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February is the perfect time to prepare for spring

Purchase azaleas while in bloom and plant in an acid mix.
Purchase azaleas while in bloom and plant in an acid mix.

Q. What should I be doing in the garden in February? Is it time to cut back perennials and shrubs? — Sharon Connors, San Luis Obispo

A. February is already spring in many areas of the county. If not done in January, dormant pruning of roses and fruit trees should be completed now, before they bud out. Shrubs can be shaped and cut back now, as can salvias and lavenders and verbenas, when they have a flush of new growth at the base. Ornamental grasses, too, can be trimmed and/or divided.

This is a good time to prepare beds, digging in compost and planning new plantings. Be sensitive to the water needs of your garden. During times of frost, it’s important to make sure that soil is not completely dried out. As growth begins in spring some areas may need water after a dry winter — or if we’ve had late rains, test the soil before working it. If it sticks together when squeezed, wait until it dries somewhat.

Vegetable seeds can be started now. In mild areas many vegetables can be sown directly into beds; others need an indoor start. Summer blooming annual and biennial flower seeds can also be sown outdoors. Plant bulbs or rhizomes for spring and summer bloom: dahlia, bearded and Dutch iris, amaryllis, day lilies and gladiolus can all go in soon. Azaleas and camellias may be purchased while in bloom and planted in an acid soil mix.

In the mild areas, pests are waking up, too. Catch weeds early for easy pulling. Snails and earwigs are hungry for fresh, tender green. Handpick, trap or bait snails; trap earwigs overnight in loosely rolled-up newspaper. Aphids can be controlled with strong jets of water or perhaps insecticidal soap.

Finally, help get your garden get off to agood growing season with an application of slow-acting nutrients like well composted manure, bonemeal or compost dug into the top three inches of soil. Native plants, however, should not be fertilized. Master Gardeners can give more detailed information on all of these chores.