Hands in the Dirt: MLT gardening tips for February 2022

Welcome to another wonderful year of gardening. February may not have a lot for you to do in the dirt, but there is still plenty to be done inside and out.

On nice days, consider adding a couple inches of compost to garden beds if you didn’t get around to it in the fall. Healthy soil means happy plants!

If you have a greenhouse or cold frame, get out a bucket and clean those windows. It’s amazing how much grime can build up on outdoor surfaces, and cleaning off mildew, especially in a wet climate like ours, can make a big difference in how much light reaches the plants.

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 D’s – 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.

While my clippers are out for the roses, I usually visit my hydrangea as well. I can’t seem to let a good hydrangea clipping go to waste, and when I am done pruning, I poke cuttings several inches into potting soil and wait. A good hydrangea cutting is about 10-12 inches long and has several sets of buds or leaf nodes, with the bottom cut just below a set of nodes where the roots can start to develop. I normally put several in the same pot and ignore them until June, when a soft tug can tell if any roots have started to develop. I love making new plants!

On those cold and rainy days when you don’t feel like getting outside, a good inside task is to clean your pots. I like to give my seed starting pots a quick rinse with the hose after planting to get the loose soil off, and then give them a wash with standard dish soap in the spring. If you start seeds inside, prep your seed starting station by testing lights and replacing any that have broken since their last use. Remember, a full-spectrum light is ideal, but a standard shop light will still get the job done when it comes to starting seeds!

Now is also the time for tool care. You can sharpen the blades on clippers and snips, but also shovels. A good sharp shovel can cut through smaller roots and it’s oh so satisfying. An oil such as linseed oil will prolong the life of wooden tool handles and prevent cracking. Have a rusty pair of clippers you forgot outside all winter? Pop them in a jar of vinegar overnight. Once the rust has softened, a metal brush or steel wool can scrub it off easily.

One of my favorite garden jobs this time of year is the planning. I may not need to purchase any new seeds, but I always flip through the seed catalogs I get in the mail and dream.

Speaking of seeds, how about a seed swap? We had so much fun at our seed swap in March 2020, we’re going to do it again this year. What’s a seed swap? Every grower has extra seeds that might not ever be planted in their garden because they bought too much, didn’t like the variety, wanted to try something new, or they saved seeds from a prolific variety (looking at you, cosmos!). A swap is a way to share those seeds with others. You don’t have to have bring your own to join in at the swap, as there are always plenty to go around. The BOG Free Seed Library was started after the 2020 swap, and continues to live on, continuously growing and sharing abundance with MLT-area gardeners. Our date isn’t finalized yet, so keep your eyes on our Facebook page or email themltbog@gmail.com to be the first to put it on your calendar.

About the BOG

The Ballinger Organic Garden 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.

— By Robyn Rice

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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