While many landscapes are slumbering through the winter in North America, our gardens offer plenty of outdoor activities for the Santa Clarita gardener.
Historically, February is the wettest month — this year hasn’t disappointed so far — it’s still an important month for landscaping. Preparing for the spring garden now is more important than ever. Take advantage of cooler, wetter weather to redesign and plant for a rewarding landscape in spring and one that will handle whatever our climate will be offering in the future.
Regular monthly chores should be handled before active spring growth starts — and with warmer temperatures, growth is happening earlier each year. Garden jobs still include tree planting, pruning and trimming. Sap will start flowing soon so the window for creating minimal shock, bleeding and infection with cuts and root disturbance is coming to a close.
Cutting back ornamental grasses and flowering perennials in February will keep these plants shapely and give them a good start for next year’s growth. Pruning will also create less of a water demand on root systems when active growth begins.
On rainy or chilly days there is indoor work to be done for the garden. Now is the time to sketch out ideas for design changes, to plan construction projects, to renovate and update areas and to make your landscape more sustainable. By sketching out your ideas before you start work you will maintain better control of your budget, your time schedule, the materials you will need and catch potentially expensive mistakes before they become a reality.
You can also do some hands-on gardening indoors during inclement weather. Try starting delicate flowers, hard-to-find plants and get an early jump on the most cold-sensitive edibles by growing them from seed in a window or under a grow light.
Most people delay working on their gardens until the springtime rush. But summer heat has been showing up earlier and earlier for the past half-dozen years, cutting short the chance for delicate growth to prepare for our scorching sun. With summer arriving early and lasting longer, autumn and winter are turning into our best growing seasons. Frosts are less of a threat than they were a decade ago, too, so we can now plant and seed many flowers and edibles in February.
This means you can start the traditional spring garden as early as this month. But do outdoor planting and seeding with caution. Very sensitive plants that don’t like temperatures under 45⁰ may need some extra protection during chilly nights. Keep newspaper or cloth like burlap available to throw over less hardy plants when frost is predicted. Or wait one more month. Waiting is best for planting edibles like tomatoes (cherry tomatoes are the hardiest), peppers, corn and squash and for tender flowers.
This is the last chance to get spring-blooming bulbs and bare-root trees and shrubs into the garden since many of these are already sprouting into active growth. They will still be fine if you pop them into the ground and keep them deeply watered. They just require more care as they break dormancy.
Most of our local garden centers bring in plants that are ready to be planted. Some nurseries keep stock year round. Plants that have spent months or even years growing in the local climate will have an easier adjustment to you garden environment than those raised and shipped in from growers from further away.
Which reminds me, don’t believe everything you read. Just because a tag says a plant will like full sun does not mean you should set it out in the full sun of Santa Clarita. Most plant material is raised and imported here from artificially controlled greenhouse environments all over the country. Tags are written for the average garden nationwide. Our sun is more intense than most areas. If a tag says give it a full or half-day of sun, you might find it will burn here without more shade.
One handy tip for February is how to fill in empty landscape areas. Vacant spaces can be quickly and easily populated by lightly raking in a fistful of wildflower seeds. They can also be sprinkled liberally between small trees, shrubs and flowering plants that have yet to grow into the space they will need when mature. If rain doesn’t come, keep seeds moist — at least on the surface. Once they sprout, they will grow and bloom quickly to fill those spaces with rampant color. Most are annuals so they are not likely to crowd out the longer-lived perennials as they grow. And who knows? You might be lucky to have some self-seed to dot the area with a new generation next year — for free.
The weather is cool and comfortable for working outdoors in the winter months. You can allow leaves to remain as mulch on the ground for a little longer if you want. They will help keep soil moist after rains, letting it penetrate deeper rather than evaporating right away. But feel free to clean up dead stems, sticks and flower heads. Neatening the landscape up now will save work later.
February is also the perfect time to start building projects. If you put in that outdoor room, replace your lawn, set up the new child or pet area or install a place for games or entertainment, you’ll be ready to enjoy your new outdoor extended living space as soon as the weather calls you out to play — with landscape features that will require no costly irrigation.