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Irrigation, pruning and planting lead the February garden to-do list

Pink-petaled Pelargonium blooms cluster atop the plant's green leaves.
Pelargoniums, commonly called geraniums, are a drought-tolerant choice for an ornamental, which produces colorful flowers with a sweet scent. Try growing them in a pot or along the edge of a flower bed.
(Getty Images)

The days are growing longer, the air is slowly warming and there’s been little rain recently, though February is traditionally the wettest month of the year.

Pay attention to what your garden is telling you about its water needs. Gardeners, stay vigilant!

Irrigation

  • With days still cool and the sun still low in the sky, plants don’t need much water unless there’s no rain for a couple of weeks or a freak heat wave. In that case, run each irrigation zone once, then monitor the soil’s moisture and watch the weather to see when the plants need irrigation again.
  • Check your irrigation controller to make sure all the zones are set for winter conditions. If the water runs more than once a week, that’s too often.
  • Switch to a newer, Wi-Fi-enabled irrigation controller. These newer products have their own app that’s easily controlled from your computer or phone.
  • Protect your garden and your home by adding a flow sensor to your irrigation system. Flow sensors measure how fast or slow water flows through your irrigation system and sends that information to the controller. If you have a slow leak or a broken pipe, it triggers your irrigation controller to alert you to check the system and fix the problem.
  • Before the heat and dry air of spring and summer, update your irrigation system to in-line drip.

    In-line drip systems are flexible tubing with emitters embedded inside the lines. These systems are the most efficient and easiest to maintain. In-line drip laid out as a grid over the entire planting bed wets soil evenly and deeply to encourage deep, drought-resistant roots. Narrower-gauge in-line drip is designed for vegetable gardens; wider gauge works for ornamental garden beds and fruiting trees and shrubs.

Ornamentals

  • Continue planting native plants such as the majestic coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia), monkey flower (Mimulus and Diplacus), Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and buckwheat (Eriogonum). Plant into native soils. Don’t amend the planting holes, but do throw in a few handfuls of worm castings. Mulch after planting.
  • Plant Pelargoniums, one of the groups of plants that we commonly call geraniums, though they are not actually geraniums. Most Pelargoniums are very drought-tolerant and make lovely flowers. Some are fragrant, too. Try the celery-scented Pelargonium ionidiflorum, which has tiny, bright pink flowers, or the South African Pelargonium sidoides, with its blue-green leaves and prolific, tiny burgundy flowers. Pelargonium “Gary’s Nebula” blooms coral pink with a bright purple pistil in the center. All of these are beautiful in a pot or edging a flower bed.
  • Finish pruning flowering shrubs, trees and perennials before flower buds form. If you wait too long, you’ll prune off flower buds. When that happens, there won’t be any flowers or fruits this year.
  • Plant trees! Trees — and all plants — sequester carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, from the atmosphere. Their shade cools your home in summer. Trees generate the oxygen we breathe, and they are wonderful habitats for pollinators and other animals. And trees are beautiful!
Palm trees whose center fronds suddenly collapse may be infested with the deadly South American palm weevil.
(File)

  • Keep an eye out for palm trees whose center fronds suddenly collapse. That could be evidence of the deadly, invasive South American palm weevil. In the past, it primarily attacked Canary Island date palms. Now its appetite seems to be expanding. By the time infection is visible, palms cannot be saved.

Projects

A large ceramic jar serves as a bubbling water fountain in a green garden.
A large ceramic pot or jar can be used as a water feature in your garden by adding a recirculating pump, perhaps attracting insects, birds or other visitors.
(Getty Images)

Stroll your garden with an eye toward projects that would make your garden prettier, more welcoming, more artistic or just more fun.

  • Use a slab of stone to span a dry stream bed or prop it up on rocks for a welcoming bench.
  • Convert an outdated fountain to a succulent planter. Make sure to add drainage holes before you plant.
  • Create a color-filled mosaic on a plain concrete or stucco wall.
  • Large, brightly glazed pottery doesn’t need to be planted. Set a tall, unplanted pot in a bed of ornamental plants as a piece of architecture or to serve as contrasting texture.
  • Set a large, glazed ceramic pot atop an underground basin outfitted with a recirculating pump to make a water feature that attracts birds, bees, lizards and other wildlife.

Vegetable garden

Now is the time to plant broccoli and other late cool-season crops.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

  • Plant your last cool-season crops — such as kohlrabi, broccoli and cabbage — from seedlings.
  • Direct-seed seedling potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips and beets.
  • Start planting pole beans and bush beans now. Fava beans are good to plant now, too.
  • If you planted a cover crop in your vegetable garden, cut it down this month. Leave the roots in place. Put the leaves into compost or layer them onto your garden beds to decompose in place. In about eight weeks, the beds will be ready for spring and summer veggies.
  • Buy seeds for spring and summer vegetables, herbs and flowers. Don’t jump the gun, however; wait until next month to plant them.

Fruiting trees, shrubs, vines, perennials

  • Prune grapevines. Cut the vines back to just one or two side branches (these are called “laterals”). Shorten each side branch to just one or two “nodes”; nodes look like joints but are actually scars from fallen leaves. The nodes will sprout new branches to bear this summer’s crop.
  • Continue planting bare-root fruit trees, blueberries, artichokes and strawberries.
  • Harvest citrus. Lots of citrus are ready to harvest and eat now, including limes, kumquats, mandarins, grapefruits, lemons, tangelos and navel oranges.
  • Start fertilizing citrus and avocado with organic citrus and avocado food. Granulated fertilizers are easiest to use, but liquids work just as well. Follow label directions.
  • Finish pruning and spraying deciduous fruit trees such as peaches, pluots, apples, pears, etc., before you notice buds swell and leaves peek out.
  • Once deciduous fruit trees spring to life, apply the year’s first dose of fruit tree fertilizer. Granular or liquid organic formulations are best. Always follow label directions.

Weeds

  • Keep up with weeds. Hoe them, smother them with mulch, pull them out.
  • Weeds can be frustrating. Here’s what not to use to kill them: bleach, salt, salt water, oil, gasoline or any kind of petroleum product, or household disinfectant. These products are all terrible for soil. They can kill the beneficial microbes and important insects that live in soil. Some have long-term toxic effects, too.

Nan Sterman is a garden designer and writer and host of “A Growing Passion” on KPBS television. For more information, visit agrowingpassion.com and waterwisegardener.com.