February Garden Checklist
By Kelly Young
What to Plant: Low Elevations
Most leafy green and root vegetables can be grown from seed this month. Sow fast-growing varieties of arugula, chard, kale, leaf lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, green onions, radishes and turnips. Plant red seed potato and Jerusalem artichoke tubers in light soil so that the roots can easily colonize. Thin-skinned red potato varieties are a good bet for the low desert. Asparagus crowns can be planted now; place them in a permanent location where they can grow undisturbed for years to come.
Sow seeds of sweet corn and cucurbits, such as cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon and squash, once nighttime temperatures have consistently warmed to at least 65 degrees. Transplant varieties now so they have time to set fruit before warm spring temperatures become the norm.
Bare-root berries, fruit trees and roses
All can be planted this month. Keep roots moist after you leave the nursery, and remove packing sawdust from dormant roots before planting. Look for fruit-bearing varieties with low chilling requirements—fewer than 400 hours—for optimal fruit set.
This is a great month to plant most perennial landscape plants, except palms. Place them in a location where they have plenty of room to reach their full size at maturity and won’t interfere with buildings, sidewalks, driveways or power lines.
What to Plant: Middle Elevations
Temperatures can still drop to below freezing throughout February, so stick with seeds of cool-season chard, head lettuce, kale, mustard greens, spinach, green onions, snap and shell peas, and cabbage. Garlic and onion sets, as well as asparagus crowns, can also be planted now.
Bare-root vines, trees and roses
Look for plants that are still dormant and give them a home in a sunny location.
Visit local nurseries to select trees, shrubs and perennial grasses that are adapted to your site.
What to Plant: High Elevations
February is too cold for vegetables, but there’s still time to plan your garden and order seeds for starting indoors next month.
Garden Maintenance: Low Elevations
Early detection and intervention are the keys to keeping pests and weeds from ruining your garden. Cull vegetable plants that have been overtaken by insects, and pull weeds as soon as they emerge.
As days get longer and hotter, plants require more frequent irrigation. Don’t forget to water desert-adapted pines, which depend on deep, monthly irrigation during winter.
Once all danger of frost has passed, clear dead branches from shrubs, trees and vines. Tree limbs should be removed at their point of attachment.
Garden Maintenance: Middle & High Elevations
Prepare garden beds
Add 3 inches of compost to beds and work into the soil.
Trees, shrubs and perennial shrubs and grasses need water at least once a month during the winter—or more often if it is unseasonably warm.
Inspect for pests
To prevent the spread of bark beetles, remove dead evergreens with visible holes the size of a pencil lead. Check inactive compost piles for overwintering grubs and feed them to the birds.
We woke up this morning to discover our 25-foot-tall multiarmed saguaro leaning at about a 30-degree angle. The tilt seems to have occurred overnight. What can we do to get our cactus to stand upright again?
Unfortunately, the prognosis is not good for a mature saguaro that has suddenly shifted in the soil. It is likely that the cactus will tip over completely or at least drop one or more arms. Each linear foot of saguaro can weigh as much as 90 pounds, making the large plant far too heavy and dangerous to lift on your own. Depending on the potential for harm to people or property if your cactus collapses, it may need to be removed. It is best to have a professional assess the situation; call your county Master Gardener office or the Desert Botanical Garden to get recommendations for an arborist who specializes in saguaros.
Why do my African violets have brown spots on their leaves? I can’t find any insects or other pests that may be causing the problem.
African violet leaves, especially those on plants placed near a sunny window, are prone to water damage. When droplets are left to dry on the leaves, unsightly brown spots can form. Because the problem is purely cosmetic, there is no need to remove the spotted leaves. To prevent damage from occurring, it is suggested that you water your plants from the bottom. Place your African violets in approximately 1 inch of water and let them soak for about an hour. Make sure their containers have holes in the bottom to allow water to flow into the planting medium; the plants will be able to absorb this moisture without their leaves getting wet. Don’t leave your violets in standing water for extended periods as the roots need air.
How can I tell when my compost pile is ready to be used? I assembled kitchen scraps and lawn clippings this past October and am anxious to work the mound into my garden soil before planting next month.
Compost is finished and ready to use once it no longer resembles the starting materials, is dark brown in color and smells sweet, like rich forest soil. The rate at which the organic matter decomposes into “black gold” depends on a number of factors, including the size of the pieces of starting material, moisture content and oxygen availability. If your compost pile is behaving more like a debris pile, consider breaking up the larger pieces, stirring the mass and adding water until it is damp but not sopping wet. Repeat the process periodically to keep the bacteria and fungi that are doing all the work happy.