The beginning of February is when nurseries begin to stock bare-root roses, fruit trees, shrubs and berry bushes.
You can plant strawberry, raspberry, roses and trees now as soon as you see them for sale. Bare root means these plants will be sold in their dormant state with no soil around the roots.
They may have the roots wrapped in plastic bags or as is the case for strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb plants found sitting in damp sawdust. As long as the ground is not frozen, you can dig in and start planting these hardy plants. Bare-root plants are a great bargain, lightweight and easier to haul home than potted plants.
It is too early to “work” or till the soil for a vegetable garden. Our wet winters mean the soil is still full of moisture and you risk damaging the structure or tilth when you disturb wet soil.
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Mowing the lawn may compact the soil this early in the season, so you have a great excuse to postpone cutting the grass until later in the spring. This is a good month to pile compost on top of your vegetable garden area or around roses — just don’t work it into the soil.
Here are questions from readers, with answers.
Q. Do I need to remove the foliage from my blooming hellebores? I started adding these winter-blooming plants to my landscape a few years ago after I won a plant at one of your talks. They are doing well, but my neighbor insists I must cut back their leaves to keep them healthy. — R.P., Puyallup
A. Early spring is a good time to snip off old foliage from around the stalks of flowering hellebores, so you can better enjoy the blooms and to discourage any fungal diseases that thrive on the old foliage.
Laid-back gardeners can get away with skipping this task for a year or two, but in our wet climate, hellebores do best when the old leaves are removed. Removing old leaves is especially important if you see black spots or dark areas on the leaves, because that is a sign of a fungal infection that could spread to the flowers and new leaves.
To make quick work of this important job, grab a handful of hellebore leaves so you can see where they join the main stalk and snip a cluster of leaf stems all at the same time removing the cut foliage from the garden immediately.
On some hellebore varieties, you can tug the base of the leaf stem downward and it will detach easily from the main stem. The blooms will be able to star in the spotlight when the oppressive old leaves are gone.
Q. When should I prune my roses? We just moved to a new house. — Anonymous, email
A. Roses can be pruned back by one third from mid-February until mid-March, but our mild climate means you can prune as late as April or as early as January and I can still promise you a rose garden.
Giant, old rose plants will often be revitalized by a severe pruning using loppers to shorten the canes or branches so that they are just one to two feet tall. Climbing roses should be pruned by shortening the side shoots rather than cutting back the main trunk. Every rose will be happier if you snip out any branch that is brown and dead, bent or damaged or that shows signs of disease. Clean up your pruning crumbs and spread a fresh mulch around the base of your roses to discourage disease spores.
Q. I followed the advice you gave on Facebook and snipped off bare branches from my forsythia so that they bloomed indoors. I brought the vase of flowers to my mother who is in a nursing home and she and the staff were so impressed that I want to try this forcing trick on other plants. What other shrubs can I cut now and bring indoors for an early forced bloom? — B.H., Bonney Lake
A. You can hurry spring by harvesting the bare branches of flowering plum, quince, apricot and cherry and give a try to anything other shrub that blooms early in the spring. Witch hazel and sarcococca are two early bloomers that also fill a room with fragrance.
Another way to jump-start winter blooms is to dig up bulbs of snowdrop, crocus and dwarf daffodils now when you see the foliage poking from the ground. Bring the entire bulb indoors and set on a dish of gravel and water to keep the humidity high while the flowers open. The first blossoms of spring are always the most appreciated.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.