February Gardening Tips for the Southwest

The garden gets off to a growing start this month in much of the Southwest. Here's what you should be doing in your yard.
Sow & Transplant

In most of the Southwest, February is a good time to sow seed and set out transplants. Plant early enough to make sure plants are established before summer heat arrives. In much of the region, that means tucking seeds and transplants into soil while frost may yet threaten. Keep frost protection handy to shelter tender plants from cold snaps.

What should you plant now?

Peas: Direct sow peas in midrange elevations by midmonth.

Tomatoes: In the warmest areas, set out tomato seedlings by midmonth.

Beans, corn, cucumber, and squash: Wait until soil warms to 60 degrees F before direct sowing beans, corn, cucumber, or squash.

Heat-loving crops: Indoors, start seeds of heat-loving crops such as eggplant, pepper, and melon. Set out transplants in six to eight weeks.

Warm-season annuals: Set out warm-season annuals after all danger of frost is past.

Keep Up the Harvest

  • Cool-season crops such as peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and bok choy will continue to yield this month. Pick frequently to keep the harvest coming.
  • Watch the forecast and harvest quickly if a sudden warm spell is predicted. Higher temperatures cause cool-weather veggies to bolt or flower, which makes plants bitter and inedible.

 

Test Garden Tip: Add compost to existing vegetable gardens. Prepare new gardens for planting by digging or tilling soil 12-18 inches deep. Add a heaping layer of compost to the bed, working it into the loosened soil.

 
Fertilize

In the warmest parts of the region, fertilize citrus trees. Use a product that contains micronutrients, including manganese, iron, zinc, boron, and magnesium. Water trees deeply before and after feeding.

When night temperatures stay reliably above freezing, fertilize roses. Soak soil thoroughly before and after feeding.

If turf grass is appropriate for your corner of the Southwest, fertilize cool-season lawns if it's been longer than six weeks since the last feeding. This includes bluegrass, ryegrass, or fescue grasses. Use a fertilizer that's higher in nitrogen (such as a 16-8-8) and contains iron, zinc, and sulfur.

Feed cool-season plants in containers, including annuals. Use a bloom-booster fertilizer to encourage flower formation. Don't fertilize warm-season plants in containers until after the last frost date.

 

Test Garden Tip: You may notice ooze coming from mesquite plants. If the ooze smells and tastes sweet, the plant is healthy. If the ooze is dark, sticky, and smelly, the plant is likely infected with bacterial slime flux. Once a plant is infected, it will slowly die. Remove it to avoid additional problems.

Refresh the Water Garden

Drain and clean water gardens. For ponds with liners, remove muck from the bottom of the garden. Add to the compost pile. Check submerged water plants growing in containers. Refresh soil if needed, as well as rocks on the soil surface.

 
Mulch

Replenish mulch on planting beds, maintaining a 2- to 3-inch layer. If you mounded mulch around roses for winter, pull it back from the base of stems and spread it over soil around the plant.

 
Manage Weeds

Apply a preemergent weed killer to established planting beds this month. This type of weed killer interferes with seed germination. Do not use it in areas where you plan to sow seed.

 
Divide Herbs

Check perennial herb plantings for overcrowded clumps. Candidates for division could include mint, chives, oregano, lemongrass, or garlic chives. Dig and divide clumps. Share divisions with friends or add to the compost pile -- with the exception of mint. Because of its invasive tendencies, it's best to seal this plant in a black plastic bag, leave it in the sun for a few weeks, and then dispose of it.

 

Test Garden Tip: Handpick cabbage loopers from cool-season crops, such as broccoli, lettuce, peas, or cabbage. Or spray Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a biological control alternative to chemical pesticides.

 
Prune

Perennials: Remove old, spent perennial stems, clipping near soil level. To determine whether to clip, check the base of the plant. If new growth is emerging from soil, remove existing stems. If new growth isn't visible, allow stems to remain in place until you see signs of growth.

Roses: At lower elevations, prune roses before February 14. At higher elevations, wait until after the last frost date.

 

Ornamental grasses: Rejuvenate ornamental grasses by cutting old growth to within a few inches of the ground before new growth appears. Use electric hedge clippers to whack through large clumps of grass. Tie the clump together with bungee cords to make cutting even easier.

 

Groundcovers: Cut back liriope and mondo grass. Before new growth appears, make the task simple by running a lawn mower over old growth. Use a bag attachment to gather the clippings.

Test Garden Tip: Remove spent blooms from annuals and perennials to encourage continued flower formation.

 


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