February 2014 check list from the Whistling Gardener

It’s the first week of February. Go to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle and then get to work on my check list!
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery Website

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It’s the first week of February. Go to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle and then get to work on my check list!

Prune, prune, prune. This is the ideal time to prune our trees. For the most part the severe winter weather is over. Fruit trees should be pruned now for shape and fruit production. If you are not sure what to do then come in to the nursery and we will straighten you out.

Flowering and shade trees normally only need a little “guidance and direction” pruning which means removing any dead or crossing branches and thinning as needed to keep an open and pleasing form. Never hack on a shade tree like you would on a fruit tree. If it needs that much pruning it probably needs to be removed.

Weeping trees like cherries, Japanese maples, pussy willows, crab apples and golden chains need yearly attention to keep them looking nice. These trees have to be approached from the inside out and now when there are no leaves is the best time to do it.

Perennials that didn’t frost to the ground should be cleaned up this month. Ornamental grasses are a classic example but asters, daisies, mums and any perennial that leaves a stalk over the winter should be cut to the ground this month or next at the latest. Evergreen perennials like Hellebores and Epimedium that bloom in the winter need to have their old foliage removed now to make room for the flowers.

Yes, this is a fabulous time to plant. We usually think of April and May as the ideal time to plant but February and March are the only months to plant bareroot trees and shrubs. This includes fruit trees, many shade and flowering trees and shrubs, berries, grapes, rhubarb and asparagus and many others. In fact, most any shrub or tree that is dormant now can be planted bareroot, even if it is growing in a container at the nursery. You can actually wash all the dirt off the roots before planting and if you are careful and speedy you will improve and shorten the establishment period for that plant. You will also find lots of interesting evergreen perennials and shrubs that can be planted now. As long as the ground is not saturated you can plant most anything.

Weeds need to be controlled this month before they really go nuts. A quick trip with the Hula-Hoe can make waste of a lot of weeds in no time flat. After you have cleaned up your weeds you can keep more from returning by applying a weed preventer like Preen or Corn Gluten or Casoron but simply spreading some compost over the soil surface will often work just as well.

Cool season veggies can be planted this month. Root and leaf crops and broccoli and cauliflower and peas can all go in the ground this month and next. But before you plant be sure and add some organic fertilizer, lime, and compost to the soil. If your soil is lousy then consider building some raised beds.

Finally, for hygienic purposes it is a good idea to spray our fruit trees, berries, lilacs, roses and anything else that is dormant and prone to diseases and insects with a dormant spray of oil and copper or some sort of synthetic fungicide. Get this stuff on before the plants break dormancy and start leafing out and you will be miles ahead of the game. Copper and sulfur sprays are both natural products that work well for northwest diseases.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at




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