February is the second major sowing / planting time after fall (September/October) for our desert gardens.
This is going to be a long post because I want to give you helpful information.
It is time to get an early start on beloved favorites like tomatoes, summer squash and eggplant. BUT you need to be prepared to frost protect them after you get them in ground, since we can have frost and the occasional hail into March.
First there are two events coming up - details at the end of the post.
Saturday, February 1st - Free Seed Share and Q&A with me at Mesa Urban Garden
Saturday, February 22nd - Arizona Herb Association Lavender Day, I will be one of the speakers.
Before getting into the list of what to sow, plant and gardening tips, I want to discuss a bit about seed germination.
The picture above is my jiffy seedlings. In the top portion you see 3 kinds of tomato seedlings, one squash, 3 eggplant/sweet pepper. The 4th pellet sprouted about 3 days ago, 3 days AFTER the others which was January 11th. The lower picture shows one more squash or melon (they got mixed up) "just" sprouting on January 11th.
This the part of germination I am going to discuss - germination "time" or how long it takes seeds to sprout.
I sowed all of those jiffys on December 11th. On December 28th, all of the tomatoes and one squash sprouted. On January 10th the 3 pepper/eggplants sprouted. On January 11th the other squash/melon sprouted and on January 14th (or so) the 4th eggplant/pepper sprouted.
So, the sown seeds took 17, 30, 31 and 33 days, give or take to sprout. All were growing in the same conditions (covered and outside during the day and inside my water heater shed at night.
Many factors go into why and how a seed sprouts: age, type, light, moisture and temperature. The soil temperature is more of a factor here than air temperature as these seed selections (spring and summer) are all warm soil lovers. They like their "feet" warm, so if the soil cools they can "stall" in growth. This can be confusing to you, the gardener, waiting impatiently for your seed to break ground.
Some seeds can take time to break "dormancy" - that hard coating on them is to protect from intermittent moisture and other conditions, so the accidental moisture for a day or two won't break the dormancy.
The picture is from a super helpful video (about 3 minutes) showing a time line of a seed sprouting (it begins with day 1, but does not include when it was sown). Watch the video and pay attention to the fact the seed is putting our a root first. Click here.
Likewise once dormancy is broken with consistent moisture and other conditions, that seed starts sprouting - underground and out of sight.
And if you aware of the need for consistent moisture, not letting the soil dry even for a day, you will eventually see above-ground growth. Of course not all seeds germinate and while direct sowing, directly in the garden, does produce the healthiest plants, albeit many do not germinate, when you manipulate the conditions as I have with the jiffy pellets and covered containers, your germination rate goes up.
But how long does it take to break ground? How many days do you water?
That is where the patience factor comes in. I have had many folks disappointed in their seeds not sprouting. They would tell me they read the package it said 10-14 days to sprout and they diligently watered for 10 days and nothing. So they gave up and either stopped watering OR they sowed more seeds.
As the soil warmed up, and they had continued to water, low and behold both sets of seeds came up!
OR, if they stopped watering nothing came up.
Look at the picture again or watch the video and understand that if that tender little seedling/root hit a very dry - no more moisture area - it simply died underground without ever breaking surface.
Bottom line - my seeds took 17, 30, 31 and 33 days to sprout under the best conditions I could give them EXCEPT for being able to maintain the soil temperature.
Consistent moisture should ensure germination, eventually.
You may not be able to control temperature (light does not play into most of these while the seed is still underground, but the sun will warm the soil) completely but you can control making sure the seeded are never dries out.
NOTE: I plan on putting my seedlings in the ground on or about February 1st, with my preferred frost protection - a poor man's cloche.
|Poor Man's Cloche|
Here is how to use them. First make sure the jug is very clean, you do not want mold taking out your precious seedlings. Cut off the bottom.
If you are VERY good at remembering to put the jug on at dusk and take it off after the sun is on the area in the morning, you can leave the cap on. If you know you will forget sometimes, leave the cap off so excess heat during the day can vent. I also pile mulch around the base and make it even deeper if I expect a particularly hard frost couple of nights.
That is it - you can stop using the jug when all danger of frost if over.
VEGETABLES, FRUITS & HERBS TO PLANT
Citrus Scented Marigold (Tagetes Nelsonii)
Lettuce & Greens
Melon, Musk Melon
EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:
Bee Balm (Monarda Didyma)
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Tangerine Scented Marigold (Tagetes Lemonii)
Frost/Freeze: Average last frost day is approximately February 15th, however frost and hail has been seen as late as the second week in March. It is best to have your frost covers handy.
GARDEN TIPS for February
February is the transition time for the garden from Winter to Spring sowing, transplanting and harvesting.
There is still time to get a last batch of carrots, sugarpeas, lettuces and similar in the ground. Choosing short maturity varieties, particularly of the root veggies, will give you more harvesting success as the weather jumps to heat in a couple of months.
February is also the time to start your warm season plants like tomatoes, basil and peppers, to name a few. But they may need some initial frost protection. Keep in mind that they may actually stop growing if there is a cold day or several, which chills the soil. Then they resume when the soil heats back up (an interesting phenomenon I finally caught on to several years ago).
