Good afternoon gardening friends,
I have come to love this time of year. Certainly many of you will laugh and think I am crazy. You might skeptically ask what about the ice, rain, rain/snow mix, freezing rain, thunderstorms, and variation upon variation of Portland’s “liquid sunshine?” For me February is a dreamy month when I take the last restorative pause of winter before frantic spring arrives. It is my deep breath, in anticipation of a very full 9 months of home gardening, hiking and nature walks, nursery visits, and my seasonal gardening business takes off at rocket speed. I give thanks for a break from the work of gardening, a restful winter mostly spent indoors, and prepare for rebirth of spring and awakening of nature.
February in Portland is an unpredictable mix of wintery weather with small hopeful glimpses of impending spring. Rainy days I’ve enjoyed inside reading and dreaming of spring. On the warmer days the winter sunshine is a seductive siren luring me into the garden for some gentle exercise and the healing power of nature.
A short stroll around the February garden reveals signs of spring abound! Winter daphne, hellebores, and spring flowering bulbs. In the autumn I planted several pots of spring flowering bulbs. Defiant of rain and frost the brave green shoots of daffodil, crocus, and hyacinth are all now poking up out of the winter soil.
This month my fragrant winter daphne started to bloom. Thinning some of its evergreen branches to provide more room for under-planted hellebores provided ample blossoming stems for indoor cut flower arrangements. Oh my, the sweet fragrance of daphne wafts throughout my small home as the tiny but powerful buds open!
Speaking of hellebores, as they are beginning their late winter flowering, you can help them out by completely pruning back to the ground all of the old foliage. Make sure to cut back only the foliage not the new flower buds. By getting rid of the large glossy evergreen leaves you showcase the low-growing dramatic flowers that otherwise would get lost. Don’t worry; after the hellebore plant is done blooming it will grow new evergreen leaves.
Honestly some of the warmer days near 50 degrees have sparked what can only be described as an epidemic of spring fever. I gently remind myself that spring is still five weeks away. A fantastic and fun seasonally appropriate gardening activity is to visit your local nursery to check out the late winter offerings.
If you didn’t plant spring-blooming bulbs in the autumn, February into March your local nursery will be packed with a selection of potted daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, miniature iris, grape hyacinth, crocus, anemone, and ranunculus. Keep an eye out for one of my favorites, the delicate “checkered lily” Fritillaria meleagris.
This is also a wonderful time of year to purchase and plant cool-season flowering annuals like cyclamen, pansy, primrose, and viola. I tuck these fresh flowering annuals into the pots on my deck to brighten up the front entrance. You can even bring some into your home to grow on a sunny windowsill. After a dreary winter, these welcome flowers are a sure sign spring is on its way.
The local florist is teaming with cut daffodils and tulips in February. Also be on the look out for flowering branches-cherry, plum, quince, forsythia, and pussy willow. I adore forcing these blooming branches indoors during the rainy and dark late winter months. Pretty spring wreaths start showing up. I christen the onset of spring with a pussy willow wreath on my front door. There are so many ways to get more nature in your life even when the weather is not yet cooperative for gardening.
February is a perfect time to do your garden planning, enjoy your seed catalogs, begin purchasing seeds & bulbs, inventory, repair and purchase new gardening tools and supplies. During the winter month of February you could expand your gardening knowledge by taking a gardening workshop, reading a gardening book, or subscribing to a gardening magazine.
Check out my upcoming gardening workshops in February and March.
February weather in Portland is extremely unpredictable and full of garden-threatening frost. Please keep in mind gardening in soil when it is still wet is very damaging. By walking, shoveling, tilling, and planting in wet soil you cause more compaction that equals a challenging living environment for plant roots and beneficial soil microorganisms.
When the temperatures are mild and the rain stops for a few days, February can afford the first opportunity of the year to garden. On those days I enjoy raking up autumn leaves and cleaning up winter storm debris. It is a good time to replace plant markers and lay on a fresh layer of mulch or compost.
The average last frost in Portland is March 15 and this is conveniently close to the spring equinox when we are halfway between winter and summer. This is important because it means the longest days and closest sun distance are on their way. Edible garden plants benefit from the warmer air temperatures, warmer soil temperatures, longer days, and brighter closer sun.
February is the time to start tomatoes from seed indoors. The plants take several months to grow from seed to transplant for the Portland short summer growing season. Honestly, I don’t ever start tomatoes from seeds indoors. Once May rolls around and it is the appropriate warm weather for tomato planting outdoors in the garden, Portland Nursery stocks hundreds of varieties of heirloom and hybrid varieties of tomatoes plants. I always get my favorite and some new varieties for my small urban garden. I am confident you will also be impressed by their selection.
Say you really have the gardening bug this month and the unpredictable weather momentarily cooperates with a break in the rain and temperatures reach the upper 40s, what can you plant? First keep in mind cold, wet soil is not conducive to seed germination so make sure your raised bed or in-ground garden is equipped with the protection of a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame, tunnel or greenhouse. You can then direct seed or transplant these cool-season crops:
Escarole & Endive
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that grows wonderfully in the Portland climate. Keep in mind, as a perennial crop they need a dedicated garden space to spread out. Be patient as they establish, full production of spears takes 2-3 years. Asparagus crowns are planted early in the growing season during February and March. Crowns are now available for sale at your local nursery.
February in Portland is the ideal time to purchase and plant fruit. Nurseries carry the best selection now and the cooler weather is conducive to planting fruit.
Trees: apples, apricots, Asian pears, European pears, cherries, plums, peaches, and nectarines
Vines: kiwi, grapes, and hops
Bushes: blueberries, currants, gooseberry, and huckleberry
Canes: raspberries and blackberries
And don't forget about your strawberry crowns. Strawberries grow awesome in Portland!
As I write to you this afternoon I am listening to the rain on the roof and the wind shaking the trees. I appreciate the life-giving rain filling up our reservoirs, rivers, and lakes. I am grateful for all the rain as it contributes to such a lush glorious garden. Remember while the garden may look mostly dormant, life is stirring, nature is quickening and spring is right around the corner.