February has long been known as the month of love. It is the host month of Valentine’s Day, after all. Follow this “Six Degrees of Separation” type exercise and it will make sense that it is also the month of roses, apples, and tomatoes. All of them should have a permanent place in this month of love and in the heart of every Gulf Coast gardener.
It’s easy to see how roses take their place. Roses have long been a symbol of love. In fact, different colors of roses are used in the Language of Flowers to symbolize different kinds of love. Red roses symbolize romantic, passionate, everlasting love. White roses symbolize virtue and purity; young love yet unrealized. Green roses symbolize fertility; the apex and fulfillment of love. Yellow roses symbolize friendship; a very special form of love. Our state motto is Friendship, so it is fitting that the Yellow Rose is beloved by Texans.
In the garden, roses can be used to cast distinct impressions as well. A single color planted in mass creates a feeling of elegance, and the color will add its own emotion; red – drama, white – serenity, yellow – sunny cheerfulness. Gardens with a mix of colors make everyone smile.
Almost all gardeners know that February is the month to prune roses. We commonly use the 14th as our landmark rose day, but I am less of a slave to the calendar as I am to the weather. Check the long range forecast starting in late January. As long as there are no freezes predicted, it is safe to prune your roses whenever it is convenient between late January and the middle of February. You can give them their first dose of fertilizer at the same time, as well as applying an inch of compost and refreshing their mulch. A handful of Epsom salts will encourage them to put out more canes, giving you a fuller, more attractive shrub. Containerized roses can be planted now, too. They will have warm days, cool evenings and more dependable moisture so they can establish before summer.
Now, let’s connect the apples. Apples and roses have a lot in common. Did you know that both apples and roses come in both red and green? Yes, there are at least two green roses – a miniature called ‘Green Ice’ and an exotic looking heirloom rose known just as ‘The Green Rose’ (Rosa chinensis ‘Viridiflora’). But color is just a coincidence.
Roses and apples are actually cousins. They are both members of the family Rosaceae. Anyone who has allowed hips to form on their roses in the fall has seen that they closely resemble mayhaws, another apple cousin, or small crab apples.
In our area, most apples will be in bloom in February. Exactly when depends on chill hours. It will vary a little year to year, and it will vary across our region since we span several horticultural zones. Apple blossoms are lovely. If you prune just before bud break, some stems can be added to a vase of your cut roses for a truly vintage look.
There are several apples that perform well for most of us; ‘Anna’, ‘Dorsett Golden’, and a recently released variety named ‘Carnavale’. The northernmost of us can also try ‘Fuji’ and there are others that will deserve our attention soon. February is the last month to plant bareroot apples safely, and they can also be pruned this month if you missed them in January. Spray kaolin clay products at petal fall to supress plum curculio. Spray again about 10 – 14 days after petal fall for better control.
So how do apples relate to the month of love? The apple played an important part of the very first romance! When Eve offered the apple to Adam, it might have been the ultimate temptation, but who hasn’t been tempted by love?
And now we come to tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes also come in red and green, but that’s where the similarities with the roses and apples end. So how do they connect? I won’t make you wait for this one – tomatoes are also known as ‘Love Apples’ and February is the month in which all tomato lovers need to get started.
A lot depends on the weather, so watch it closely, and be prepared for all possibilities. In mild winter years we can actually set out strong transplants in mid to late February across much of our area. We do have to be prepared to protect the young plants on cool evenings, but there are so many ways this can be done successfully and your Arbor Gate professional can help you with your choices.
Even in colder years we should still be working on our tomatoes in February. We should select our young seedlings and pick up the amendments we will need to get them off to a good start and keep them through a long season. Transplants of all different sizes should be available now. Don’t be afraid of choosing young transplants. As long as they are about a hand wide and a hand tall and have 4 – 6 leaves, you can have success with them. In fact, if I know I want to get them early and bump them up for awhile, I will look for smaller, but vigorous-looking transplants.
If it is too cool to plant them out, bump them up into a gallon pot and wait a few weeks. This will give them enough soil space to develop a good root system and to put on new growth until it is warm enough to plant them out. You won’t lose time with them, especially if you set them deep as you bump them up. You can also spend some time getting their permanent location ready. Tomatoes like deeply prepared soils that are include compost and nutrients that are available consistently over their season.
February – definitely the month of love – romantic roses, tempting apples, and the ‘love apple’, tomatoes, the vegetable Americans love most to grow. With so much to love, it makes you wonder why it is our shortest month!