February gardening checklist (© Kathryn Kleinman/Botanica/Jupiterimages)

© Kathryn Kleinman/Botanica/ Jupiterimages

Weather dictates almost everything on a gardener's to-do list. Even though February marks the heart of winter, in some climates it's not too early to begin warmer-season gardens; in others, clearing trees and shrubs of ice may be more the ticket. (Bing: How do you tell weeds from normal plants?)

Trees and shrubs
Break out the shears, sprays and spades: In most areas, it's time to spruce up trees and shrubs to keep them healthy and well-shaped for spring and summer. You may even be able to do some planting.

  • The dormant season is coming to an end, which can mean it's a good time to prune fruit trees and woody landscape plants on good-weather days. But note that you'll lose flowers if you prune spring bloomers, which produced their buds last fall.
  • As conditions thaw, some deciduous trees such as elm, maple and birch may leak sap if pruned now. This won't damage the trees, but prune these trees next month to avoid messes.
  • To preserve flower buds, hold off on pruning lilacs, crabapples and forsythias until after their first bloom.
  • Weather permitting and as long as buds haven't yet begun to swell, you can still plant or transplant most deciduous trees and shrubs of all kinds.
  • In many areas, this month is your last chance for applying dormant spray to deciduous trees and shrubs, but hold off if the temperature is below freezing.
  • After a heavy snowfall, use upward motions to knock snow off tree branches so they don't break under the weight of heavy buildup or a sudden freeze. If branches do break, prune them as soon as possible.
  • Berry shrubs can be set out now.
  • Select and purchase bare-root roses.

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Tender plants and newly planted or thin-barked trees can be threatened by wind, cold and even dramatic weather changes in the heart of winter.

  • If you're still being zapped by cold snaps, it's not too late to provide cover for tender and early-flowering plants. Place a circle of stakes around them and drape cloth covers so as not to touch their leaves.
  • If you covered plants earlier and temperatures are now more moderate, remember to remove their wraps.
  • If you're battling ice and snow, be kind to soil and plants by using cat litter or sand instead of salt; the runoff from salt can damage plants as well as pollute lakes and rivers.

Get back into the swing of perennials this month with shopping, clearing, ordering, dividing and possibly a bit of planting.

  • In relatively mild climates, February is a fine time for planting perennial vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb and horseradish.
  • This is an excellent time to place seed orders in time for spring planting. Many sources have limited stock, so get 'em while they're hot, and begin sowing now indoors.
  • If stored summer-flowering perennials are tricked into growth by a warm spell, move them to a cooler spot.
  • Buy new roots and tubers to begin in pots indoors so they'll be ready for planting after the last frost.
  • Clear mulch away from areas around winter-blooming bulbs.
  • Take a walk around your garden looking for plants that have been squeezed up from the soil by temperature changes. Press them gently but firmly back into the ground.
  • In fair weather, lift and divide perennials before they show new growth.
  • After the danger of frost has passed, you can sow seeds of poppies and larkspur directly into the ground.

Weekend projects
If the chilly winds don't keep you under the covers, spend sunny February weekends doing building projects so you're all ready when spring kicks in.

  • Create raised garden beds; if it's warm enough, you can even start sowing some seeds now.
  • Reconsider your garden layout: Once the ground has thawed, think about adding fences, gates, arbors, trellises and garden benches.

Little live things
Birds that are used to finding food in the feeder need a bit of extra help at this time of year, while slugs need to be sent packing.

  • If you've been feeding the birds this winter, don't stop now — they're counting on you! They'll also appreciate a regular supply of ice-free water.
  • Keep the upper hand with slugs and snails. Does it help to know that each one may produce as many as 200 more?

Finish any houseplant cleanup you've been putting off. As spring garden chores beef up, you'll have more time to enjoy the outdoors.

  • Treat aphids, mites and other pests with organic products that won't harm kids or pets.
  • Be careful not to overwater plants; they don't need as much during these short days, and too much water can create root rot.
  • Protect plants from extreme overnight temperatures by drawing drapes and blinds or moving them away from windows.
  • Save transplanting for warmer weather, when houseplants have more energy to make a healthy move.

Read:  How to build cold frames

Lawn care
It's not time to rev up the old lawn mower yet, but you can get a head start on spring with a bit of lawn preparation now.

  • Keep raking leaves to prevent them from smothering grass.
  • Get a start on fertilizing in late February and early March. Use a spring fertilizer that contains a moss-killing product if necessary.
  • For an extra soil boost, follow up fertilizing with an application of dolomite lime.

Read:  February home-maintenance checklist

Preparing for spring
Between now and early March, set up a bright, warm indoor corner for spring and summer starts. Use sterile supplies, provide plenty of movable light, and keep the low temperature at 70 degrees. Prepare to get your fingernails dirty.

  • Start seeds of summer perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs indoors now.
  • In mild climates, begin spring soil preparation for vegetables. Make sure your soil isn't too moist before you start to spade and till. (If a squeezed handful leaks water, it isn't ready.) Mix existing soil with prepared manure and compost.