Great Lakes Gardener's February Checklist

Fantastic Lakes gardeners may be feeling like winter won’t ever end. What’s a gardener to do, other than head south? Fortunately, the days are becoming longer, winter is on the wane and there are a couple of flowers in the garden to cheer the spirit. February provides a last opportunity to get things done from the garden before the coming of spring, and an opportunity to get a jump on next season’s garden. It’s only 28 days; it’ll be over fast.

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Barbara Pintozzi

Look for early-flowering bulbs. Flowers outdoors in the winter from the Great Lakes garden aren’t necessarily the product of a cabin-fevered mind. The oldest of the small bulbs, for example Winter aconites (Eranthis spp) and snow crocus (Crocus chrysanthus) sprout and blossom when not buried in snow.

Barbara Pintozzi

Snowdrops (here, Galanthus elwesii) peek their heads over the snow.

Planting these oldest of bulbs in a hot microclimate will ensure reliable February blossoms each year.

Barbara Pintozzi

A number of the witch hazels (here, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Sunburst’) begin unfurling their own strap-like petals on warmer days in February. Some varieties are fragrant. Espaliered against a wall, witch hazel can blossom even sooner.

Barbara Pintozzi

Enjoy indoor blossoms. Even when the garden does not cooperate, there are indoor blossoms to dispel the February blahs. All those forced bulbs brightens up last fall ought to be in full bloom today, such as this blended pot of ‘Synaeda Amor’ tulips (Tulipa) and ‘Flower Record’ crocus (Crocus vernus).

Barbara Pintozzi

Plan for spring. You will find things gardeners can perform inside this month to plan ahead for the gardening season.

Purchase The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program directory to organize visits to outstanding local gardens. Park Place at Barrington Hills, Illinois, shown here, was open to the public for only one day each in 2011 and 2012, and it would have been a shame to miss it.

Purchase seeds today so they arrive in time to get them started six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Procure seed-starting gear as well so that will be ready in March.

Unusual, hard-to-find perennials may be arranged online today, with a requested ship date for April, to ensure your choices aren’t sold out.

Barbara Pintozzi

Prune woody plants. Gardeners itching to do something out from the garden can sharpen up the pruners. February is the perfect time to form up dormant woody plants.

Without foliage, the crossing branches of the crabapple tree (Malus x ‘Prairiefire’) are plainly visible, making pruning much easier.

Winter pruning is not advocate for trees which “bleed” from the winter, for example as maples (Acer spp) or to get plants that bloom on old wood, for example magnolia, forsythia and lilac (Syringa vulgaris).

Barbara Pintozzi

Shape clematis. Type III, late-flowering or Clematis viticella hybrids, such as this Clematis viticella ‘Betty Corning’, which bloom on new growth, may be cut back today. Cut the stems back to 1 foot from the ground. Instead, where the blossom is outgrowing its space, it may be cut all the way to the ground. It is prudent to wait to cut back dead foliage until fresh leaf buds look on Type II, ancient, large-flowering clematis (usually in March).

Barbara Pintozzi

Force flowering branches inside. While you’ve got the pruners in hand, snip several branches of forsythia or other early-spring-blooming shrubs, such as flowering quince (Chaenomeles sp) and pussy willow (Salix sp) to force into bloom indoors to get a spring trailer. Branches could be forced when the flower buds have begun to swell.

Put the freshly cut branches in warm water, then in room-temperature water the next day, and change the water daily.

Forsythia generally will blossom within two weeks of cutting, but as with almost any forced woody plant, the closer it is cut to blossom time, the earlier it will open.

Hang in there, spring is nearly here.

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Pot War: When and How to Use Chemical Herbicides

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it is time to bring out the big guns of weed management: the compounds. Think carefully before using chemical herbicides on the landscape, and make certain they are part of an integrated pest management approach that includes:
Identifying the particular problem plant.Understanding the plant’s life cycle. Can it be an annual or a perennial? Does it spread by seeds, seeds or both? If it spreads by seed, when does this germinate? Using cultural (growing conditions that discourage weeds) or mechanical way of command, whenever possible. Recognizing when and the way the weed invasion may cause catastrophic damage to a natural habitat, either harvest or structure.Once you’ve determined that an herbicide is the proper step in handling your weed problem, you can evaluate the options and select the right product for your circumstances.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

First, let us get familiar with the terminology. Herbicides act as pre-emergents, by inhibiting plant seeds from germinating, or as postemergents, which means they operate on actively growing plants.

Some are nonselective and affect any crops they contact, while some are selective and will control only particular crops.

Contact herbicides impact only the plant cells on which they are applied, while systemic Compounds are absorbed into the whole plant and plant system.

Chemical controls may be natural or synthetic. Ideally, all herbicides must be applied by a certified pesticide applicator.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Natural Herbicides

The active ingredients in natural herbicides come from minerals or plants. These products are subject to government regulations for private and environmental safety. Read all product labels thoroughly and follow along with care.

