What’s in Bloom, What to Plant, See and Do this Month!
February is springtime in full bloom in the tropical garden. This month in the tropical garden is the equivalent of April or May in the temperate zone gardens we formerly made. The garden is blooming, and we’re digging, planting, and weeding like any spring month. And in our climate, we are harvesting too! So look up gardening in February, and what will you see?
Garden writing is based on the temperate climates so many of us are familiar with. So, if you are lucky and find the words February and Garden in the same sentence, the next term will always be planning! It will never be, digging, planting, or weeding. Gardening in February is a notion that takes place in the future.
Not so in the Tropical Garden! I remember my mom, a classic New England gardener, with seed catalogs surrounding the blazing fireplace on a snowy February day. But, today, that’s not us and not our garden.
February in the garden is time for serious work; these are our crisp days we add new plants, continue pruning and enjoy the lush surroundings.
The Tropical Garden is Always Growing
One luxury we tropical gardeners do not have is months to plan in, followed by months of planting. We have no respite to design the garden and choose the perfect seeds. Just as a tropical garden is a jungle of layers, so is the life of the tropical gardener. Some days, in our fast growth environment we are more like wardens than gardeners, and the gardener’s life is a bounty or a hustle as you choose to view it. Everything happens at once. (Except for the rain-that is segmented- 6 months on-6, months off!)
February Gardening-a little Closer to the Equator
Our garden is only 1806 miles and 26 degrees north of the Equator. And we still call ourselves North Americans! We occupy USDA Plant Hardiness zone 10, the equatorial part of North America. Our neighbors sharing this climate are Hawaii and Southern California, and south Florida is the hottest and wettest of the three.
February for us; is full blown springtime with the excitement (and chores) that always come with spring.
Here is a little temperature chart. It may help you watch the seasons progress.
Average Temperature in the Garden
Month: January vs. February
Except for the need to irrigate, these are perfect days to be active gardeners. Today is the first of February and we have exceeded 80 degrees by mid afternoon! By May, we will be doing the heavy work early in the morning but not this month. All day, every day is mild gardening weather.
Tropical Plants to use in Your Garden (Wherever You Are)
Tropical plants can be used in temperate climate gardens in various ways. As I discuss different plants that can be moved or stored over the winter, I will mention how it’s done. For example, you can use the large leaves of elephant ears in your summer garden and save the bulbs or, depending on size, bring the plants inside.
Here is more information, including how to store them over the winter.
February-the Gardener’s Point of View
I collect quotations because I always like to know what smart people have to say about any subject that interests me. But for the tropical gardener, pertinent February quotes are hard to find. Garden life is lived outdoors, and most interesting discussion about February reflect cold, cold and more cold!
What we say about February
The examples about freezing February are endless. What are your favorite winter quotes?
“And after summer evermore succeeds
Barren winter, with his wrathful, nipping cold.”-William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II, Act II, scene iv
But, finally, I found this observation from a world-famous gardener who emphasizes February’s changing nature, not the static days. (February is a month named for the 30-day Roman holiday of cleaning and atonement-it’s a necessary idea but not much fun!)
So try this fellow gardener’s idea on for size…
An Observation about February in any Garden
“There is always in February, some one day, at least,
when one smells the yet distant,
but surely coming, summer.”-Gertrude Jekyll
Jekyll (1843-1932) created over 400 of the world’s most valued gardens and was a leader in the always influential Arts and Crafts movement. She guided the desire of every gardener to create a living work of art.
The Artistic Gardener
She took a painterly approach to her designs and always understood how the flowers, plants, and pathways made the visitor feel. She created plans we still use today, particularly in using borders and paths within a garden. So when gardeners of today see their gardens as living works of art, Miss Jekyll is still influencing our ideas.
Gardening and the Arts and Crafts Movement
The arts and crafts movement cemented society’s understanding that it was not just vital that we make beautiful things, but how we made them was also critical. In addition, people who created the Arts and Crafts movement understood that the industrial revolution’s improvements were not always benign, and we needed to take action to protect our environment.
So if January is a reflection on our fresh start, February is the practical beginning of the new year. It’s a spring cleaning, and we smell the distant but inevitable summer we are marching toward.
Here is last month’s experience in the garden: “January in the Tropical Garden (the Garden Glows)”
What are the Issues in the Tropical Garden in February?
