PROTECTING PLANTS AND OTHER FEBRUARY
Dr. Leonard Perry
and Lisa Halvorsen
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont
Mother Nature may be taking a snooze this
time of year, but that doesn’t mean you can. February
brings its share of challenging chores for gardeners,
many relating to the weather.
If snow cover is light in your area, you
may need to add extra mulch, such as a thick layer of
straw or evergreen branches, to protect landscape plants.
Just make sure you don’t put straw around woody plants
if mice are nearby as they’ll nest in the straw and
strip the bark off the plants, which often results in
the death of plants. You also can place wooden teepees
over precious perennials or windbreaks around trees
and shrubs for protection.
If snowfall is heavy, keep your roof raked
between snow storms to prevent problems with ice build
up that may not only damage the roof but the landscape
plants growing under the eaves. When raking the roof,
try not to pull that load of snow directly onto landscape
plants below the eves as the force of the falling snow
can crush plants and break branches unless already covered
by a deep layer of natural snowfall. Again, teepee-shaped
wooden frames may be your best protection.
To prevent injury to plants from the settling
snow, gently scoop the snow away from the plant with
a shovel. Then, with gloved hands, carefully remove
the snow from the branches.
When shoveling your walks and driveway,
put the snow on your perennial plantings as this is
a good insulator. Just avoid, if possible, piling several
feet of snow on them when plowing since it will take
so long to melt in spring. And don’t dump snow on them
if harmful salt is mixed in.
Pay extra attention to the needs of winter
birds. If you are feeding them, check feeders every
few days and fill as needed. Black oil sun flower seed
and white millet will attract cardinals, goldfinches,
black-capped chickadees, purple finches, white-breasted
nuthatches, and other Vermont birds to your yard. Corn
on the ear, shelled, or cracked is a favorite of many
other species including blue jays and mourning doves.
Put out suet cakes for the woodpeckers.
Don’t forget to clean the feeders periodically
as moldy seed can make birds ill. Flush out old seed
and debris then scrub with a mixture of water and chlorine
bleach (one ounce of bleach per gallon of water). Rinse
well and allow to dry before adding new seed.
In between cleanings, when refilling hanging
feeders, shake to dislodge compacted seed. Dump out
wet clumps of old seed. Sweep hulls off platform feeders
If possible, provide a source of water
for the birds. A heated birdbath is ideal. Purchase
one with an automatic shut-off valve or heat cycling
on-off switch, which will prevent damage to the birdbath
if goes dry. Use a grounded, three pronged outlet to
prevent the possibility of electrocution. Avoid birdbaths
that have an uncovered heating element as this could
burn the birds’ feet if they land on it. Placing a flat
piece of shale over the heating element (even a covered
one) will provide a warm rock for birds to perch on
to rest or drink and will prevent any accidental injury.
To prevent cats, raccoons, squirrels,
and other animals from knocking over the birdbath when
trying to get a drink, make sure the bath is securely
situated. If your birdbath has a hollow base, you can
fill it with sand to prevent tipping, for example.
This Valentine’s Day forget the usual
bouquet of roses, and give your spouse or special friend
a gift that keeps on giving. Order a rose bush from
a mail order catalog or your local garden center with
a delivery date at planting time. A couple of red ones
to consider are Champlain, one of the Explorer series
out of Canada, which is hardy in the warmer parts of
Vermont, and Mister Lincoln, a classic red hybrid, which
is not hardy in most of the state but would make a great
rose and shrub for the season. There are many more hardy
shrub ones to choose from, so ask the experts at your
local full service garden center. Or consider giving
your special someone a lilac bush, rhododendron, or
other easy-to-grow ornamental shrub?
For apartment dwellers, choose a flowering
potted plant like an azalea or cyclamen. An African
violet may be the perfect choice for an office colleague
as its compact size makes it suitable for a desk or
window sill. It also thrives under artificial light.
But whatever you select, be sure to include a card with
instructions for care.
Of course, if you prefer to give cut flowers,
you aren’t limited to long-stemmed red roses. Tea roses
are a nice alternative, and a little less expensive
if budget is a concern. You can order them in the usual
Valentine Day colors plus cream, lavender, and peach.
Or give flowers with a coded message.
White roses stand for love and beauty, red ones for
passion, and yellow for friendship. Yellow tulips mean
you’re hopelessly in love. Want to let someone know
that you are a secret admirer? Then send gardenias,
which represent secret love.
Ask your florist to create an arrangement
of red, white, and pink blooms, such as red tulips,
white carnations, and pink roses, in an attractive vase.
Or go for something more exotic, like a bouquet of freesia,
alstroemeria, or red anthurium accented with glossy
green foliage. Just expect to pay a little more for
these more unusual, out-of-season flowers.
If the recipient is a gardener, say “Happy
Valentine’s Day” with a small wicker basket filled
with packets of vegetable seeds, gardening gloves, and
other garden-related items–row markers, for example.
Or give a certificate for a massage–to be used during
planting time after “gardening” muscles get
worked for the first time since last summer.
Although it’s still too early to start
most seeds indoors –exceptions include begonias and
pansies, which take a long time to grow–if you’re in
the mood to grow something, plant a mini-orchard on
your window sill. Just don’t be too disappointed if
the trees fail to produce good fruit. These indoor
gardens are more for entertainment than for food.
Plant fresh apple seeds in a well-drained
soil mix. Water regularly, provide plenty of sun, and
repot as necessary to accommodate growth. With any
luck, by early summer your tiny trees should be ready
to plant outdoors.
February is also a good time to do some
cyber-gardening. The best place to start is with one
of the Internet search engines like www. google.com
. Just type in your subject, and click on any of the
sites listed to read more on your selected topic. This
is a good way to learn about new flowers, fruits, and
vegetables; “travel” to many of the fabulous
gardens in the world; or get ideas for your next garden.
To learn more about perennials, visit Perry’s Perennial
Pages at http: // www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/
If you want to “talk” to other
gardeners, join a discussion list. Check out Garden
Spiders Web http: //backyardgardener.com/ where you
will not only find links to discussion groups but to
plant databases, societies and associations, and additional
Internet resources on gardening.
Other activities for February: make plans
now to attend the Vermont Flower Show to be held the
first weekend in March at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference
Center, S. Burlington; buy a new houseplant–something
you’ve never tried to grow before; stock up on supplies
and hang grow lights for starting seeds next month.