The weird weather of the last couple of years in February/March with high temps followed by overnight chill/freeze (Global Weirding as Karis over at the Valley Permaculture Alliance put it so well), makes for some required diligence in the garden in February and March. It pays to remain more mindful of what the weather will be rather than just sow and try to grow.
February is the end of the primary perennial best planting time in the valley (October - February). What this means is that to ensure the best success for your perennials like rosemary, oregano and fruit trees, it is best to have them in the ground before the end of February and the beginning of our temperature increases.
New to-the-valley residents can be surprised by the common spring joke of "when is spring here?" and the answer is "do you remember that period in early March when it was about 78-83 or so degrees for about 2 weeks? - that was it!"
This of course is due to the sudden rise of temperatures from balmy mid 70s in late February / early March to the 90s by April 1st (or higher - we have had the rare 100+ degree days in late March or early April).
The plants just can't take the stress of dealing with putting down roots while the temperatures soar into the 90+ range in just a few short weeks.
Fertilize fruit trees now -- Use Valentine's day as the target -- (and again in late May (Memorial Day) and early September (Labor Day).
Pecan trees need zinc sulfate, applied at the rate of 1 pound per trunk inch width.
The last frost date averages around February 15th, although we have had frost as late as March 1st or 2nd (usually the result of a late winter storm with hail).
Frost in the Valley at the 1100 or lower elevations is usually limited to ‘soft frost’ where simple sheets or paper placed over sensitive plants (or moving potted plants beneath patios or trees) is sufficient to protect them. Hard/Killing frosts are rare particularly in February/March.
For every 1000 feet over 1100 in elevation the last frost day is moved back 10 days and the possibility of hard (killing) frosts starts to occur. At 2000 feet or lower, this is still a rare occurrence.
Getting your edible seedlings in the ground as early as possible provides longer-produce seasons - especially with plants like tomatoes.
Use homemade 'cloche' covers to protect seedlings -- cut the bottom of gallon milk containers or 2 liter soda bottles - clean very well to avoid mold -- place over plants each night until frost danger is past, remove during the day, or if you need to be gone for several days remove the cap to allow excess heat and humidity to escape.
How do you know if we are finished with frost? There are some examples in nature, but you still need to be prepared to cover sensitive plants through the 2nd week in March.
a. Ant activity in the garden indicates the soil has warmed up sufficiently for them to start gathering food again.
b. If the mesquite trees have started to bud out, it is unlikely to frost after that
c. Be aware that a warm storm can contain some hail through March.
Here in the Valley we can have Hail on an expected basis in Spring, early Summer and Fall.
The perfect conditions for Hail are warm OR WARMING soil, cool air mass coming in AND wind.
February and March have the perfect combination of warming soil and a cool system moving in. If you add wind you will generally get hail.
So, while actual frost may not happen keep your frost protection covers and jugs handy in the event of hail to safeguard your new seedlings and transplants.
FREE Seed Share / Q&A
Saturday, February 1, 2020
212 E. 1st Avenue (Hibbert and 1st Avenue)
Mesa, Arizona 85201
Catherine, The Herb Lady, will be answering your questions on gardening in our currently crazy weather patterns.
Come on out to pick up free seeds and ask your questions to "get your growing on."
Our "Non-Soon" as some called the lack of summer rains, has been followed by a LOT of rain late-fall-into-winter. Catherine will answer questions on how to adjust your sowing/planing/gardening for less than normal changes in our weather patterns.
Arizona Herb Association’s 4th Annual
2020 Herb Festival - “Leap Into Lavender”
4341 E Broadway Rd.
Phoenix, Arizona 85040
DATE: Saturday, February 22nd
TIME: Check in/breakfast begins at 8:30 am, Program 9:30 am – 1:30pm
Join us in our annual celebration of herbs as we dive into one of our favorite herbs, lavender! We’ll be learning about how to grow and use this celebrated herb. We are lucky enough to have Brittney Sounart, RH (AHG), Clinical Herbalist, joining us again and discussing how lavender is used medicinally. The day will include a culinary exploration of the flavor with our very own Nancy Matsui, tips on how to cultivate lavender in our low desert environment from local gardening legend, Catherine the Herb Lady, and a tour of the garden to see the varieties of lavender currently growing. A continental breakfast will be included.
DATE: Saturday, February 22nd
TIME: Check in/breakfast begins at 8:30 am, Program 9:30 am – 1:30pm
Tickets available online here: https://www.eventbee.com/v/herb-festival-feb-22nd-2020/event?eid=107080515
I dry my own herbs and edible flowers in the refrigerator, most of the time. During warm times of the year (when it is 80+) I used the sun for big batches of herbs. And that works but more of the color and fragrance is retained when you do cold-drying. Our modern refrigerators mimic the commercial freeze-drying process by constantly removing moisture.
So back on December 23rd I harvested a batch of edible flower petals: nasturtiums, sugar peas and my pink wild rose.
One of the future uses for these is going to be a sandwich - have not decided what kind - which I will cut into quarters and dip each side into these pretty garnishes. I might add some parsley or celery. :-)
I hope your February gardening gets off to a great-green start and also hoping to see you at one or both of the events.
Have a best day,
Be patient, share a smile with someone, and be kind - many are dealing with unseen challenges.
-- Catherine, The Herb Lady
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