February gardening tips for Southern California
Garden to-dos for February
This has been yet another odd year for weather in the Southern California winter. November Santa Ana winds decided to show up late in January and the promise of regular rain was blown away with them. At least the shortened days and cooler temperatures seem to have helped avoid the worst threat of wildfires. We will need a lot of rain over these next two months if we are going to stave off another drop in the water table, more incursions of hungry rodents and other invading pests into our homes and gardens, and the threat of water rationing. Last year’s plentiful rains were last year and we have to learn that gardening wisely means to cultivate our habits and our gardens with a long-range view.
As you can see, I cleared the way for my usual plea for drought-resistant gardens and built-in, Eco-friendly systems. In Southern California water will continue to be a growing concern even if we have a year or two with generous rain. Winter is the perfect time to remove lawns that are not actively useful and are simply water guzzlers. Replace them with attractive, low water plants, decorative stone work, play areas or water-hungry-but-useful edible gardens that pay back for the water they do consume. These areas can be designed to look far more interesting and artistic than boring lawn. And if done right, they can save you not only money on water bills, but all that maintenance of mowing, blowing and edging.
Here are some other Southern California garden projects to do in February:
Regularly check your gutters and drains. Keeping them free of debris will ensure good drainage in future rains so you will not worry about flooding. These areas are also hazards for fires. Embers can easily blow into mounds of dry foliage and ignite.
Plant hardy annual seeds and hardy plants. You can get a wider selection of interesting flowers and edibles from seed. But there will also be some interesting plants available in pots from your favorite garden center that will do fine being planted in February. Grab the last of the bare root trees and shrubs. With the early warmth of December and January it is likely the dormant season will be unnaturally short. You will want to get woody plants into the soil before they come back into active growth. Bare root plants are the best buy of the year since you can find a wider choice of varieties than will be offered in spring in pots. It is also much easier to carry your shrub or tree when it isn’t attached to a heavy container of soil. February is a good month to continue scattering wildflower seeds in open areas just before a rain storm for an easy show of spring flowers. Multiple sowings are likely to bring the best results. Hopefully, we’ll still get multiple rain storms!
Turn those sprinkler systems OFF after rain. At this time of year you can easily go two weeks after a good rainfall of ½” or more even if the soil looks dry on the surface. If it continues to be dry, you will need to use your extra irrigation, but not at the same rate as in the spring and summer. Daylight hours are short and nighttime temperatures are cool, so soil dries out slowly. Most plants are dormant or semi-dormant so they need far less water than when they are actively growing. Let the surface of the soil dry out before watering. It will stay moist below for longer in February than in coming months.
Get your catalog orders in for seeds so they’ll be ready to plant before weather gets hot. You can even start some of your half-hardy seeds indoors this month so they’ll be big enough to plant out in early spring. Long-season vegetables like tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and eggplants are best started indoors now or bought later in the year as started plants in multiple packs or plastic pots. You can seed them outdoors in April if the weather remains unusually warm, but there is no way to know what the weather will be offering in this part of the country in the future.
Pull or scrape away weed seedlings as they germinate after rains — while they’re easy to remove. Make weeding part of a regular ritual and you won’t have do deal with a back-breaking job later. Most of our native weeds in Southern California have developed to survive our climate and will grow deep roots fast. They have adapted to a short season to grow, bloom and seed before the summer heat and dry turns them into dust. So the longer you wait, the more established weeds will become.
This is a perfect month for garden repairs, building or designing. February is normally cool and comfortable for working outdoors. If we have rain or wind, these are excellent opportunities to work indoors on sketching out plans, making lists of seed or plant orders or doing research. After rain showers, soil is easier to dig than when bone dry. I repeat, it’s a good time to work on garden projects, particularly those that involve outdoor labor or construction.
Fruit trees will also appreciate February attention. Do major pruning to set your trees up for a healthy, productive life. Light pruning can be done after flowering or even after fruiting, but while plants are dormant, this is the best time for heavier cutting. Also, spray fruit trees with dormant oil sprays at least one more time before buds break. This should help suffocate insect beasts that can carry disease or ruin your fruit production.
Look into some of the new products available for Eco-friendly design and building. Check out drought-tolerant plants and reduce lawn areas. Do research, consult with experts and draw up design and project plants. This it the best time to set your landscape up to be beautiful, low maintenance and water efficient BEFORE utility rates and demands go up. February is a fine month for garden work. We can enjoy it while the rest of the country shivers in cold and snow!
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