By Bob Morrison, Cooper Young Garden Club

Spring cannot be far off. Seed packets are on display at Home Depot and Lowe’s already. Use this valuable slow period and relief from outside chores to do some mental wandering. Take advantage of books and magazines, and do not forget to study the seed catalogs as well.

February Plantings

Start small – buy perennials and plant them. Expand a little at a time so you can manage what you have and not get discouraged.

The last two weeks of the month are important for planting in order to give plants ample time to make a good root system before hot weather arrives.

  • Broad-leafed evergreens – February ideal time to plant magnolia, holly, and photinia aka ”Christmas berry”.
  • Roses – soon after February 15th   – applies to both new roses and moving old ones.
  • Perennials – may be divided and transplanted….know where you are going to put a transplant before you dig it up.

When spring bulbs are about to pop from the ground, it is time to plant hardy summer bloomers. These include lilies, gladiolus, callas, and cannas. Sprinkle bulb fertilizer around them when they begin to sprout.  

Seed Starting

The seed starting time is determined by the plant’s growth rate and the average last frost date which is March 22nd for the Memphis area

Start annual seeds indoors:

  • Growing from seed allows for a wider variety than you will find as seedlings at the garden centers.
  • Sprinkle seeds over top of peat pods, seed-starting trays filled with fresh potting soil. Barely cover.
  • Once sprouting occurs relocate to spot close to sunny window or beneath grow lights

INDOORS sowing:

  • 8 weeks before last frost – sow now (!) – sweet peas, poppies, larkspur, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, lettuce, peppers
  • 6 weeks before last frost – a.s.a.p. – perennial flowers, tomatoes, watermelon
  • 3 – 4 weeks before last frost – (late-February) – cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, muskmelon

OUTDOOR sowing:

  • 2 – 3 weeks before last frost – (early March) – poppies, cornflowers, candytuft, larkspur, phlox,  basil, corn, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash,  
  • 2 – 3 weeks after last frost – (early April) – basil, cutting flowers, corn, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash
  • 3 – 4 weeks after last frost – (late April) – all bean varieties


  • Start transplants indoors for tomatoes, peppers, and egg-plant mid-month – they will need 6 to 8 weeks to be ready for the garden
  • Late February – early March plant peas, onions, and kale
  • Early March – plant spinach, turnips, radishes, and onions.


  • In general, fertilize gardens the end of February to early March.
  • Fertilize spring bulb areas with an application of 8-8-8 (1 level tablespoon per sq. foot) or 10-10-10  (1 rounded teaspoon per sq. foot).
  • Winter weeds thrive now – get out and pull them before they throw off seeds – bitter cross, henbit, chickweed, and others. [look on “Google Image” to help identify these]
  • Remove any winter mulch from around crowns of perennials – best done on a cloudy day to prevent burning of tender pale growth.
  • Press back into the ground any perennials that frost heaved over the winter

Trees – Shrubs


  • Spray broad-leafed evergreens, especially camellia, holly, photinia and euonymus if infected with scale.
  • Use a dormant oil spray if temperature is above 40º and below 80º


  • Fertilize trees and all shrubs except spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas, forsythia, camellias.
  • A good chemical fertilizer is 10-8-6. Slow release fertilizers are the most effective.


Try this – for cutting back foliage when pruning shrubs, use small steak knives that come in packs of four from the Dollar store. They work great and when they become dull just toss them. They are much easier on the hands than pruners.

  • Many varieties of shrubs can be pruned back severely to renovate old or overgrown growth. February is the best time to do this with the exceptions of spring flowering shrugs.
  • Pruning spring flowering shrubs – A reminder …NOT now!

If you cut back your spring flowering shrubs such as rhododendron and azaleas during the current dormant period it will reduce this year’s blooming. Optimum time is just after they bloom in the spring.

  • Hydrangea (Annabelle’s) – hard prune – reduced number of stems will yield bigger flower clusters.


If you have not yet gotten around to spring fertilizer applications you are almost out of time. Mid-March is the recommended deadline.

Apply a pre-emergent herbicide if your lawn has a history of crabgrass and other summer weeds. Treat the lawn before weed seeds germinate.

Consider making changes to your lawn to reduce maintenance costs and time:

  • Reduce lawn area and cut out problem areas like wet and/or shady spots, constant, heavy traffic areas, and difficult to maintain areas: narrow strips, tight angles, and under trees.
  • Expand mulch area around trees and beds
  • Plant “Turf Type” white clovers that are lower growing, less vigorous, smaller leaves and less flower.

Garden equipment –check all power equipment now for needed repairs and blade sharpening. Don’t wait until the gardening season begins.Replace broken handles and parts of hand tools.

Check your garden tools – make repairs, clean up and sharpen blades of saws and shovels alike.

House plants   

  • Longer days are upon us and most plants reach for the light. Rotate houseplants 180 degrees every time they are watered to encourage even growth on all sides of the plant.
  • Check house plants for insect infestation such as spider mites, scale and whiteflies.
  • Plants can be taken outside on a warm day for spraying, but bring them back in before dark.
  • Repot and trim up houseplants. Rejuvenate hanging baskets and use cuttings to start new baskets.


As you see flower buds swelling on spring-blooming trees and shrubs such as flowering peach, redbud, forsythia, quince, crabapple, lilac and spirea cut a few branches. Place them in vases with water so you can enjoy the blossoms indoors. Change the water about every five days.

Prepare for scouting bluebirds and clean out old bluebird boxes and mount new ones

Remember to start keeping good garden records by recording starting dates of seeds, transplanting, nutrients fed, pesticides used, etc. Having complete records will enable better diagnosis of plant problems in the future.

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