Your February Texas Gardening Checklist

By Skip Richter, Contributing Editor

Vegetables and Herbs 

Gardeners in the northern third of the state can start planting cole crops, and gardeners in the southern two-thirds can continue planting these tasty, nutritious vegetables this month.

Plant cool-season peas in early to late February in the northern third of the state. Gardeners in the central third of the state can still get in a planting of cool-season peas and fava beans but should do so in early to mid-month to allow the peas time to mature a crop before warm weather arrives.

Fertilize cool-season vegetables, except fava beans and cool-season peas, every few weeks to keep them growing. As the weather gets milder these plants will really shift gears and take off growing fast. Good soil fortuitously will help build larger plants and more bountiful harvests.

Onion-Sizing Season

February Texas Gardening Checklist | Vego Garden

Onions are in a race with the sun. As the days grow longer, at some point the plants will be triggered to initiate bulbing. The size of the plant will determine the potential size of the onion bulb. So the more you can do to grow a larger plant faster, the larger your onions will be at harvest time.

Continue planting beets, radishes, turnips and carrots in the southern two-thirds of Texas, and make an early planting of these crops in the northern areas this month.

With the exception of onions, go easy with the nitrogen on root crops and thin them out to at least the width of the mature root soon after germination to promote good root development. Too much nitrogen, crowding or lack of light will result in poor root development even though the tops may grow well.

Dominate Prolific Weeds

Cool-season weeds are about to take off, growing rapidly. They are easiest to control when still young by using a hoe or mulch covering to block their access to sunlight.

South Texas gardeners are about to enter the mild spring season when everything including vegetables and weeds grow rapidly. To mulch or not to mulch is the question.

Pulling mulch back from the beds will allow the soil to warm earlier and promote faster growth. But sunlight on the soil also means weeds will germinate en masse. You might try to hedge your bed by pulling the mulch back and either doing some light hoeing as needed or re-mulching when the weeds are small and easy to smother with mulch. Then wait a couple of weeks and pull the mulch back again.

Pest Patrol

Texas Gardening Checklist | Vego Garden

Watch for aphids on tender plant growth and use an insecticidal soap spray to knock them out early to prevent an outbreak. In warmer areas some looper caterpillars may also be showing up. A spray of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a microbial, natural pesticide, can be safe and effective for the gardener. Bt will help control these pesky critters quite well if they are still very young.

Prepare and Test Soil

Prepare the soil in areas to be planted in warm-season vegetables by mixing an inch or two of compost into the soil and building up raised beds to improve drainage and help the soil warm faster. If you haven’t had your soil tested in a few years, now is a good time to do so. The results will help you know what amendments and nutrients are most needed and will take a lot of guesswork out of fertilizing future crops during the coming few seasons.

In the absence of a soil test, mix a cup of turf-type fertilizer (two cups, if an organic product) into the soil per 25 square feet of bed area a week prior to planting to build up soil fertility. If the area is to be planted in green beans, butter beans, southern peas or other legume crops, this added fertilization may not be needed.

A Bounty of Beautiful Color

Now is a good time to divide summer and fall-blooming perennials and bulbs, including Mexican bush sage, oxblood or schoolhouse lily, cannas and daylilies, just to name a few.

Ornamental grasses can also now be divided. To divide a clumping ornamental grass, first prune the top back. Dig up the clump and use a sharp shovel or machete to cut it into several smaller sections. Discard the dead interior and replant the sections. Pot up a few for sharing with friends

Start seeds of warm-season flowers as transplants in the southern two-thirds of the state. They will be ready to set out 6–8 weeks later, when the danger of frost is past. Provide transplants plenty of light to prevent the seedlings from becoming leggy in growth. If you are using shop lights, set them just a few inches above the plants for maximum benefit.

Cool-season color plants can still be established in northern areas of the state, although the season will be fairly short for these plants. If a planting is looking bad, it may be best to pull it and concentrate on getting the soil ready for spring.

Unplanted areas and beds of cool-season color that are looking ragged can be prepped for warm-season planting by mixing an inch or two of compost into the soil.

In the absence of a soil test, sprinkle a cup of turf fertilizer (two cups, if organic) per 25 square feet of bed area and then mix it into the top 6–8 inches of soil. The bed will be nutrient-rich and ready to plant next month with spring flowers.

Watch for aphids on tender growth in flower beds. A spray of insecticidal soap is the simplest and least toxic control for these pests.

Trees, Shrubs, Vines and Roses

Texas Gardening February Checklist | Vego Garden

Finish pruning trees before they start to leaf out in your area. A well-trained tree should need very little pruning later in life. However, in many cases a tree is not trained well when young, necessitating more severe pruning later to try to fix the problems caused by a lack of training.

