What should — or shouldn’t — Texas gardeners be doing this month? We asked Larry Stein, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture specialist at Uvalde and professor in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Horticultural Sciences, for his top tips.
Keep in mind the weather your region receives, Stein said. Those further south can typically do outdoor gardening activities earlier in the month, whereas those in the Panhandle may need to wait a bit. Stein said we’re still waiting to see what effects, if any, January’s sub-freezing temperatures had on plants.
“The good news is that many areas have had a really nice rain since the cold weather,” Stein said. ”The other is that the change in weather was not too extreme — the cold came in gradually and then kind of stayed there.”
Top 5 Garden Tips for February
1. Scalp your lawn toward the end of the month to remove any thatch layer and promote spring green up. Scalping is when you cut your grass significantly; the low stems should be exposed.
2. Apply pre-emergent herbicide and incorporate it via water into your lawn to prevent spring weeds from germinating.
3. Frost-sensitive transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can be purchased now and potted up into larger containers. This will result in a larger plant with an excellent root system to set out in mid-to-late March.
4. Hold off on pruning fruit trees since early pruning can stimulate bud break. However, now is the prime time to collect budding or grafting wood for this coming spring. Also, if ice accumulation is in the forecast, support tree limbs to reduce breakage.
5. Fertilize woody ornamentals with a 3-1-2 slow-release fertilizer toward the end of the month.
How, when and why it’s time to prune your roses
Stein said Valentine’s Day serves as a good reminder to gardeners across the state that it is time to think about pruning their roses.
February is typically the month to give your rosebushes the attention they need to have the most bountiful blooms down the road. Texans should consider their weather and keep an eye open for bud breaks that can vary across the state. When you start to see the buds, you need to prune them as soon as possible.
Wait too long, and your plant will have to waste resources on growth that you will just cut off, Stein said. Leaving too many buds will also result in shoots that aren’t as strong.
Another key item to keep in mind when it comes to pruning your roses is wine.
“If you imagine the shape of a wineglass, that is the shape you want to prune your roses,” Stein said.
He explained that you should use an “open center system” when pruning roses. This means the center of your rose plants should be open like a wine bowl, with the branches in the middle of the plant pruned away.
“Your trunk is like the wineglass stem, and then you want to have your branches shaped into an open bowl,” he explained. “You’ll want just about three or four key branches to prune back to.”
Another pruning should follow later in the year, Stein said, but this first one should be the most extreme so you can stimulate vigorous growth. New shoots are what bear the flowers, so don’t be afraid to be heavy-handed with the pruners.
“Typically, the harder you prune roses, the better they do,” Stein said. “What you are doing is stimulating vegetative growth, which is where you will have flowers. It is not uncommon to have a lot of brown wood in the top of the rosebush; don’t be afraid to cut back branches, and they can even be taken all the way to the ground.”
Keep in mind, though, that roses grown on their own roots differ from root stock roses when it comes to pruning.
“With root stock roses, you do not want to cut off the part of the plant where the improvement starts,” Stein said. “There is usually a distinct change of color where the improved variety starts, and you do not want to cut below that.”