The warm spell has both people and plants poking their noses outside, testing the warmth for the first signs of spring. Though a mere few weeks away, the stirrings of a new season are found in snowdrops teasing us with their white bell-blossoms, tulip stems nudging aside mulch, crocuses emerging, and snow melting away to reveal a few patches of mold on the grass.
If you’re itching to get out and do something – don’t try to deny it, it’s a fact of being a gardener – put some thought into how to garden without harming your plants. After all, it’s only February, so there’s plenty of cold left to come. Plan a few chores to tidy things up and tuck things back in.
First, go after the snow mold on the lawn. The 60-plus days of snow cover allowed the Typhula, or gray snow mold, to thrive under the insulating blanket of white. The thaw exposed the fungus, leaving lawns looking like something left too long in the refrigerator. But there’s no need to panic or reach for a chemical; just take a rake and gently fluff the turf up so air can circulate into the spot. The snow mold will subside.
Next, take a look at the perennial garden. The flower stalks left for winter interest have lost their character and birds have long since gleaned them of seeds. The only interest they incite now is in the neighbor’s minds, who wonder when you’ll remove those snow-flattened cowlicks. Take a pruner to clip the stems low; don’t grab and pull the stalks or you risk pulling the mother plant up from the mulch.
But don’t prune roses just yet; leave their canes on until they flush with green and deep cold is no longer a threat. Focus instead on cleaning up perennials that will push new flower stalks from the plant, such as Echinacea, mums, or columbine.
Tuck mulch back around perennials and bulbs inching up from the soil. Wind, snow, and shoveling have moved this protection away from the plants but they still need covering until spring truly arrives. If the warmth has coaxed your tulips into sprouting, don’t panic. Tulips are gullible each year to Mother Nature’s teasing. Mulch them in and they’ll survive until the season is right for their blossoms.
If we get another snow towards the end of the month or early March, give the neighbors something to talk about by sowing seeds of spinach into your beds, leaping about in joy if you feel like it. The seeds need cold stratification to help them germinate; a few weeks of chilling in the snow speeds their opening and growing. For a fall crop of spinach that’s sown in summer, pop your spinach seeds into the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for two weeks before sowing.
Prune fruit trees for disease control or production. Late February is an idea time to take care of cleaning up apples or pears with fireblight, or pruning peaches of old wood so the new wood is fruitful. The trees are still dormant so disease won’t spread during pruning, but disinfecting your tools with a 10 percent bleach solution between each cut is still necessary for good tree health. After pruning, wash and oil the pruners to remove bleach, which rusts the metal. For tips on pruning for fireblight, check out extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/fire-blight-2-907/. For tips on pruning apples, pears, and peaches, check out the fact sheet extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/training-and-pruning-fruit-trees-7-003/.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238.