The Buzz

MBG's Director of Horticulture Rick Pudwell Shares his February Gardening Tips

February is a variable month. We can have a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. Day length is getting longer. In fact, the length of each day increases more in the month of February, than in any other month. There are signs of life outdoors, some subtle, others more pronounced, but there is no denying early spring is only a month away

If you haven't finished raking leaves, do so without delay. Leaves on a lawn can cause all kinds of problems. Warm-season grasses can rot under cool wet conditions and cool-season grasses that remain green throughout the winter can die under a thick blanket of leaves. Voles will also spend the winter hiding under fallen leaves.

If you have a shredder or a mulching lawnmower, process them and either turn them into compost, or if you have some informal areas of your property, spread them as mulch under trees and shrubs. Always remember everything in nature is to be used in moderation. A three-inch mulch of shredded leaves is deep enough! 

Snow is something we see very little of in our area. Usually, it is benign and quickly melts. Heavy wet snow on the other hand can weigh down branches of both broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs. The best way to deal with it is to use a long-handled broom and sweep in an upward motion to knock off the limbs before it causes damage.

Winter pruning of deciduous shrubs and trees can be accomplished now. It is easy to see branch structure when there are no leaves to blur your view. Evergreen shrubs, such as Boxwoods, Hollies, and Cleyera, can also be pruned now. Try to do individual cuts with the purpose being to keep the natural shape of the plant. Only shear, if you are trying to achieve a very formal appearance. Do your best to finish this work before March 1.

Roses can be pruned toward the end of February. Hybrid teas and Floribundas can be cut back to 12 to 18". Shrub roses and climbing roses should only have dead wood removed and wayward canes shortened at this time. Heavier pruning can be done right after the first flush of blooms are finished.

Do not prune spring and early summer flowering shrubs at this time; you will be cutting off flower buds! This includes Azaleas, Forsythia, Mophead and Lacecap Hydrangeas, and many others.

If you have not cut dead tops off perennials and ornamental grasses last fall, do so now before new growth begins. This is especially important for Hellebores (Lenten Rose) and Epimedium (Barrenwort). Both will be starting new growth and blooming very soon. It will be very hard to do once growth begins. Liriope or Monkey grass falls into the same category. Mow it or cut back to remove old tired top-growth before new shoots emerge. It is best to not cut back Mondo grass.

Cool-season annuals such as Pansies, Violas, Snapdragons, and Dianthus that were planted last fall no doubt need some deadheading and grooming to look presentable before they commence with a new spurt of growth.


It is time to plant cool weather annuals that can be sown directly in the ground, such as Poppies, Larkspur, and Nigellia. You can also plant English and Sugar Snap Peas and Radishes. Indoors you can sow seeds of Cabbage, and other Cole crops to plant in the garden next month. It is still too early to sow tomato seed indoors.

This is also a good time to apply a dormant oil spray to camellias, fruit trees, roses, and other plant harbor scale insects and other overwintering visitors. The ideal time to do this is when the temperature is above freezing but below 50 degrees and will stay there for at least 24 hours. The plants need to be dormant and not showing any sign of new growth. Be sure to spray every inch of the plant for the best results.

Finally, have a soil sample done to see if what you're growing has the conditions it needs. Is the pH too high or too low? Are you lacking some trace element? A soil test can answer these questions and more and will save you a lot of time and worry when summer arrives.

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Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden at 12:00 PM


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