When we finally have some rainy days, take the opportunity to do some garden “bookkeeping.” Set up a garden calendar or journal. Have a page for seed-starting dates, fertilizer dates, watering schedules, first harvest, and a space for notes on what did and did not work. Include a page for daily temperatures and rainfall.
I have an inexpensive indoor/outdoor thermometer inside on my counter, with an additional sensor outside. I can check inside and outside temperatures from the kitchen by just pushing a button. Rain gauges come in a range of styles and prices, so check your local nursery or home-improvement store. Depending on your organizational style, a computer-based gardening program might work for you. Or perhaps you would prefer a spiral-bound notebook in a waterproof case that you can take into the garden.
If we finally get ample rain and the soil becomes saturated, cover sections of the garden to get a head start on spring crops. Use clear plastic tenting to exclude excess rain and raise the soil temperature. Remove the plastic between rains (I'm obviously an optimist) to evaporate excess moisture.
It might seem early to be thinking about planting, but fruit trees, shrubs, vegetables and flowers can all go in the ground this month. If the soil is not too wet, you can dig up and divide overcrowded clumps of perennials.
Valentine's Day is imminent. Potted red camellias, cerise azaleas or white gardenias make lovely romantic gifts that can transition to long lives in the garden. Even if you're not buying for a Valentine, February is a great month to visit nurseries to view color options on blooming camellias and other winter-flowering shrubs and plants.
Bare-root asparagus and rhubarb are still available, but not for long. Both are long-lived crops that will produce for years in an area they like.
Potatoes are also in nurseries now and can be planted along with carrots, peas, onions, radishes, lettuce, spinach, parsley and chard. To these familiar vegetables, consider adding Asian greens, cresses, arugula and kales.
If you grow warm-season vegetables from seed, it is time to pull out your warming mat and set up your lights or find your sunniest window. Early in the month, start seeds for cabbage, cauliflower, onions, parsley and lettuce. Later in the month, sow seeds for your favorite tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and basil.
If you have raised beds in your garden or hills with ample compost, winter squash and pumpkin seeds can go directly in the ground now. I began popping in a few pumpkin seeds this early after noting that volunteer squash seedlings always came up much sooner than I felt safe planting them. They ripened and were ready to harvest sooner, too.
If you are craving color, shop now for penstemon, dianthus, coreopsis and sages. Or trade with gardening friends who have an excess.
Shop for dahlias now. These Escher-like flowers, geometrically complex and available in a huge range of sizes and colors, make fanciful additions to the garden and can create whimsical memories for little people. If you buy dahlia tubers, select those with several “eyes” on each stem and plant late in March. Until then, keep them in moist wood shavings so they don't dry out. Prepare their bed according to the planting directions that come with them.
If you see evidence of snails or slugs (slimy trails are one clue), try setting out inverted flower pots, propped up a tad on one side so the pests have a way in to the “snail hotel.” Collect your victims in the morning and throw them away or feed to your chickens. Thisnon-toxic approach keeps chemicals out of your garden and away from pets and children.
Spray peach and nectarine trees to prevent peach-leaf curl just when the buds begin to bulge and show color. Alternatively, you can pick off the crinkled leaves as they appear, put them in a bag and dispose of them. Eventually the tree will replace them with healthy leaves.
Weeds begin to appear now. Tackle them with pre-emergent herbicides, hula hoes or your favorite implement. Try to catch weeds early, before they go to seed. If they have set seed, toss them in the yard-waste bin. Weed seeds often survive home composting.
Drought alert: Yes, you should be watering your plants since nature is not. Water any plants that still have leaves. Many California native plants need water now and should be your top priority, followed by newly planted trees, fruit trees,other large trees and any plants pushing buds. Dormant plants that leaf out early should be watered before those that leaf out later. Make small plants a lower priority as they cost less to replace than trees and large shrubs. Fruit trees that get irregular or insufficient water may drop fruit or produce undersized or malformed fruit.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a workshop on “Fruit Tree Pruning” on Saturday, February 22, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (indoor lecture) and from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (outdoor hands-on workshop). Lecture location is the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Outdoor location to be determined.
Now is the best time to prune your fruit trees. Learn techniques to keep them healthy and productive. Please dress for outdoor weather. Online registration (credit card only) Mail in registration (cash or check only)
Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to visit their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. until noon, except the last Thursday of the month. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road at Thompson Avenue in Napa. Enter on Thompson Avenue.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.