February in the Low Desert
In February, continue to prepare for frost events and take necessary frost protection measures. Don’t let a warm week in February fool you into believing spring has arrived. The low-desert can still have periods of freezing temperatures during the month.
Mesquites may ooze an amber-colored resin; this can be normal or released as a result of injury. The exudates are often sweet smelling and tasting. If the exudates are dark in color, sticky and odiferous it is caused by a bacterial infection called slime flux. You can prune affected branches, but once it has been established the tree will remain diseased and take years to die.
February is still a good time to prepare a new vegetable garden bed for spring planting. Prepare your vegetable bed by using a digging fork or rototilling to approximately 12-18 inches deep. Do not work soil if it is too wet as it can permanently damage the soil structure. Apply compost generously (several inches) and incorporate it into the loosened soil. If you have an existing vegetable garden this is also a good time to add compost.
Think about constructing a compost pile for your vegetable and/or flower garden. (See our Desert Gardening Guide on Composting for more information).
Sudden warm spells during the month of February can cause many of your winter vegetables to bolt into flowering such as cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and bok choy. Harvest these vegetables before flowering as many of these vegetables may become bitter and inedible.
Blooming plants can include:
• Red Barberry (Mahonia haematocarpa syn. Berberis haematocarpa)
• Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra)
• Bur-sage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
• Giant bur-sage (Ambrosia ambrosioides)
• White bur-sage (Ambrosia dumosa)
• Fremont’s Wolfberry (Lycium fremontii)
• Feathery Cassia (Senna artemisioides ssp. filifolia syn. Senna nemophila)
• Baja Senna (Senna purpusii)
• Spotted Emu Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’TM)
• Indigo Bush (Dalea bicolor)
• Emu Bush (Eremophila laanii ‘Pink Beauty’)
• Emu Bush (Eremophila hygrophana)
• Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana syn. Acacia farnesiana)
• Succulent Geranium (Pelargonium magenteum x echinatum)
• Succulent Geranium (Pelargonium klinghardtense)
• Aloe ‘Rudikoppe’
• Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’
• Cape Aloe (Aloe ferox)
• Gariep River Aloe (Aloe gariepensis)
• Aloe aculeata
• Coral Aloe (Aloe striata)
• Aloe x ‘Hercules’
• Partridge Breast Aloe (Aloe variegata)
Some annual wildflowers may commence to bloom at the end of the month. Early-blooming annuals can include: Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordonii), Mexican Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana), Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia) and Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus).
Your irrigation timer should be turned off. Consider an overall watering of landscape plants at the end of the month if rainfall is insufficient. Remember to follow the 1, 2, 3 rule: water mature trees to a depth of 3 feet, shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, and herbaceous perennials, agaves, vines, and groundcovers to a depth of 1 foot.
Young and newly transplanted plants need to be watered more frequently than established plants. Watering deeply encourages roots to extend deeper into the soil and thus, helps the plant become established over time.
Annual wildflowers may need to be watered at least once to twice during the month of February if rainfall is insufficient.
Agaves and other succulents (Aloe spp., Dudleya spp., Cotyledon spp., Echeveria spp.) in containers should be watered at least once to twice this month. Cacti in containers should be watered at least once this month. However, cacti and succulents in small containers may need to be watered more often including cacti and succulent seedlings.
What to Plant
Continue to plant cold-hardy and fall-winter growers:
• Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
• Penstemons (Penstemon spp.)
• Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
• Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
• Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)
• Goodding’s Verbena (Glandularia gooddingii)
• Red Justicia (Justicia candicans)
• Fragrant Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
• Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
• Trixis (Trixis californica)
• Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
• White Sage (Salvia apiana)
• Aloes (Aloe spp.)
Vegetables to transplant include: Jerusalem and globe artichokes, leaf lettuce, potato, and watermelon. Swiss chard, kohlrabi and head lettuce should be planted the first part of the month. Plant tomatoes and peppers during the second half of February. Be prepared to cover your tomatoes and peppers with frost cloth if we get periods of freezing temperatures.
Vegetable seeds to sow include:
• bok choy
• collard greens
• leaf lettuce
• mustard greens
• green onions
• Irish potatoes
Spinach, mesclun, garbanzo beans, peas (English, snap, snow), and dry onion seeds should be planted before mid-February.
Vegetable seeds to sow the second part of February include:
• sweet corn
• summer squash
Seedlings will need to be covered with frost cloth to prevent freeze damage.
Herb seeds to sow include:
• lemon balm
• salad burnet
• summer and winter savory
Herbs to transplant include:
• garlic chives
• lemon balm
• lemon grass
• scented geraniums
• French tarragon
Divide overgrown plantings of chives, garlic chives, mint, and lemon grass.
As tempting as it may be, do not prune any plants damaged by an earlier frost. Frost-damaged plants should be pruned in the springtime.
Prune bunch and ornamental grasses such as Muhley (Muhlenbergia spp.), Purple Three-Awn (Aristida purpurea) and Grama Grass (Bouteloua spp.) to rejuvenate. These bunch and ornamental grasses can be pruned within a couple inches to the ground.
Deciduous trees should be thinned and reduced by mid-month.
Continue to deadhead flowering annuals and perennials to encourage additional blooms.
Landscape plants will not need to be fertilized until spring.
Do not fertilize warm-season plants in containers. However, cool-season plants in containers may need to be fertilized.
Continue to fertilize your vegetable garden as needed.
Aphids can be found on landscape plants or on your winter vegetables. Allow natural predators such as lacewings, praying mantis and lady beetles to control the aphid population.
Cabbage loopers (small, pale-green caterpillars with light-colored stripes along their bodies) may be present in your vegetable garden. Look for small, irregular holes on the leaf surface of your vegetable plants. Damage is common on broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, beets, lettuce, peas and many other garden vegetables. Control by hand removal or allow natural predators to keep the population in check. An application of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) can also be used as a biological alternative to pesticides.