Garden Tasks for February

by Pat Brothers
Photographs by Paul Brothers

Often one of my customers down here in Trees and Shrubs will say “I bet you have a beautiful garden.”  Bless ‘em, I only wish I did. I have a clutter of started but not finished projects, about 30 plants that need to be put into the ground and all the debris that accumulated from giving up on keeping ahead of the weeds last July.

But there is something about this time of year. Hope really does spring eternal. This year I will stay ahead of the weeds and plant everything and fill all my pots with flowers and remember to water. Uh huh. So in the spirit of never say die here is a small sampling of the mistakes and miscalculations and accidental successes I have had, and what I will try to do to correct them, with the hope that they will hearten you and save you a few mistakes of your own.

I will prune back the really beautiful weeping yaupon holly that in my ignorance I planted directly in front of my kitchen window. Who knew they got so tall? I must plant one in an appropriate place so it can grow to its true size, about 20 plus feet. I need to add that to the multitude of plants that must be watered this coming summer to establish them.
Time to prune the kaleidoscope abelias. They do stay quite low but they throw up these wild hairs. It’s an abelia thing. They did not color up as well as they should because I did not plant them in a sunny enough location. I should put some more into that new sun garden I am planning. (Of course I am planning a new garden. After all I can’t keep up with the ones I have.) The flowering apricot is in full bloom now. I can see it from my kitchen window despite the yaupon holly. The flower color perfectly matches the camellia behind it. I wish I could say I planned that. I love flowering apricots (Prunus mume). They are in bloom in January/ February and stay in flower for several weeks. The flower buds are very cold hardy. They survived our recent cold snap beautifully. Mine maintains its shape without pruning.
The serpentine flowering cherry really needs work. I haven’t pruned it for years because I hate to cut off the flowers, but the shape has almost disappeared. I will harden my heart this year. This really is a great time to prune. The leaves are not in the way and you can easily see the structure of the plants. Here in Raleigh we have enough warm days to make getting out in the yard pleasant.

I let that horrible Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum) take over my beds again. At least it is really easy to pull after it is dead, but now the seeds for a new crop are waiting to erupt. I used a pre-emergent in some places last year which was really effective. The angelica blue juniper that was hidden under it is at last revealed again. Of course it is overgrowing the two junipers that I planted too close to it. I will have to move them to that new sun garden. Then weed the rest of the garden, rake up the debris and then all I will need is some mulch. Luckily that pile that did not get spread last year is still close to hand.

One difficulty I have in designing a garden is that I am not very careful about color. This is evident in an area where I planted several Japanese maples. In the spring they leaf out in shades of warm red and orange, as beautiful as flowers, and lasting much longer. Nearby is a trellis with American wisteria on it. This plant is not as aggressive as its invader cousin, but once planted a few years there is no moving it and if you try to dig it out it will leave little pieces of itself that will grow and grow. The flowers are a light lavender and look beautiful with the blue foliaged plants situated nearby. But the lavender and the orange, well they are an unfortunate combination. I have found in theses situations that if you put a splash of purple between the two warring colors, it calms and cools the transition between. I planted a Carolina Sweetheart Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘NCCC1’, a fabulous introduction from NC State University and the NC Nursery & Landscape Association.) where the new purple, pink and white leaves will become the bridge that I hope will ease the transition. If it is too pink then I will have to try a purple foliaged plant like the Merlot redbud, the purple leafed filbert or the loropetalum. Then of course I will have to find a new place for my original redbud, which I will have to water along with the other 30 some plants I need to find a home for.

Oh well, my mother always said plants are like furniture. If you don’t like where they are, just move them.