February 2015
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Mason bees will nest in small hollow tubes such as these made especially to encourage their presence in a garden.  

A House for Mason Bees

When I saw this mason bee house at Callaway Gardens last winter, it struck me as a great idea for providing shelter for this hardworking native bee. Mason bees, smaller than a honeybee with metallic blue or blue-black bodies, get their name from their habit of sealing off the cells in their nest with mud.

In the wild, these solitary bees nest in natural cavities such as insect holes and hollow stems, but they will also lay their eggs in artificial nesting cavities such as wooden blocks with holes drilled in them, paper straws and cardboard tubes such as the ones in this purchased house. You can buy a mason bee house like this one or fashion your own. The point is to encourage their presence in your garden, especially if you grow fruit or vegetables that need pollination. These are great all-weather bees for the garden as they will also work on cool or rainy days when many other bees don’t.

Meyer Lemon Makes a Good Potted Plant

Small citrus trees are often featured in garden centers this time of year because they are either in bloom, fruiting or both. One that is a favorite of cooks is the Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri), a very large, thin-skinned lemon thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. Consequently, the juice is not as acidic and has a unique flavor prized for salad dressing and drinks. Meyer also does fine indoors in winter, so you can grow it outdoors during the warm months and bring inside for winter. Its giant, oversized lemons yield a lot of juice.

To grow lemons or any citrus, start with a large pot, at least 18 inches in diameter. Use a top-quality potting soil and a fertilizer that includes all the micronutrients. Keep the plants watered and protect from freezes, and you’ll have a beautiful small tree that will last for years if you repot it every year or two. For best flavor, the plants need full sun when outside during the growing season. Indoors, find them the brightest spot possible.

Planting Peas

It seems early, but February is the month to plant green pea seeds. The pea seeds will germinate in the cold soil of early spring, although it may take a month or so. That is why you plant now, so that the pea seeds will be in place to take advantage of warm spells that may speed their germination. Because pea plants fizzle out quickly in warm weather, the young plants can tolerate light freezes. In fact, a little damage to the shoots can actually encourage secondary shoots to grow so you end up with more pods. Drainage is very important to keep the pea seeds from rotting in the cool soil, so make sure to plant in a spot that drains well. Plant seeds about an inch deep.

When do I prune?

One of the most frequent questions I get from friends and neighbors is, "When do I prune?" Often it’s because plants have outgrown the spaces they are in. For that, there is a solution: don’t prune, but replace. Choose a plant that won’t grow above the windowsill, wider than the planting bed, taller than the power lines, etc. Shearing and topping often ruin the natural form of a plant and just become repetitive tasks. Imagine how else you could spend that time. So, before spring arrives, rethink that spot and what you might put there that won’t outgrow the space.

Controlling Wild Garlic

  Trees with beautiful bark, like this sycamore, can add a nice touch to your winter landscape.

Are tufts of dark green wild onion and wild garlic poking up in your flowerbeds or through your lawn? If so, now is the time to dig them up while they are clearly visible. Later, they often get mowed down or covered up by other plants so the clump just gets bigger and stronger for the next year. Each clump arises from small bulbs deep in the ground, so use a long weeding tool such as a soil knife to pry the plant and the bulbs out of the ground.

Bark Up the Right Tree

Winter is often an under appreciated time for trees, but, if you choose trees with beautiful winter bark, this is the season they show off. A few natives with pretty bark include River birch (flaky), sycamore (white), American beech (smooth and gray) and white oak (white and flaky). These are large trees; so they are not for small suburban lots but for larger lots where they can be appreciated from afar. Smaller ones for urban landscapes include crape myrtle (smooth and sinewy), cherry (silvery and striated), redbark Japanese maple (smooth and red), hawthorn (mottled) and Chinese elm (mottled). It just so happens that winter is a perfect time to plant all of these deciduous trees! Their tops are dormant, but their roots will grow. A few of these trees will exhibit their showy bark while young, but for most it takes a few years and they just get better with age.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.