Corn gluten free meal. The protein component of a corn kernel is a selective, pre-emergent herbicide most commonly utilized to control annual weeds — including as oxalis, purslane and spurge — in lawns. It is also about 10 percent nitrogen, therefore it helps promote nutritious turf. Corn gluten meal is most successful when applied two times a year. Apply it before the seed germinates and forms a root. A dry period after germination is also vital. Find out more about timing corn gluten meal programs here.

Vinegar. It is a nonselective, postemergent and contact herbicide for annual weeds. Apply horticultural vinegar alternatives, which have less than 20 percent linoleic acid, as a spray into the weeds’ foliage. The acid acts as a contact desiccant (“burning” the foliage but not the roots) and can be most successful when applied to annual weeds in the heat of summer.

Soap. Horticultural soaps, derived from fatty acids, which are nonselective, postemergent, contact herbicides. Sprayed about the weeds’ leaves, the item smothers the foliage, inhibiting the crops’ growth. Horticultural soaps are most effective in young, actively growing, annual weeds.

Iron. The newest kid on the block employs a 1.5 percent option of FeHDTA (a iron chelate) as its active ingredient. A selective, systemic, postemergent herbicide, the applied iron dose is toxic to a number of common broad-leaf weeds but does not have a detrimental effect on turf grasses.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Synthetic Herbicides

Synthetic herbicides have artificial elements subject to government regulations for private and environmental safety. Remember: Read and follow product labels carefully.

Glysophate and glufosinate ammonium. All these nonselective, systemic herbicides could be effective on poisonous perennial weeds like field bindweed, myrtle spuge and quackgrass. Research shows that a very particular application regime — the time of year, the phase in the plants’ life cycle, and also the method of application — is vital to the most efficient and beneficial use of this herbicide.

2,4-D and Tryclopyr. Both these chemicals are selective, systemic, postemergent herbicides useful for controlling many annual and perennial broadleaf weeds like puncturevine, kochia, Canada thistle and orange hawkweed. They are effective on weeds in lawns and round conifers.

Your local Cooperative Extension Office will have significantly more research about the best way best to identify and manage the weeds in your region.

More:
5 Ways to Naturally Grow the Weed War
Tackle Weeds the Pure Method
5 Weed-Smothering Ground Covers

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Cool-Season Vegetables: How to Boost Cabbage

When summer winds down, it’s time to acquire cool-season vegetables like cabbage into the floor. The classic pine is round and green or red, but look at a backyard catalog and you’ll find cabbages that end in a point or are relatively flat, savoy cabbages with their feature ruffled leaves, and stunning varieties with blue-green leaves plus a purplish-red head. Some are more streamlined and may last longer into warmer weather.

They’re generally split into early, midseason and late cabbages. The early varieties are best for spring blossoms; the others do better in the fall. You will even find flowering cabbages, which stand out in the garden, especially following the first frost hits. These are usually grown as ornamentals, but they’re edible.

More: The way to grow cool-season veggies

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

When to plant: Like most cool-season crops, cabbage is happiest growing in fall or spring. For spring planting, then sow the seeds of an early variety in very early spring. You can even start them indoors about six weeks before the last frost date and place out transplants three weeks afterwards. For fall and winter crops, plant seeds of midseason and late varieties in summer time.

Days to maturity: 50 to 100

Light requirement: Full sunlight is best; partial color can also be fine, especially if the weather heats up quickly.

Water necessity: Supply ample water and keep the soil moist.

Favorite cabbage kinds: Alcosa, Arrowhead, Brunswick, Early Jersey Wakefield, Gonzales, January King, Late Flat Dutch, Mammoth Red Rock, Red Drumhead, Red Express, Red Meteor, Redball, Samantha, Savoy King, Savoy Queen, Super Red 80, Winnigstadt

Planting and maintenance: Be sure that your soil is fertile and well drained. Sow seeds around a half inch deep and an inch apart. Give them space, setting them thinning them to 2 feet apart with 2 feet or more between pops. They enjoy water, so keep the bed continually moist. Feed the plants about halfway through the growing period using an entire high-nitrogen fertilizer. Weed them as the roots are shallow.

Cabbage is prone to problems; what do you expect when there are bugs named cabbage loopers, cabbage root maggots and cabbage worms? They may also have problems with diseases, like damping off and downy mildew, and these are simply a few of the possible problems.

Solving plant problems: You can watch to see if the issue resolves itself obviously, especially if you observe the principles of integrated pest control and organic gardening. But if it gets out of hand, take steps to eliminate it, beginning with the least invasive strategy and moving out of there. Rotating crops in the future may help with a few problems. Heads will divide if they are too old, therefore harvest before that happens.

Harvest: View the cabbage heads carefully and harvest until they divide. Store them in a cool spot and keep them damp to help prolong their storage life.

More: How to Boost Cool-Season Vegetables

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