prior to
planting; the plastic will speed up the natural seasonal
warming of the soil.

Southwest

These last months of winter offer a pause to prepare for
spring. Even in areas that still freeze at night and
threaten another snowstorm, reprieves of sunny days come
more frequently, and we can start to clean up the garden
space. Finish pulling out and composting any leftover crops
from last season and cut back perennial plants to a few
inches to encourage new growth.

Order bulbs and seeds (remember to include seeds for cover
crops). Stock up on compost, potting soil and fertilizers,
or find and haul these materials from local sources to
create your own. Be sure you’re not bringing home any
materials contaminated with pesticides. In the mountains,
cover crops still are growing slowly, but in warmer areas,
they should be mowed and turned under before they reach
knee high or turn brown. By March, greenhouse planting is
in full swing. If you’re hungry for spring salads, plant
outside and use cloches or fabric row covers to protect and
warm your seedlings where night freezes still threaten.

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;
Lori Hardee and Karen Park Jennings, Park Seed
Company
, Greenwood, South Carolina;
William D. Adams , Burton, Texas;
Connie Dam-Byl, William Dam Seeds ,
Dundas, Ontario;
Bill McDorman, Seeds Trust, High Altitude
Gardens
, Hailey, Idaho;
Rose Marie Nichols McGee, Nichols Garden
Nursery
, Albany, Oregon;
Josh Kirschenbaum, Territorial Seed
Company
, Cottage Grove, Oregon; and
Micaela Colley, Seeds of Change , Santa
Fe, New Mexico.