While the calendar says spring is several weeks away, by the end of the month the earliest fruit trees and their ornamental cultivars will also begin to bloom, especially the almonds and plums. In our pleasant valley, the seasonal change is happening ahead of the spring equinox.
What should you be doing in the garden? Top of the list is to finish the winter tasks. Roses should be pruned before they start their vigorous growing next month, and fruit trees before the buds break. In general, any winter-dormant tree or shrub should be pruned before it blooms or puts out leaves, but wait to prune spring-blooming ornamentals like camellias and azaleas until after they have bloomed.
If your peaches and nectarines suffer from peach leaf curl, February is the last month to effectively spray for this fungal disease. According to University of California IPM, our statewide integrated pest management program, the safest effective products available for backyard trees are copper soap (copper octanoate) or a fixed copper fungicide. You can get detailed information about peach leaf curl at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/QT/peachleafcurlcard.html.
There is still time to plant bare-root plants, including fruit trees and roses. Nurseries may also have strawberries, artichokes and cane berries, such as blackberries and raspberries, to plant now.
You might notice that the leaves of your citrus trees are yellowing. In our climates, many citrus suffer from iron deficiency in winter as wet soils and cool temperatures affect the ability of the roots to access iron in the ground. This iron chlorosis may be treated with a foliar spray of chelated iron, available in nurseries. It is tempting to fertilize with nitrogen as well, but hold off until the weather is warmer. Nitrogen fertilizer could stimulate new growth, which is especially sensitive to frost damage. Our frost season will not be over until late spring.
Slugs and snails are rainy-season pests that may be active in your garden now. Chemical baits alone won't solve the problem. Regular handpicking is the preferred method for controlling them. You can trap them by setting out boards or inverted flower pots in the evening. Prop up the boards or pots by about an inch to allow slugs and snails easy access. Turn the boards over and destroy the gastropods every morning when you do your rounds.
If you are persistent, after a few weeks you should notice significantly fewer of these pests in your garden. If you do choose to use chemical bait, look for one with iron phosphate as its active ingredient. These baits are safe for use around children, pets and wildlife. Avoid baits containing metaldehyde, as this ingredient is particularly poisonous to dogs and cats.
In the flower garden, remove spent blossoms regularly to keep your fall-planted annuals looking good. You can still plant more cool-season flowers such as pansies and snapdragons. Visit a local nursery for more ideas. Clean up fallen camellia and azalea blossoms to prevent petal blight, a fungal disease promoted by rainy weather.
In the vegetable patch, you may be harvesting fall-planted favas, kale, chard, carrots and beets. These cool-season vegetables tolerate some frost. In February you can begin planting these crops again to harvest in late spring before setting out summer veggies. You can direct-sow seeds of chard, lettuce, beets, radishes, and spinach into previously prepared garden beds. You can transplant starts of all the brassicas (cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower) as well. Looking ahead to the warm season, early February is the time to start tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds indoors for transplanting later.
February should be a rainy month. If your soil is wet, you should not handle it. Walking on or digging in wet soil destroys its structure by compacting it, eliminating the air and water pockets that are a significant component of healthy soil. Wait for dry weather before planting, and don't plan to do major soil preparation until later in the spring.
If rainy weather prevents me from getting everything done this month, I don't mind. Every gray, wet day means more water in the soil bank for the next season. Besides, yellow blossoms look especially bright silhouetted against a cloudy sky.
Workshop: Join Napa County Master Gardeners on Saturday, February 7, for “Home Vineyard: Part 1.” Learn what to do, what to look for, and what to plan for in the vineyard between February and August. A follow-up workshop will be held in August. Location: U. C. Oakville Experimental Station, 1380 Oakville Grade Road, Oakville. Classroom discussion from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Discussion moves into the vineyard from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Online registration (credit card only)
Mail-in registration (cash or check only)
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.