Even though it may seem as if winter will never end, February is actually the beginning of spring for Texas gardeners. I am going to provide a list of things to begin to accomplish this month, but since the weather this time of the year is very unpredictable, you will have to watch the forecast to decide when to begin these tasks.

If an unexpected hard freeze comes along, you may find yourself having to replant some of your vegetables. However, an early start will really improve your harvest, both in quality and in quantity, so early planting is worth the risk.

Begin your gardening tasks with soil preparation. Never dig in your garden when it is wet, so you will need to take advantage of dry days to get the soil ready for annual flowers and vegetables. Pull weeds now to prevent them from forming seeds, and you will have less problems with them once warmer weather is here. Dig up any new beds that you want now if you did not do this in the fall. Add plenty of compost to all beds that you plan to plant this spring.

More Fertilizer?

If you did not enjoy a plenteous harvest or a great display of flowers last year, it may be that your beds need more fertilizer. If this is the case, do a soil test. You can obtain the materials you need for a soil test from your county extension service. You will also get instructions and an address to send your soil samples to for testing. Follow these instructions to the letter. Any deviation from the instructions can skew your test results.

Get your soil in to be tested as soon as you can, and when you receive back the results, follow the recommendations. It is not a good idea to add fertilizer to the soil that you already have enough of in your garden beds. You can accidentally alter the soil chemistry negatively.

Extra nutrients are often swept away in the rains of springtime, where they end up in our rivers and streams. A lot of damage can be done to our precious water supply this way. It is almost always safe to add compost to a garden bed however, so go ahead and add this as it will improve the soil texture and help with a host of garden problems.

What to Plant

Around Valentine’s Day, you can plant potatoes in the vegetable garden. Once you have selected your potatoes from the garden center, cut them in smaller pieces with at least two eyes. Dry them for a day or two, and then plant them in the garden. I usually plant mine about 6 to 7 inches deep, but you can plant a little deeper, if you wish.

Plant with the eyes up when possible, but this is not as important as you might think, as they will find the top of the soil regardless. As the potatoes emerge, you can start to “hill up” your growing plants by raking soil over them to produce longer stems, the area that produces the potatoes. I like to give the new potato sprouts a couple of days to enjoy the sun, then cover them. This extra time in the sun allows them to grow a little and nourish the plants for future growth.

February is a good time to plant greens in the garden, if you didn’t plant last fall (the best time). Plant anything that is grown for its roots or leaves in cool weather. You can continue to plant these vegetables into March, but slow down as April approaches. These vegetables hate heat, so they will not be as lush if they are planted too late.

You can also plant flowers that like cooler weather now, such as dianthus, pansies, snapdragons and petunias. Petunias are a little risky, as a freeze might kill them, but if they survive, the display they will produce is worth the risk. Try to remember to plant spring-blooming flowers and wildflowers next fall, when they will outperform any flowers planted in the spring months.

Growing Seedlings

February is also the last month that you should grow seedlings of summer vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants. Use a good plant light to grow these and whenever it is a nice, warm day, take them outside to get real sunlight and to become hardened to outdoor conditions. You can plant them outside as soon as danger of frost is past.

With seedlings, one of the major causes of death is dehydration. Grow seedlings in plastic containers whenever possible. Containers made of peat moss are just trouble. Peat moss repels water. This is the last thing you want. Often people buy peat moss containers so they can plant them right in the soil without disturbing the roots of the seedlings. The problem is that they will continue to repel water after the seedling is planted in the garden.

Just be careful when removing plants from their pots and you will not need to worry. This tendency to repel water is also why I avoid peat moss as a soil additive as well. I have seen water bead up and just roll off of it. If you have a large supply of peat moss and want to use it, put it in a container and pour water all over it. Let it soak overnight, then when it is moist, you can use it if you wish. Otherwise, it makes a great additive to cement to create hypertufa containers. Use it instead of sand in the mix.

Above all, enjoy the beauty of spring here in Central Texas. It is a joy to get outside and work in the soil. Watch over your plants and keep them happy and healthy, and they will return the favor to you when harvesttime arrives.

Melody Fitzgerald is a McLennan County Master Gardener who has spent more than 35 years facing the challenges of Central Texas gardening.