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GardenSMART::February Means Cabin Fever

February Means Cabin Fever

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

It may only be 28 days on the calendar, but February is by far the longest month. Where I live, the ground is frozen and the landscape is a study in grays and browns. I can depend on some snow cover here in my corner of zone 6 Pennsylvania. Spring has just started to tease: There are buds on the lilac and it's no longer dark at 5 p.m., but there aren't enough gardening tasks to satisfy my green thumb.

So how to get through this cold, gray month, when the house no longer seems cozy but confining, and it seems like winter will never end? Here are some ways to pass the time.

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February is when I look at the photos I took of the garden at different bloom times and times of day last spring, summer and fall, to see where I should add, subtract or move plants. I'm looking to round out their colors, textures or heights to make the overall vision more satisfying.

Most of us northerners can only wistfully thumb through gardening catalogs, place orders and dream about the day – still weeks away – when we can set up the grow lights and fill seed trays. Those in warmer climates are actually starting seeds, as well as planting cool-weather annuals like pansies and Osteospermum. I envy you.

I get my gardening fix by watching TV. I'm fond of the British gardening shows on Netflix, and of course on this side of the pond, GardenSMART on Create TV (and PBS). I always learn something that can help make me a better gardener.

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February's claim to fame is Valentine's Day and flowers, in particular red or pink roses, are the day's third most popular gift, behind candy and cards. Valentine's Day is the one day I'd rather not receive flowers. They are ridiculously overpriced and often past their prime. My beloved is welcome to buy me flowers any other day of the year.

(Here's a tip: Once a bouquet of flowers has faded and it's time to clean the vase, fill it with hot water and drop in a denture-cleaning tablet. It will take any scale or scum off the vase with no scrubbing and leave the glass sparkling.)

Instead of cut flowers, I'd rather have a real plant, one that will last more than a week. That's why I love orchids in winter. They are delicate (though tougher than they look), exquisitely beautiful, and their flowers last for weeks, even months. Give them bright, indirect light, water every ten days or so, and fertilize a few times a year, and an orchid will bloom for years. For more on growing orchids, check out this article on our website:

When I'm in a store and tempted by an orchid or any flowering plant in winter, I keep in mind the outdoor temperature, specifically how cold or windy it is during the trip from the store to my car, and the car to my house. It only takes a minute of freezing temperatures or harsh winds to zap the flower buds on a potted plant (especially orchids), and wrapping it in a shopping bag isn't enough protection. If it's below freezing outside, I wait for a warmer day to buy.

There's always a day or two in the month where the temperature reaches 60 degrees or so. The sun's finally shining and suddenly everyone in town is out for a walk. I took one today, enjoying my neighbors' landscaping and appreciating the subtle shades of blues and greens in the evergreens. There is color in a winter landscape; you just have to look for it.

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It's too early here yet for snowdrops but I keep an eye out anyway. Those, and hellebore blossoms. My hellebores are some of the longest-lasting flowers in my garden, with purple and deep pink blooms until May. They are sited where I can see them going to and from the car and from a bedroom window. After bloom, their black-green serrated leaves provide a nice contrast to the brighter green foliage of spring and summer perennials.

Later this month I'll be doing some selective pruning of summer-blooming shrubs while they are still dormant, but it's too early now. I'll leave the spring bloomers alone, or else I will prune off their flower buds. And I'll count the days until March, when the crocuses appear through the snow and the gardening year starts in earnest.


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