This month in the Lowcountry can be challenging for the most devoted gardener. Capricious temperatures outdoors -- near freezing one day, 20 degrees warmer the next -- drive us indoors and into our greenhouse or onto our plant-filled porch.
The passionate gardener, and we're many in this neck of the woods, will be spending garden time in February starting seeds, repotting plants, trimming, feeding, watering, and sometimes spraying for insects who also enjoy the warm environment.
I have a small, lean-to greenhouse with a fan and heater, that is the coziest place to be when the northeast wind is bringing down the remaining tree leaves, as well as tree branches, not all of them dead.
The greenhouse is the winter home for orchids, bonsai plants, four flowering hanging baskets of impatiens, croton and pepper plants. More then a dozen plants from the coleus family are thriving there; these were cuttings taken from the summer garden in August.
We now come to the interesting part. February garden time is also spent indoors on a glassed-in porch where there are 33 tropical plants, some flowering, some not, all loving their environment. And guess what? The porch plants are growing faster and blooming better than those that were greenhouse grown.
The difference is in the exposure; porch windows receive sun six hours a day, the greenhouse receives lots of light but only two hours of direct sunlight. Some of the porch-grown plants must be watered every day; the bonsai and orchids are given a soaking every five days.
The magnificent amaryllis bulbs growing there began to flower in December. Your garden book might say to keep amaryllis in the sun, but I do not; they last longer a few feet away from the sunny window. After they flower, remember to feed them lightly and let them dry out. In April, plant bulbs outdoors or leave them in the pot turned on their sides in a spot that's not easily seen. All plants in both locations are water misted every day.
That, of course, is what growing plants indoors is almost all about: making dry air humid. If we are to be away for more than a day or two, we leave water-filled cups near the plants, or place them on pebbles in trays or window boxes.
There's no light-filled room left for the emerging seeds of tomato, arugula, parsley and mache lettuce. Not a problem; enter my husband, Larry, who last summer surprised me with a portable greenhouse for the back deck. It has large shelves, is covered in heavy plastic with a zipper and is on wheels. It's presently full of tiny plants -- and is home to tender potted plants during those February cold spells.
Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.