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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: A chore a day for February

Trees covered with snow in winter mountains.

Trees covered with snow in winter mountains.  Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/talip

Skies may be gray, but thoughts are green as we prepare early-season seeds indoors and begin pruning trees and shrubs outdoors. Remember that garden helpers are still out there, so stock bird feeders -- including clean water — for your feathered friends. You'll want them to stick around; their ravenous appetite for garden pests will repay you in spades (pun intended). Here is one tip or chore for each day this month.

1. Clear away spent foliage from last year’s hellebores. A new show is on the way!

2. Spring will arrive in six weeks regardless of what the groundhog sees, but there’s no telling who will win the Super Bowl — enjoy the festivities!

3. If the ground isn’t frozen and the weather’s been dry, water evergreens, especially those planted last year.

4. Check bulbs and tubers stored indoors. Mist if they show signs of shriveling; discard any that have rotted.

5. To avoid leaf drop, use room-temperature water to irrigate houseplants.

6. Sow seeds of slow-growing annuals (ageratum, geranium, petunia, snapdragon, sweet alyssum, verbena, etc.) indoors.

7. If hollies are declining, rejuvenate now with a hard pruning

8. Start lavender and thyme seeds indoors.

9. Inspect hemlocks for small cottony masses on branches (woolly adelgid egg sacs.) If found, remove and discard.

10. Control yourself: It’s too early to start vegetables.

11. Give flowering houseplants, like hibiscus and geraniums, a trim.

12. If roses were diseased last year, prune affected canes, disinfecting clippers between cuts to avoid spreading disease.

13. Wipe foliage of large-leaved houseplants with a damp cloth to help them “breathe” (and photosynthesize) better.

14. Happy Valentine’s Day! Instead of roses, surprise your sweetheart with a red anthurium, heart-leaved Philodendron or sweetheart hoya.

15. Prune summer-blooming trees and shrubs if they are overgrown or unruly, or have dead, broken or crisscrossed branches.

16. It’s time to prune grapevines; remove all except four fruiting canes with seven to 10 buds each.

17. It’s said that George Washington cut down his father’s cherry tree, so Presidents Day is a good reminder to prune fruit trees. Keep branches short enough to reach at harvest.

18. Beat the crowds and take the lawn mower in for service now, if necessary.

19. Give the compost pile a spin. It may be cold out, but the center of the mound is cooking.

20. Start seeds for such early-season crops as broccoli, lettuce and cabbage indoors for transplanting outdoors late next month.

21. Fertilize bulb plants as soon as they emerge from the ground.

22. Keep off the lawn if it’s frozen. Foot traffic that damages iced grass blades will be evident in spring.

23. Clean and replenish bird feeders.

24. Opt for a calcium chloride deicer for walkways; it’s kinder on plants and paws. Or go with sand or clay cat litter for chemical-free traction.

25. Check beds for roots and bulbs that have been pushed out of the ground, or “heaved,” by freeze-thaw cycles; press them back with your foot.

26. Bring spring indoors early: Clip branches of forsythia or lilac and place in a vase of water. They’ll bloom long before their mother plants.

27. Begin pruning dormant trees, except “bleeders” like maple, beech, dogwood, elm and sycamore, which shouldn’t be cut until they’re in leaf.

28. Don’t prune spring-blooming trees or shrubs until after they’ve bloomed.

29. Repot houseplants into containers that are two inches larger. They’ll “leap” in growth to reward you for giving them attention on the year’s bonus day.

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