Hellevore in the UT Gardens, Knoxville
Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis, and its hybrids are among the first plants to flower in the new year. Photo by D. Stowell in the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville.

by Jason Reeves, research horticulturist and curator, UT Gardens, Jackson

February is a transition month for Tennessee gardens as we begin to prepare for spring growth and blooms.

Bluebirds are already looking for a place to nest, so clean out your birdhouse soon. If you are in need of a good bluebird house, check out Homes For Bluebirds, Inc., http://www.danfinch.com/birds.htm

Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis, and its hybrids are among the first plants to flower in the new year. A little cleanup makes a big difference when these winter beauties blossom. I like to cut back last year’s foliage on Helleborus before the flower stalks appear. Follow the old leaves down to the crown and remove the entire leaf stalk near the soil. Some winters, the earliest of the flowers may get damaged, but I don’t mind sacrificing a few for a tidy plant later on.

For indoor forcing of blooms, cut branches of pussy willow, forsythia, flowering quince, redbud, and star and saucer magnolia. Choose stems with flower buds that have begun to swell. Cut them at an angle and place in water in a cool location in your home with indirect light.

Late February and March are good times to trim trees and shrubs. Prune to maintain a natural form unless formality is appropriate for the design. Postpone pruning of spring and early summer flowering shrubs like azaleas, forsythia, spirea and oakleaf and mophead hydrangea until just after they flower.

Cut back Liriope (Monkey grass) before new growth appears. Use a string trimmer for larger areas.

Spot-control weeds in a dormant warm-season lawn by pulling or by applying a broadleaf weed control.

Apply dormant oil such as Ultra-Fine to fruit and nut trees to control scale and other pests. It must be applied before spring growth appears. These oils can also control scale insects on hollies, euonymus and camellias. For best results, be sure to completely spray the entire plant including the underside of the leaves.

Green, English and sugar snap peas can be direct sown in the garden in February. In the colder parts of the state wait until the end of the month. If sown too late, they will not have time to flower and produce before it gets too hot.

If your ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, Pennisetum, Mexican feather, switchgrass and muhly grass are looking tattered and blowing about the garden, cut them back to 3- to-6-inches above the ground. Otherwise you can wait until early March.

Sow broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seed indoors or plan to buy transplants in March. Harden them off before planting outside in March.

Extend the life of your Valentine flowers by changing the water daily and recutting the stems every couple of days, making sure the foliage is kept above the water line.

Remove dust on your houseplants by rinsing them in the shower.



Jason Reeves, UT Gardens research horticulturist and curator, 731-425-4765, jreeves@tennessee.edu