Upper South

February, 2013
Regional Report

Plan for Berries

Growing fruits in your garden is a great way to add quality, organically grown vitamins and minerals to your diet, to say nothing of wonderful eating. Raspberries, including red, yellow, purple, and black, are among the easiest to grow. There are varieties that produce a single crop in summer and everbearing types that produce two crops a year. The everbearing variety 'Caroline' is highest in antioxidants. Blackberries are also easily grown. 'Triple Crown' is a thornless variety with large, luscious berries. For best results grow any of these berries in full sun and humus-rich, well-drained soil.

Start Early Vegetable Seeds

Some vegetables grow best in the cool weather of spring and fall. Many of these, especially the leafy greens, can be sown directly into the garden but others will produce best if the seeds are started indoors. In order to have the transplants ready for the garden in March, you need to start them during February. Even though these transplants are often available at garden centers, starting your own seed means you have a wider choice of varieties. The main vegetables you'll want to start indoors now include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and onions.

Brighten Long Days with Flowering Houseplants

Even if you're already growing a wide variety of houseplants, including ones that are in bloom now, adding one or more to your collection now is sure to help speed the passage of winter. Flowering phalaenopsis orchids are widely available and sure to delight, especially since they can grow and rebloom easily for many years to come. They need only moderate light, such as from any window except a north-facing one. Be sure to let the potting mixture dry out between waterings. Cyclamens, with their turned-back petals, are a bit more challenging, as they grow best with cool temperatures and high humidity. But don't panic if the leaves begin to yellow and die. The plant is simply entering a period of dormancy for several months.

Get Birdhouses Ready

Birds begin looking for nesting real estate in late February and early March, so it's important to have bird houses ready in plenty of time. The type of bird house and the entrance-hole size will effect the species most likely to settle in. An entrance hole that measures one-and-a-quarter inches in diameter will attract a delightful variety of small birds, including house wrens, black-capped chickadees, and nuthatches. For bluebirds, an oval hole two-and-a-quarter inches tall and one-and-three-eighths wide or round holes one-and-a-half inches across will keep starlings out. To discourage house sparrows from using bluebird houses, do not include a perch on the front and opt for a house with an open roof covered with hardware cloth. For robins, barn swallows, and phoebes, try adding nesting shelves with a top and bottom, semi-open sides, and an open front.

Make Spring Flowers Come Early

Fresh flowers from your garden are possible even in winter by using a technique called forcing. This is a process that utilizes branches of spring-blooming trees and shrubs like forsythia, pussy willow, cherry, or apple. Once the flower buds have begun to swell at this time of year, gather some branches, cutting at an angle. Submerge as much as possible in a bucket of water overnight, then pour off enough of the water so that at least 6 inches of them stems are still in water. Drape a plastic bag over the stems until flower buds start to break their covering. At this point, you can arrange them into bouquets. Pussy willow and forsythia are the easiest to force, but try your hand at others.

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