February is a great month to plant vegetables for the spring and early summer. The danger of frost damage is reaching its end and the days are lengthening, which encourages rapid plant growth. It’s also a time to prune deciduous fruit trees and grapes, and fertilize those plants and citrus. Sudden warm spells during the month of February can cause many of your winter vegetables to bolt into flowering such as cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and bok choy. Harvest these vegetables before flowering, as many of these vegetables may become bitter and inedible when flowering starts.
Your irrigation timer should be turned off. Consider an overall watering of landscape plants at the end of the month if rainfall is insufficient. Remember to follow the 1, 2, 3 rule: water mature trees to a depth of 3 feet, shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, and herbaceous perennials, agaves, vines, and ground covers to a depth of 1 foot. Young and newly transplanted plants need to be watered more frequently than established plants. Watering deeply encourages roots to extend deeper into the soil and thus, helps the plant become established over time. Annual wildflowers may need to be watered at least once to twice during the month of February if rainfall is insufficient. Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Echeveria spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month. Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month. However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often, including cacti and succulent seedlings.
Prepare garden soil for spring planting; select vegetables you would like from a list of suitable plants for the season. Vegetables which can be started from seed include beets, bok choy, carrots, chard, collard greens, corn, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, melons (cantaloupe, muskmelon, watermelon), mustard, green onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, summer squash, sunflowers and turnips. Vegetables which can be transplanted includes artichokes (Globe and Jerusalem), asparagus, chard, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion sets, peppers and tomatoes.
Wait until Feb. 14 to plant transplants to avoid frost damage. To encourage maximum growth from your tomato transplant follow these steps: prior to planting, remove the bottom three sets of leaves. Then remove the container it comes in and plant it so the soil level sits just below the lowest remaining leaves. Finally, backfill the hole with soil. Your tomato will root out where you removed the leaves and this results in additional intake of water and nutrients. Water deeply and regularly, fertilize monthly, and protect plants from the hot, late afternoon sun. It may be best to select a location which provides afternoon shade, but still provides six hours of sunlight. Netting may be needed if birds are a problem. Smaller varieties of tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, tend to have less bird damage.
Fruit and nut trees
Bare root deciduous fruit trees can be transplanted during February. Be careful to select varieties which require less than 400 hours of chilling. Finish pruning deciduous fruit trees and grapes by the middle of February. When deciduous fruit trees leaf out, fertilize with nitrogen to encourage growth.
Provide yearly fertilizer January-February, followed by again in March- April, finally in May- June to promote growth and fruit yield. Fertilizer requirements depend on the age of the tree. Prune only to remove dead branches or to remove suckers, which are usually long fast-growing shoots heading straight up. Also it is a good idea to leave lower branches, which will help shade the lower trunk.
Spring here in Ahwatukee Foothills offers an opportunity to learn more about gardening, try growing new or different plants, join local community gardens, attend gardening festivals and garden tours.
Two local community gardens are the Garden of Eatin’ at 2601 E. Thunderhill Place, see www.Gardenofeatinaz.com, and the Ahwatukee Community Garden, at 4800 E. Warner Road, see www.ACGarden.org. The Ironwood Public Library, at 4333 E. Chandler Blvd., is having a Seed Library Festival on Feb. 6 between 1 and 5 p.m. and on March 12 the Master Gardeners Real Gardens for Real People Tour features diverse home gardens in the north Scottsdale and Phoenix area utilizing sustainable gardening practices for the low desert. Tickets are available at REALGARDENSforREALPEOPLE.com.
• Information for this column was provided by the Master Gardeners involved in the Ahwatukee Community Garden Project, using planting calendars from the Master Gardener program and the Desert Botanical Garden as resources.