Shear hedges just prior to the onset of new growth. Shrubs that are not hedges can be pruned in a more natural form for less ongoing work. Cut long shoots extending out of bounds back to where they join another branch. If the shrub is an older, multi-stemmed shrub that lacks vigor and doesn’t bloom well, cut 20 percent of the oldest branches out at just above the soil line. Do this every year, and in five years you will have rejuvenated the entire bush without detracting from its overall appearance.

Prune roses that repeat bloom throughout the growing season. Wait to prune roses that bloom only in spring as well as any other spring-blooming shrubs and trees until after their bloom season is over. Depending on the type of rose you have, pruning can range from a moderate shearing to a severe cut back leaving only a few major stems and branches. Do some online research or contact a local rose expert to learn the details of how to prune the type of roses you have.

If you have woody ornamentals to plant, don’t delay any longer. The sooner you get them established, the better their chances of surviving the hot summer ahead. February is a popular time to plant roses. If you are going to purchase and plant bare-root roses, do so early in the month to give them a good chance at survival. Container-grown roses, like other shrubs and trees, can be planted at any time of the year but do best if planted between fall and early spring.

Fertilize young shrubs and trees to encourage faster growth by applying one or two cups of lawn-type fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter. Spread it evenly throughout a wide circular area, scratch it into the soil surface and water it in well. Replenish mulch around shrubs and tree in as wide an area as is practical for the site.

Fruits and Nuts

February Texas Checklist | Vego Garden

Go through your fruit trees and grape vines to check for fruit left dried and hanging on the tree or on the ground. Remove it from the orchard to remove a source of potential disease infection when the new crop comes on in spring.

This is the time to complete your fruit and nut-pruning chores. Pecans are pruned primarily when they are young trees to train them. Once they get older, pruning is often not practical in a home planting, but it is often necessary to remove dead and broken limbs both in winter and during the course of the season.

Apples, pears, peaches, plums and grapes require training when young and annual pruning when they get older. Persimmons, jujubes and citrus need minimal pruning. Figs need little if any pruning, although you may be removing dead branches killed by freezes. Blueberries won’t need much pruning until they get older and then you can start the five-year rejuvenation schedule mentioned for ornamental shrubs above.

Keep your pruning equipment sharp as it makes pruning easier and tends to leave cleaner cuts that heal better. Read up on pruning each species you grow so your training and pruning decisions will be ones that make the tree stronger and more fruitful. It is still a good time to plant fruit and nut plants in the home orchard and landscape. Make sure to plant them at the same depth they were previously growing and allow plenty of room between plants for them to reach their mature size.

Before the new growth starts to push out, make a dormant oil application to fruit trees, especially if scale has been detected in the past. Don’t apply oil within a day of a freeze and keep the spray agitated as you apply it to prevent the oil and water from separating. Once blooms and leaves appear, it is too late to apply dormant oil, as it will burn the tender new growth.

Lawns and Groundcovers

February Texas Garden Checklist | Vego Garden

Continue to remove fallen leaves to allow grass good sun exposure. Winter weeds are starting to speed up their growth in warmer areas of the state. Now is a good time to do some hand pulling if your lawn is small. Broadleaf, post-emergence weed control products can damage turf when temperatures are in the upper 80s or higher, so there is a late-winter to early-spring window when they may be applied.

Keep in mind that they can damage broadleaf ornamental plants. Once the broadleaf winter weeds start blooming and setting seed, these products are not as effective in killing the weeds. So you may want to forgo the herbicide and focus on mowing, watering and fertilizing properly through the coming season to build a dense turf that chokes out most of its weed problems.

If your turf is thin, warm-season weed seeds will soon be germinating. Pre-emergence herbicides need to be applied prior to weed germination if they are to be effective. You need to select a product that works against the weeds you tend to have in your lawn, whether grassy or broadleaf weeds.

Pre-emergence products should be applied in early February in South Texas, about mid-month in the middle third of the state, and by late February in the northern third. Most require watering in with about a half-inch of irrigation following application, so read and follow the label carefully to avoid poor results or environmental damage.

Timely Tips

Check with your County Extension Office, local botanical gardens and garden centers to find out about upcoming classes and lectures. These are great ways to improve your skills, learn about new plants and meet other gardeners, too!

1 comment

  • Denise Paramore

    Any info you can send for vegetable gardening in Graniteville South Carolina would be great. I just moved here and am starting to get Vego raised beds but haven’t done much gardening here. Orginally from Seattle.

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