- Take your lawn mower to the repair shop and beat the spring rush.
- Make your final wish list, gather your planting materials and purchase your seeds as soon as possible, especially those you need to start indoors.
- Purchase a sterile seed starting mix to increase your success by retaining moisture, providing good drainage and allowing you to start disease free.
- Buy plant labels to properly identify the seeds you are growing.
- Create a seeding chart to record plant names, starting dates and other important information. Use a gardening journal or notebook to record and save this valuable information for next year.
- Start impatiens, petunias, wax begonias, pansies and gerbera daisies indoors in early February.
- Use pelleted (coated) petunia and begonia seeds to make the planting of these small seeds easier. Or mix these and other small seeds with sand to help you spread them more evenly over the soil’s surface.
- Start perennials from seed indoors the same way you grow annuals. The soil surface needs to be warm and moist. Check seed packets for specific information on starting times and seed treatment requirements. Grow seedlings under fluorescent lights for stronger and stouter plants. Use your heating trays you made last year.
- Early blooming tulips and daffodils that were planted outside in the fall, may suffer if we have an extended thaw followed by a cold snap. The plants will survive, though the flowers may be lost for this year. Next fall, mulch areas prone to early sprouting. Wait until the ground lightly freezes and cover these areas with straw or evergreen branches. Or move the bulbs to a location that is less affected by the fluctuating temperatures.
- Do not shake or brush frozen snow off your plants. This can cause more damage than if the snow was left in place.
- Check on geraniums that you are storing in the basement or other cool, dark location for the winter. Plant any that have started growing. Move them to a warm, sunny location and treat them as you would your other houseplants.
- Continue watering coleus, geraniums, fuchsias, and other annuals overwintered as houseplants.
- Monitor your outdoor plantings. Use your journal to record any observations and any needed actions. Note any areas with standing water or ice. These conditions can lead to bulb rot and even death. Note the location of any bulbs that sprout during one of our winter thaws. Plan on moving them this year or mulching them next fall after the ground freezes.
- Check winter mulch if the snow has disappeared. It can always be added after snow melts. Remember, the goal is to keep the soil temperature consistent and avoid those February thaws.
- Monitor plantings for frost heaving caused by the freezing and thawing of un-mulched gardens. The fluctuating temperatures cause the soil to shift and often push shallow-rooted perennials right out of the soil. Gently tamp these back into the soil as soon as they are discovered. Make a note to mulch these areas next fall after the ground freezes.
- Be patient. Wait for the worst of winter to pass before cleaning out the garden. Many borderline hardy perennials, such as salvias, seem to survive better when the stems are left standing.
- Check roses and make sure winter protection is secure. Locate and replace any rose shelters, rose cones, or mulch that may have blown away during storms.
- Monitor the health and growing conditions of miniature roses, tree roses and tropical plants that you are overwintering indoors. Keep plants in a cool room in front of an unobstructed south-facing window. These plants need humidity indoors in the winter. A good method of providing this is to simply fill a shallow, waterproof saucer with small pebbles; then add water halfway up the pebbles. Place the pot on the pebble surface above the water. As the water evaporates from the saucer, it will add humidity around the plants.
- Fertilize nutrient-deficient vines growing indoors for the winter. Look for pale leaves and stunted growth. Use a diluted solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer. Do not fertilize plants that are showing signs of stress from low light and lack of humidity. Stressed plants lose leaves and have little if any new growth. Correct the problem before fertilizing. Adding nutrients to stressed plants can injure the plants.
- Check indoor plants for signs of mites and aphids. These insects suck out the plant juices, causing the leaves to be speckled, yellow and stunted. Cover the pot with a plastic bag. Place plants in the shower and rinse with clear water. This helps dislodge many of the insects. Then spray the upper and lower leaf surfaces with insecticidal soap which is effective at killing the soft-bodied insects, such as aphids and mites, but it is safe for the plant. Repeat once a week as needed. You will probably need at least two to four applications to keep these pests under control.
- Enjoy the seedpods, form and winter interest provided by your perennials. Note areas that need a little lift. Perhaps you need a few more perennials or the addition of dwarf conifers, small trees or ornamental shrubs.
- Check on non-hardy bulbs, tubers and bulbs that are tucked away for winter storage. Discard any soft, discolored or rotting bulbs. Move sprouting bulbs to a cooler (45 to 50° Fahrenheit), dark location.
