February Gardening To-Do List

Monthly Chores for Each Region

Grape hyacinths in snow
Marie Iannotti

February can be a frustrating month for gardeners. Those in warm climates are saddled with unpredictable weather. Gardeners in the North would be glad to have such a problem, though. The latter are sick of being cooped up and would give anything to be able to go out and play in the dirt. Still, there is plenty that Northerners can do inside that will be of value to the spring garden and beyond.

For all of the frustration experienced in February, gardeners can take solace in the fact that the first signs that spring are on the way. Study these regional tips for gardening in February, but do take any tip with a grain of salt, considering how unpredictable the weather is likely to be.​

All Regions

  • If you have been storing bulbs, corms, or tubers, continue to check them to make sure that they are neither rotting nor totally drying out.

Mid-Atlantic

You can do a mix of gardening outdoors and planning indoors if you garden in the Mid-Atlantic in February. Some years, a hint of spring will already be in the air.

  • Start seeds of cool-season vegetables and of annual flowers.
  • Watch for frost heaves. “Frost heave” refers to the uplift of water-saturated soil or other surface deposits due to expansion on freezing. The importance of the phenomenon to gardeners lies in the fact that plant crowns can be pushed above ground by frost heaves. This leaves them more exposed to the cold than they would otherwise be, making them potentially vulnerable. If you detect frost heaves around your plants, apply mulch to protect the plant crowns.
  • Take advantage of those rare sunny days and get back outside and prune trees and shrubs, which are still dormant.
  • Perform rejuvenation pruning on hollies if needed.
  • Check evergreens for signs of desiccation; water them during thaws.
  • Force pussy willows and/or Forsythia indoors.

Midwest

February is a frigid month in the Midwest. Maintenance and inspection are still your primary chores, but you may be able to get some pruning out of the way this month.

  • You should at least start thinking about pruning trees and shrubs before they start coming out of dormancy, although you have all next month to get to this if you do not get to it now.
  • Replace mulch around any plant crowns that have been exposed by frost heaves.
  • Force pussy willows and/or Forsythia indoors, although you have all of March to get to this if you forget in February.

Northeast

A warmer-than-usual February is not unheard of in the Northeast, allowing you a bit of time for yard work. But do not count on it, as February is more likely to be brutal. Other than pruning, your work will continue to be done indoors, in the form of research and reflection to aid in improving upon last year's garden.

  • You should at least start thinking about pruning trees and shrubs before they start coming out of dormancy, although you have all next month to get to this if you do not get to it now.
  • Replace mulch around any plant crowns that have been exposed by frost heaves.
  • Continue to inspect trees and shrubs for bark damage. If you find any, you most likely have a problem with voles, rabbits, or deer and need to take action.
  • Force pussy willows and/or Forsythia indoors, although you have all of March to get to this if you forget in February.

Pacific Northwest

There is a hint of spring in the air by now. Put on a good pair of garden gloves and a pair of waterproof boots and get to work outside.

Pacific Coast

You start turning the corner from winter to spring in Northern California in February. The evidence is all around you, but perhaps most of all in the form of the emergence of the sword-like leaves of spring-blooming bulbs. You still can't count on good weather, though, and just how spring-like it is will vary from one part of your region to another. In Southern California, the growing season is well underway.

In Northern California:

  • Have row covers ready to protect tender plants on cold nights.
  • Check your plants for snails: They love the moist, cool conditions afforded them by February.
  • Plant bare-root asparagus and rhubarb.
  • Sow the seeds of cool-season vegetables and cool-season annual flowers outdoors.
  • Fertilize your fruit trees.
  • Cut back the stalks of ornamental grasses to within a few inches of the ground to make room for new growth.

In Southern California:

  • Finish pruning your rose bushes.
  • Cut back the stalks of ornamental grasses to within a few inches of the ground to make room for new growth if you have not already done so.

Southwest

In the high desert, there will be periods with uncertain weather, so do not get into total spring mode just yet. But, in the low desert, you are just glad to still have some cooler weather to play with.

  • Trim off any frost damage suffered by your cacti over the winter.
  • Fertilize your fruit trees.
  • Check your fruit trees for aphids and spray with Neem oil if you find any.
  • Plant perennials and ornamental grasses, but have those row covers ready so that you are not surprised by cold snaps.

Southeast

The weather is now conducive to some plant growth in the Southeast. But that does not mean gardeners in the Southeast can totally let their guards down. There can still be some cold weather and some snow in the northern parts of the region. Much of your attention should be directed at pruning and at caring for fruit trees and roses.

  • Shelter tender plants with row covers when temperatures take a dip.
  • Sow seeds for cool-season vegetables such as lettuce.
  • Unlike in colder regions, February is your deadline to prune shrubs that bloom on new growth: Soon, they will no longer be dormant.
  • Spray dormant oil on roses and apple trees as a precaution against pests and fungal diseases before the weather truly heats up and they put on significant growth.