With the first frosts of the year behind us and some freezing nighttime temperatures, it finally feels like winter is here. However, as the calendar flips over to February, we can expect the short and mild Florida winter to come to an end soon. This month is a time to prepare for greener days ahead.
Time to prune?
This month is one of the best to prune many of our trees and shrubs, leading the pruning season to be nicknamed, the “St. Valentine’s Massacre” by some of our Master Gardener Volunteers. Right now, trees are dormant making them less stressed after cuts and we are still a few weeks away from when they start pushing water and sugars up to the branches, which can make them seep sap. Mid-February is the best time to prune crape myrtles, but make sure to do it correctly without committing “crape murder.” Pretty much any woody tree or shrub can use structural pruning this time of year, except for those that bloom on old wood such as azaleas.
Waiting for recovery
With recent frosts and freezes, many of your perennials, tender plants, and even your lawn may look a little rough but don’t act too quickly.
Most plants go dormant in the winter, losing much of their green color and will remain that way until April. Do not try to correct issues with chemical sprays or fertilizer as they will likely not improve the condition of your plants, will end up washing away into waterways or groundwater, and if they do spur fresh growth, we may still see more cold weather ahead and this will be damaged. A less than green lawn is completely normal now and any long-term damage likely can’t be assessed until spring.
As for plants that were killed back from the cold, wait to prune until at least mid-March when the threat of frost is past. This dead material can actually help protect the base of the plant.
Time for lawn weed control
Did you know the best time to control annual, warm season weeds in your lawn for the summer is in the month of February? Preemergent herbicides are applied and provide a barrier of chemicals that will kill weeds as they begin to grow in the spring. Apply a preemergent product labeled for turf use and the species your applying it to (i.e., St. Augustine grass, Bahia grass, etc.) to stop nasty annual weeds like doveweed and crabgrass when daytime temperatures rise above 65 degrees for 4-5 days. This date is usually in mid to late February. If you wait longer into the spring, the weeds will already be growing and then the product will not work.
Some safety precautions must be taken to protect your lawn, yourself, and the environment so be sure to read the label before using the product and follow all directions. Also, never apply preemergent products to areas that have been recently sodded, will be sodded soon, or have been/will be seeded. There are also products available that can be used as preemergents in landscape beds as well.
Vegetable garden preparations
While you can still plant many cool season vegetables in February, spring vegetables are right around the corner. This is a great time of year to get your soil tested, amend the garden soil, and install any infrastructure such as irrigation or raised beds while temperatures remain nice. Plan out your garden, order seeds, and if starting plants for transplant, think about the proper times to get them going so you can get them in ground as soon as recommended. For more information on vegetable gardening in Florida, see https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021.
Things to plant in February:
Vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, collards, lettuce, mustard, green onions, parsley, peppers, potatoes, Swiss chard and turnips.
Annuals: Baby’s breath, calendula, carnation, dusty miller, Marguerite daisy, pansy, petunia, snapdragon and statice.
Bulbs, tubers or rhizomes: Agapanthus, Aztec lily, caladium, canna lily, crinum lily, dahlia, gloriosa lily, ixia, kaffir lily, walking Iris, African lily, spider lily, yritonia, tuberose, voodoo lily and Zephyr lily.
Wayne Hobbs is an extension agent in environmental horticulture for Clay County.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Garden Help: Prepare for greener gardening days as winter winds down