- Save branches from forsythia, crab apple, magnolias, quince, pussy willows and other flowering trees and shrubs. Use hand pruners to cut branches above a healthy bud or where they are joined to another branch. Place branches in a bucket of water in a cool (60° Fahrenheit), brightly lit location. Mist the branches several times a day and keep the cut ends in water and wait until the stems start to bloom. Flowering stems can be used in arrangements with other flowers or by themselves. Move flowering stems to a cooler location (40° F) at night to prolong bloom.
- Continue harvesting indoor herbs from your windowsill herb garden as needed for cooking. You may need to add some extra light during these short, dark days of February. Add artificial light to improve growth and productivity. Water thoroughly, allowing the excess to drain out of the bottom of the pot. Check twice a week and water whenever the top 2 inches of soil start to dry. Monitor indoor herbs and fertilize plants that are pale, stunted or showing other signs of nutrient deficiencies. Make sure it is a lack of nutrients, not light, causing these symptoms. Use a dilute solution of any houseplant fertilizer. Avoid excess fertilization as it can ruin the flavor.
- Cut back leggy herbs to a set of healthy leaves. This will encourage branching and more growth for harvest. Dry or use these pieces for cooking. Try freezing excess harvest in ice cubes for later use
- Sow ageratum and lobelia seeds in mid or late February.
- Start tuberous rooted begonias indoors.
- Keep feeding Christmas poinsettias if bracts are still colored and in good shape.
- A warm spell may cause outdoor bulbs to emerge. Mulch with loose hay or other organic material to protect against alternate freezing and thawing.
- Check to see that houseplants have sufficient light.
- Monitor houseplants for fungus gnats, mites, aphids, and whiteflies. Fungus gnats are the little fruit fly-like insects that can be seen flitting around your plants. Keep the soil slightly drier to reduce their populations. These are not harmful to the plants – just a nuisance to you. Aphids, which are small, teardrop shaped insects, can weaken plants. Treat outbreaks with insecticidal soap. You may need several applications. Try catching fungus gnats and whiteflies with yellow sticky traps placed near the plants or stuck into the soil.
- Pinch back indoor plantings to keep them compact. Remove the stem tip or a portion of the stem just above a healthy leaf. Start new plants from stem and leaf pieces that are 4 to 6 inches long. Remove the lowest set of leaves and dip the stem in a rooting compound. This material contains a fungicide to prevent rot and hormones to encourage rooting. Place cuttings in a moist vermiculite, perlite or well-drained potting mix. Roots should form in one to two weeks. Transplant rooted cuttings into a small container of potting mix. Water frequently to keep the soils lightly moist, but not wet.
- Fertilize amaryllis and other forced bulbs when they have finished blooming. This will help restore some of the spent energy. Use a dilute solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer.
- Start bulbs of canna and caladium indoors.
- Prune winter damaged branches as they are found on your shrubs. Wait until the snow melts and the worst of winter has passed to start major pruning. This way you can see what winter and the animals have left for you to work with. Summer and fall blooming plants can be pruned now until their growth begins in spring. Wait until after flowering to prune spring blooming shrubs.
- Trees can be pruned during the dormant season. It is much easier to see the overall shape of the tree and what needs to be removed. Birches, walnuts and maples can be pruned in late winter. The running sap does not hurt the tree; it just makes the job messy. Wait until early summer when the weather is dry to prune honey locust trees.
- Prune oaks in winter to reduce the risk of oak wilt.
- Check mugo pines for pine needle scale. Look for white flecks on the needles. A lime sulfur spray can be used now to kill the pest.
- Check dogwood for signs of golden canker. This fungal disease is common on dogwoods that have suffered heat and drought stress in summer. The twigs turn gold and die. Prune out infected stems. Disinfect tools between cuts.
- Look for areas in your yard that would benefit from the addition of trees and shrubs. They can provide screening, seasonal interest, shade and windbreaks. Avoid planting too close to buildings, power lines and other utilities. Select trees and shrubs best suited for your landscape.
- Start seeds of onion, leek and chives. Let onion start growing before fertilizing the soil. Fertilizer can harm the sprouting seedlings.
- Choose a mild day to prune grape vines and apple, plum and cherry trees. Check for overwintering fire blight cankers and remove by pruning.
Minnich, Jerry. The Wisconsin Garden Guide – The Complete Guide to Vegetables, Flowers, Herbs, Fruit, & Nuts, Lawn & Landscaping, Indoor Gardening. 3rd ed. Madison: Prairie Oak, 1995. Print.
Myers, Melinda. Month by Month Gardening in Wisconsin: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Franklin: Cool Springs, 2006. Print.