The February Garden
February is the time you catch your breath. Holidays are over; so is Christmas. You can plant all the things you didn't get round to last month, and start bottling the tomatoes.
If you haven't got winter seedlings in now, dash off and buy some.This is the last month to plant winter brassica crops- after February these will mostly mature in spring. Plant only seedlings, not seeds- or choose early maturers if you want them for winter
Don't bother if you can't eat everything that's ripe in the garden in February. February always provides too much. Remember that in the self sufficient garden nothing is wasted- those surplus lettuces will make good mulch. Don't try and eat zuchinni with every meal- throw them in the compost instead.
Onions for storage should be lifted now. Wait till the tops have died off. Leave the dug onions in the sun for a couple of days to dry off, but don't let them get wet. Either hang them up in bunches by the dry tops or stick them in old net orange bags- make sure the air can circulate. Store them on a cool, dry, not necessarily dark place.
Apples start to crop well now- the ones like Johnnies and Delicious that will store a few months, unlike the early apples that must be eaten straight from the tree or they taste floury. Keep the apples cool and dark- packing them in bran or sawdust was an old fashioned way of keeping them.
What to do in February
Plant out strawberry runners.
This is a good time for summer pruning, especially vines like kiwi fruit now the fruit has set. (Summer pruning's other name is 'hacking back the jungle.' Bending back unwanted growth now will check plants far less than a rigorous pruning in winter, and cuts will heal quicker.If you must prune apricots or cherries, do so now.
February is probably the best month for budding stone fruit.
Stick out tomatoes on alfoil for sun dried tomatoes
. Give your beloved helpful hints regarding St Valentine's Day or you'll get a bunch of those modern scentless roses (what use is a rose without perfume?) or chocs when you're on a diet, so your beloved gets to eat them instead of you.
Have a look at the gift ideas on this page - books, rocks or a hardy little erodium that you can enjoy without cosseting!
. dunk pots and hanging baskets in a bucket of water for a good soak.
. keep weeding and feeding - but if soil is dry and you're short of water, don't feed! It's very easy to burn plants' roots in dry times with too much tucker.
. prune geraniums/pelargoniums and pot up the cuttings.
. feed citrus and other evergreen fruit trees, and camellias too.
. tidy up tomatoes, climbing roses, bougainvillea, dahlias and other climbers and sprawlers.
Flowers in the heat
Freshly cut flowers just don't last as long in February's heat. A bloom picked from a wilting plant won't perk up again! Pick flowers either in the early morning, or about an hour after you've watered at night. (omit the next bit if it's too long) Plunge the stems into cold water, then cut a few centimetres off the stems while they are under water. Move vases away from hot windows in baking weather too- flowers last longer in the cool!
At the first sign of mildewed vines pull off the infected leaves and compost or burn them. Make sure soil is well mulched to stop contact between vines and damp soil- and any leaf residues in the soil. Spray with chamomile tea or milk if the infestation is light, otherwise with half strength bordeaux. Spray under the leaves as well, and on top of the mulch where spores may linger.
Have another crop coming on elsewhere in the garden too- younger, strongly growing plants will be less stricken, and you'll extend your cropping even if you don't spray.
Brown rot should have been partially controlled by removing infected twigs and mummies in winter and spraying with bordeaux. Pick any infected fruit before it harms the rest. Stone fruit for storage can be treated by dipping them in hot water for about 30 seconds. If their skins shrivel hold them under for a shorter time. You'll need to experiment according to the heat of the water and the moisture content of the fruit.
What to plant:
Subtropical and tropical areas
Food plants: sweet potatoes, passionfruit vines, parsley and other herbs, hand pollinate pumpkins and melons if heat or rain is preventing fruit set, plant beetroot, capsicum, carrot, caulies, celery, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce seedlings (lettuce seeds may not germinate in the heat), paak tsoi, pumpkin, radish, silverbeet, sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon.
Flowering plants: hibiscus, bougainvilleas, tropical evergreen fruit trees, ageratum, celosia, cosmos, coleus, Iceland poppy, salvia, sunflowers.
Temperate to cold areas:
Food plants: passionfruit and banana passionfruit, rhubarb, blueberries, artichoke, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots (try the tiny, fat, fast maturing ones in cold climates), sweet corn (fast maturing varieties only), leek, lettuce, white onions, salad greens like corn salad, mizuna, cress, red Italian chicory, silverbeet, spring onions, spinach.
Flowering plants: spring flowering bulbs like iris, daffs and jonquils (look for heat tolerant ones in warmer areas, like Earlicheer jonquils) alyssum, stocks, and LOTS of flowers to give you colour and cheer through winter- pansies, violas, primulas, Iceland poppies, wallflowers, polyanthus