Gardening Blog

Think you can take a break from gardening in February? There’s plenty to do

At this time of the year, when the garden lies largely fallow, we can examine its bones easily and focus on making notes as to what will need attention after the threat of frost is gone. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with assessment. Approach this activity the way you might approach rearranging or discarding items in drawers or closets.

In the garden, consider your starting point to be certain types of plants. “Today, I’ll look only at shrubs (or trees, or vines, or perennials).” A different starting point may be to focus on one portion of the yard — the area around the front entrance today, by the back door tomorrow, near the deck this weekend and so forth. Choose simple headings for columns: relocate, discard, donate. Might a gardening friend/neighbor enjoy having those items? Perhaps a plant exchange can be set up with a group of like-minded folks. In sum, make a plan and then follow it.

One February task that gardeners need to take care of is the pruning of roses. In our area, the third week of February is generally a good time for this job. You need a pair of gloves to protect your hands and wrists from prickly thorns. Use bypass pruners, the type which operate like scissors and cut cleanly through a stem. Avoid the anvil type, where a blade comes down onto a metal or hard plastic lower surface, crushing the stem rather than slicing it cleanly.

Remove the dead and damaged canes (stems) as far back as necessary, and remove any suckers that arise from below the graft union, if there is one. A graft union is the swelling near the base of the plant where a bud from one type of rose has been grafted onto the root of a different rose. It is the most efficient and cost-effective way to produce a large number of roses of a single variety. Grafted roses are often superior in overall size and bloom production when compared to own-root roses.

Next, select the healthiest canes and cut off the rest. For roses that are just a couple of years old, save about three to five canes. Save more on older plants. Finally, cut the canes back by one-third to one-half, keeping the interior of the plant open in order to promote good air circulation. Make your cuts about one-quarter inch above an outward-facing bud/eye, which is the swollen area found near the union of the leaf with the stem. The bud/eye will grow into a new stem.

It’s not necessary to prune miniature roses unless you want to adjust or redirect growth. Caution: some roses, such as ramblers and climbers, bloom on canes that they produced the previous year (i.e., old growth). Pruning is usually not done until after they bloom in spring/early summer. They are also not pruned in the same manner as typical garden roses. Consult online or print resources before you begin cutting.

Looking Ahead

In the greater Hilton Head area, the premier garden event of the year is the All Saints Episcopal Church Garden Tour. This year marks the 30th anniversary of this very popular event and will feature seven lovely gardens on Saturday, May 20th. Over the course of past years, more than $500,000 has been donated to local charities as a result of ticket sales. Each year’s grant recipients represent at least one of the four areas of domestic concern identified by All Saints: hunger, homelessness, literacy, and aging.

An integral part of this charitable endeavor has been the Artist Poster Contest. The artwork is displayed in the main corridor of the Hilton Head Regional Medical Center and visitors can vote for the People’s Choice Award until 6 p.m. Feb. 17. Contest winners will be announced the following day. The submissions, which will remain on display until Saturday, March 11, are for sale. The Grand Prize winner’s selection will appear on posters advertising the tour as well as on the cover of the tour booklet.

My next column will take the form of a Q & A. Send your questions and concerns by February 10, 2017.

Frank Edgerton is a Hilton Head Island resident, garden consultant and plantsman. He can be reached at