Downy Woodpecker in Winter

Willamette Valley Oregon, Zone 8b

By this time of the year the winter blues have settled in and turned my nimble mind to a slow, bumbling. . .thing. However, I’m grateful that February has the decency to be short.  Thank you and good morning. (In the go-away sense of the phrase.)

Time to start digging out your seed starting equipment!  Evaluate your seed stock and place orders for whatever you’re lacking.

Plan your Start Dates

Seed sorting time.

To figure them out on your own seed packets usually tell you to start x number of weeks before last frost. Average last frost for most of us in the Willamette Valley is March 25th. (Some sources say mid-April.)  Seems late right? But, there has been many a false springs interrupted by a couple inches of snow.  I have lovely pictures of snow on daffodils and plum tree blossoms.  

My method is to get out my garden journal and write down a full list of what I want to grow. Then I separate that list into direct sow and transplants. Next I lump those two lists into different start dates. Also, consider whether or not you want to do succession planting in your plan. I succession plant lettuces and cilantro.

February is early for starting all but a few seeds. I usually only start peppers, chard, and broccoli in the second half of the month.  Everything else waits until March and April. Here is my full plan for 2023.

However, if you are excited to get going, do it! Just save a little space in your seed starting area for starting more later. Then compare your results. I have had great crops when I didn’t follow “the rules”. Planting a seed is a good thing.

Seed Swap!

Sometimes you need all the seeds in a packet, carrots for one, but for many others, I need four  seeds and the remaining 30 or so seeds go back in the box to lose another year’s vigor.

This is an excellent way to initiate some community building. I like to set out a table with spare seeds in my front yard and invited my neighbors. Sometimes only one person comes, but we have a lovely time talking and exchanging seeds. We save money, trade ideas, and get excited about the coming season. I’m thinking of advertising through our HOA, Next Door and the Community Seed Exchange.


President’s Day is for Rose Pruning & Blueberries!

Tropicana Rose and Spider Friend
Tropicana rose and spider friend.

Since I was clued in on this I’ve never missed pruning my roses. Roses are not only beautiful and aromatic, but the flowers are edible and have many medicinal uses. Once the flowers are gone for the season, the hips are an important and useful crop. 

Rose Pruning

Since there are so many different forms of roses it is important to know what type you have and follow a guide meant for that type. I have tea roses of a color variety known as Tropicana. It was the favorite of my husband’s grandfather who was a Royal Rosarian.

Rose Pruning Tips:

  • Remove any dead canes or ones that look very old and thorny.
  • I like the “open vase” form, so I take out any canes growing directly up from the crown.
  • Remove any rootstock suckers.
  • Prune remaining canes down to about knee height.
  • Side dress them with Epsom salts, wish them well.

Sometimes my roses get aphids and blackspot, but I don’t treat either. Aphids are a food source for beneficial insects and blackspot is gross, but doesn’t seem to affect the overall health of the plant. Some years I get a lot, some not at all, but the rose does well every year. More info:  OSU Extension Guide – Pruning Roses

Blueberry Pruning

Once blueberries are beyond three years old, they require vigorous pruning in order to maintain a good fruit set. That means bigger, sweeter fruit and less disease potential. 

How much is” vigorous pruning”? On a well established bush we need to remove 50-75 percent of the fruiting wood. That’s a lot right?

It’s OK, really. Fruit is produced on canes that are 3 to 6 years old.  So we need to remove the 7th year canes (very woody looking) to stimulate new cane growth. On each of the target 3-6 year old canes we need to remove a lot of the weaker fruiting wood. This concentrates the energy that is currently stored in the root system on the strongest branches. It also allows sunshine to penetrate the plant for photosynthesis and reduces disease pressure by allowing sun and air to thoroughly dry the plant after a rain. 

For a confidence builder, check out this video from University of Maine.

Blueberry Care

Blueberry Mulch

Blueberries love a good pile of mulch (up to 6”!)  and their favorite is pine shavings. You can find this in feed stores sold as animal bedding.  This is the one and only time it’s OK to have mulch contact the canes or trunk of a fruiting tree or bush. Unless you have field mice, which will use the mulch to hide while eating your shrub. However, field mice are not usually an issue for suburban growers like you and me. 

Blueberry pH Test

  • Test pH and lower with ammonium sulfate if needed. Blueberries prefer 4.5 – 5.5 pH.

Blueberry Fertilizer

  • Not yet!  Wait until after we start getting vegetative growth. Plan for feeding once a month in April, May, and June. You should get about a foot of new vegetative growth above your fruit set. My favorite fertilizer is Down to Earth All Natural Acid Mix Fertilizer.

Cover Crop

Towards the middle or end of this month, feel free to cut cover crops to the soil line and drop, or gently scuffle hoe them down. The roots will rot and provide nutrients and pore spaces and the tops will rot and return nitrogen and feed the soil microbes. 

Turf Grass

I almost always have bare patches in my lawn in winter. Late February through mid-March is a good time to aerate, dethatch, and reseed. Hold off on fertilizing grass until Memorial Day when the grass is vigorously growing. Otherwise the nitrogen will likely wash out with the rain and become pollution rather than fertilizer. 

Planting Asparagus, Trees & Shrubs

Asparagus Planting

Crowns can be planted in February, if you can find them this early. Choose a site with full sun exposure and well draining soil. If your soil doesn’t drain well, make small berms to ensure the crowns are above the natural soil line. Crowns that sit in saturated soil are likely to rot. Choose a site that can be their forever home. They can live and give for over 30 years!

To plant:

  1. Check the pH. Asparagus prefer neutral to alkaline soil 6.5 – 7.5 pH.
  2. Dig a trench about six to eight inches deep and wide enough to splay the crowns out laterally.
  3. Down the center of the trench mound up the soil and lay them out about 12” apart. 
  4. Backfill the trench.
  5. Top dress with compost mixed with an organic slow release fertilizer and lime to raise the pH if needed.
  6. Feel free to lightly mulch with straw, wood chips, bark dust, leaves, or leaf mold to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.

For the first two seasons, resist the urge to harvest any spears. Just let them do their thing and grow beautiful fronds. By the third season your patience will be rewarded with a tasty harvest. Always leave a few of the strongest spears to become fronds and you will reap ever increasing harvests for decades to come. Each fall I winterize with a layer of leaves and compost and a sprinkling of lime.

OSU Extension Guide – Asparagus Rewards Patience

Tree Planting 

February is the month when our local nurseries usually begin shipping their fruit trees. Many of the rules have changed based on University research. Check out my Guide for Planting Trees & Other Perennials for the latest best practices for getting our trees off to a good start in life.

Be wary of the Chinook Winds

Winter Wildlife Care

Not too late!

Test your soil for pH and nutrients.

Prune your fruit trees and cane fruits and take cuttings for propagating.

It’s a Little Early For…

Working the Soil

Our Willamette Valley soil is just a little too soggy to work yet. Working it early can be detrimental to the soil structure.  Be patient and try to wait until the rain slows down and the soil isn’t so saturated.  

Debris Clean Up

Also, it’s still a bit early to cut down old stalks and stems.  There could be beneficial insects still hibernating in them so it’s best to leave them as long as you can.  I usually go for a good cleanup in early March after the bugs have emerged. 


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