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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: February chores

Cloudy, one of the groundhogs at Brookfield Zoo

Cloudy, one of the groundhogs at Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, IL., contemplates an exit from her wooden home on Groundhog Day. (Feb. 2, 2001) Credit: Newsmakers

It's February, and you know what that means? We're halfway through winter! It's also time to get back into the garden -- believe it or not -- to prune and appreciate early signs of life, like witch hazel, winter aconite, crocuses and hellebores. Here's a chore for every day of the month, including an extra for leap day on Feb. 29.

1. If orchids are outgrowing their containers, replant into a slightly larger pot now, before new growth starts.

2. Even if the groundhog sees his shadow, start preparing for spring: Order seeds before retailers run out.

3. Inspect beds and borders for bulbs, crowns and roots that have lifted out of the ground. Press them back in gently with your foot.

4. Cut back old hellebore foliage.

5. Start seeds of slow-growing annuals (petunia, coleus, sweet alyssum, geranium, snapdragon and verbena) indoors in a sterile seed-starting mix.

6. Cut summer-blooming clematis varieties, like Jackmanii, to two feet from the ground. New growth will be up before you know it.

7. Do your hemlocks look like they have cotton swab tips hanging off them? Those are woolly adelgid egg sacs. Remove by hand and destroy.

8. If the ground is dry and unfrozen, water evergreens, especially those planted in the past year.

9. Check stored tubers and bulbs, and mist with water if they're drying out. Discard if rotted or shriveled.

10. Inspect tree wrappings to ensure protection from hungry critters.

11. Test last year's seeds for viability by folding 10 into a damp paper towel and sealing in a plastic bag. Keep moist and check daily for a month.

12. Turn the compost pile; it's still cooking.

13. For an early taste of spring, cut a few stems of forsythia, pear, pussy willow or quince and place in a vase of water. They'll bloom sooner than those in the garden.

14. Giving your sweetheart roses? Remember that red means passion; yellow, friendship; white, purity; and pink, admiration.

15. Plant lavender and thyme seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill.

16. Keep an eye out for yellow winter aconites and white snowdrops in the garden. They're among the very first to bloom.

15. Water houseplants with room-temperature water to avoid leaf drop.

16. Prune diseased rose canes, disinfecting pruners between cuts with a 10-percent bleach solution or disinfectant spray.

17. If your lawn mower needs servicing, take it in now while business is slow; you won't likely be kept waiting. While you're at it, get blades sharpened, too.

18. Prune summer-blooming shrubs.

19. If you brought geraniums indoors for the winter, cut them back now to encourage a fuller shape.

20. It's Presidents Day. Honor George Washington, who was a master composter at Mount Vernon, by starting your own compost pile.

21. Inspect burlap and other protective covers around shrubs and trees and adjust, if necessary, to avoid wind burn and other damage.

22. Resist the urge to start seeds too early, or else your plants will grow leggy and you might lose them.

23. Use a net to clean leaves and other debris from ponds.

24. Start pruning all deciduous trees except maple, beech, dogwood, elm and sycamore. Those are "bleeders," which should be in full leaf before they're trimmed.

25. When the temperature rises above 40 degrees, apply anti-desiccant to broadleaf evergreens like rhododendron, azalea, pieris and laurel.

26. Replenish bird feeders -- and don't forget water.

27. Prune grapevines to four or fewer fruiting canes, leaving seven to 10 buds on each.

28. Sow beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and celery indoors to transplant in the garden in five to six weeks.

29. When houseplants begin to show signs of active growth, give them a boost with a shot of water-soluble fertilizer.

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