Here in central Virginia February is the month to start sowing seeds so by mid-month aim to finish planning your garden and start planting in flats. Lots of gardeners are turning to the new online Garden Planner tools to help with getting their initial plan finalized, adding in succession plantings, figuring out how many seeds to buy and making sure the crucial summer plantings for a successful fall and winter harvest happen on time. Many of these tools including our Southern Exposure Garden Planner will send you a reminder of what needs to be planted every other week. Most of the planners have a one month free trial so if you are even a little bit comfortable with online tools check out a few and give one a try. I’ll guarantee you’ll think gardening just got easier.
However you make your plan and figure out which seeds you need do it early in the month. Then check to make sure you have all your seeds ordered and ready to start your earliest plantings. Indoors or in a cold frame, start some lettuce, parsley, early cabbage and broccoli. Finish sowing any remaining onions from seed and hot peppers like Habanero by early February because they are very slow growing until the days get longer and the temperatures warmer.
If you are new to starting plants from seed visit Jordan’s recent post 8 Common Mistakes When Starting Seeds then start another succession planting of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, Chinese greens, and lettuce in flats. By the middle of February you can start sweet bell peppers and eggplant seeds. Later in the month start your first tomato seedlings. Although I have to admit I always start a few extra early tomato seedlings by February 1. If you do this be prepared to move them up to an 8” or 10” pot before it is warm enough to put them outside. A cold tolerant Russian variety or an extra early variety like Glacier or Stupice works well if you just can’t wait. I am lucky to have a greenhouse for my early planting madness. If you don’t have a greenhouse I suggest growing your earliest seedling under florescent lights. Hang the lights on chains so you can move the lights up as the seedlings grow. Keep your lights just a few inches above the plants for sturdy little seedlings.
If you prepared some beds last fall and covered them with mulch, landscape fabric or cardboard getting an early start on spring planting will be easy. If not wait for the first warm day when the soil in your garden is dry enough for a handful that you squeeze tightly to easily crumble when thrown on the ground get out and prepare a couple of beds for planting. We like pre-sprouting spinach, pea, carrot, and beet seeds on paper towels in an incubator for our extra early plantings in the spring. These can be planted every two weeks. Sow them out under row cover or agricultural fleece as soon as they send out their 1st little roots. You can use a heating mat to speed up germination and get your early seedling flats off to an early start. By late February or as soon as the weather warms up a little switch to direct sowing and add cool other weather greens like spinach, bok choi, lettuce, mizuna, mustard and early lettuce varieties.
Cold Frames and polyester floating row cover can really speed up the early regrowth of wintered over greens or the growth of early spring greens and roots. We are still harvesting collards, Lacinato Rainbow kale, Red Russian kale, tatsoi, spinach, , arugula, cilantro, chard, red oakleaf and Bronze Arrow lettuce as well as smaller quantities of a number of other varieties. All of this bounty is just covered with a single layer of row cover. We expected most of these plants to have taken a break from growing during the Persephone days but not this year. They just kept on growing just a little slower.
When the weather is nice enough to enjoy being outside again finish weeding your perennials and give them compost, if not done in fall, including strawberries and grapes. February is the time to finish transplanting any remaining bushes, canes, or crowns. February is also the time to finish mulching your berries and other perennials before the weeds get ahead of you. Then finish any pruning your grapes, blueberries and raspberries.
We’ll have to wait and see what late February and March bring in the way of weather. In the meantime keep planting in flat or out in the garden as weather permits!
by Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast