Hands in the Dirt: MLT gardening tips for February 2021

Most of the gardeners I know are getting antsy to start their 2021 garden. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to finalize your planting plan so you can purchase seeds and mark your calendar with start dates. It’d be terrible to get so excited about tomatoes that you forget to start your onions!

If you want to start seeds in the ground a little earlier, hoop houses, cloches and cold frames can be a great way to dry out and warm winter soil. These and other season extenders can get you gardening outdoors several weeks early. If you are starting seeds inside, bring on the lights! Our winter sun isn’t as bright as more southern climates, and seeds started in the windowsill may lead to weak, stringy plants. Buying a grow light can seem like a big step, and the internet is full of folks talking about lumens, full spectrum bulbs, and LEDs, but even a cheap shop light can significantly improve your starts. Just make sure to keep the light close to but not touching the plants so they get the maximum “sunlight” available without scorching the leaves.

It’s almost time to prune many dormant plants, including apples, pears, blueberries and roses. If you have roses, find a nearby forsythia and when you see the tell-tale yellow flowers blooming, grab your clippers because it’s time! For most varieties of roses, prune the plant down to the lowest (closest to the ground) bud on each branch. For most other plants, also remove the four Ds – anything that looks dead, damaged or diseased, and anything that is going in the wrong direction – you want the plant to be open to allow for good airflow, so cut out any stems that are crossing, or heading through the center of the plant.

Perennial edibles and flowers, such as bare-root fruit trees and bushes, rhubarb and asparagus crowns, and summer flowering bulbs can also be planted now. Be sure to read the planting guide, though, as some bulbs and tubers are on store shelves now but should be held back until later in spring.

The MLT BOG maintains a free seed library as a resource for the local community. We won’t be able to have an in-person seed swap this year, so instead we are going virtual. Please reach out to us on Facebook or at TheMLTBOG@gmail.com if you are having a hard time finding seeds, or are struggling to afford the startup costs of a garden. We also accept donations and trades! If you bought a seed pack and only used a few seeds or discovered you don’t need three packs of rainbow swiss chard, we would love to take them off your hands to help others.  Who knows, maybe we can help you find your new favorite variety of kale!

Have a question about gardening?  Post it on our Facebook page.

About the BOG

The Ballinger Organic Garden (BOG) is a volunteer-led effort to develop a community garden at Ballinger Park. The BOG, in partnership with MLT Recreation & Parks and the MLT Senior Center and funded by a grant from the MLT Community Foundation, is currently in “Phase 0” while larger construction activities (creek restoration and trail installation) are completed.  Phase 0 includes maintenance of the existing raised beds and a garden plot on the south side of the MLT Senior Center in Ballinger Park. Phase 1 will involve installation of a larger garden with plots available for community members to maintain.  Want to volunteer, or have an idea of what you want to see in the future garden? Please let us know.

To stay up to date on what is happening at the BOG, including what’s growing, work parties, and events, follow us on Facebook  or Instagram.

Robyn Rice grew up in Eastern Washington, pulling weeds and picking up rotten fruit as dreaded chores assigned by her Master Gardener father. Today, Robyn is a fisheries biologist for an environmental consulting firm, and has been gardening in the Seattle area since 2010. Her science background leads to endless research about the “correct” way to do things, but her enthusiasm and sense of adventure leads her to garden fearlessly because hey, what’s the worst that could happen?


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