If you followed our garden in January, a cool and easy time to dig and work, our biggest concern was January’s risk of cold damage.
That problem is vastly reduced this month, and we focus on the warming earth. Tropical gardeners in South Florida will enjoy spring blooms and concentrate on preparation for warming weather. You will note that, in February, the planting list, especially for vegetables, gets a little shorter. This is because we cannot harvest our cool-season vegetables when the summer humidity arrives. This list shortening will continue as the year progresses.
Like all gardeners, we reap what we sow. We love to eat local food. And what we don’t plant soon, won’t get on the dinner table this year.
Cool Season Plants Begin to Slip Away
The beautiful pansies we have enjoyed this winter are beginning to wilt late in the day as February warms. A little sadly, I begin to remove their bright faces from hanging planters and replace them with a friend’s gift of soft pink begonias. Change is in the air…
February brings Faster Growth and the Bugs Never Quit
This month means more growth, coupled with more weeds and bugs. For details, please look at the sections below-“what’s in bloom, what to plant, and what to do.”
Growth comes fast from now on and we need to be ready!
In February-What’s in Bloom (and in Fruit)
“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment”-Ellis Peters
Edith Mary Parteger, Ellis Peters (1913-1995) wrote award-winning books in many categories, history, and fiction, and was a translator of Czech literature. I’m a murder mystery fan. She is known for the Cadfael mystery series about an improbable medieval monk, sea captain, soldier, and of course, apothecary and gardener; a man for all seasons. Her writing includes good insights about the seasons and the natural world. All this plus a good “who done it” too!
Here is an article about a present-day visit to the Abbey of Shrewsbury from the LA Times. You might like Cadfael’s reimagined garden and his medicinal workshop.
The Trees Begin to Flower in the Tropical Garden
“Fluttering and Dancing in the Breeze”-William Wordsworth
Nothing highlights springtime more than trees in bloom, and spring blooms come early in the tropical garden. By late January, we saw our first spring-flowering tree blossom. Our early bloomer is a ‘Little Gem’ magnolia, a variety that can thrive in our climate. The magnolia may well be the most loved tree in the world, but our environment is too hot for many types known to the rest of the world.
When we bought the house, we thought to remove the misshapen little stump, but sometimes care is rewarded, and it did thrive (with a little soil acidifier) and today produces magnificent, 6″ wide, creamy white blossoms.
The magnolia tree is so ancient that it predates the bee! In fact, we think beetles pollinated its ancestors. It is native to many areas, Asia and North America being notable. Additionally, as economic development comes to emerging countries they do botanical research and many are discovering their own native magnolia varieties. There are far more magnolias in the world than we formerly thought!
An adventurous French monk named Charles Plumier (1646-1704) brought it to Europe, where it is firmly embedded. (He also brought us the plumeria, so we can even credit him with the scented Leis we wear on trips to Hawaii.)
In North America, the genus magnolia, ranges healthily from zone 5-10 and is found everywhere and in wide varieties. Like much of the world, we love the giant, “Magnolia Grandiflora.” (Its towering form can reach 80′ high.) Our “Little Gem” is a smaller derivative. It matures at the height of 15-20′ with a spread of 7-10.’ It will thrive in zones 6-10, is slow growing, and suits smaller properties than the huge standard.
Here is some information on the wide varieties of Magnolia to choose from. Today, not all magnolias are huge, and not all are white. Read it to find exquisite shades of yellow and pink! You’ll be impressed by your choices.
The Hong Kong Orchid Tree-Bauhinia blakeana
As flowering trees go, the vibrant Hong King Orchid treats us in zone 10 to an extended season of blooms, from October to April or May. It is a hybrid, leguminous tree in the genus Bauhinia. (When the genus name of a plant is followed by X, it signifies that the plant is a hybrid, a cross between two different plant species.
The tree’s existence is dependent on two important facts.
- It is a tribute to the work done by botanical gardens everywhere. The tree is a sterile hybrid and it has still been spread around the world.
- We have it, not because of professional plant breeders or daring hunters but because a few missionaries appreciated it, saved it, and shared cuttings with their friends. Later, the Hong Kong Botanical Garden took up spreading the plant around the world. (The species name blakeana refers to the Hong Kong governor who supported the garden.)
The first tree was discovered in 1880 in Hong King by a few Jesuit missionaries. It was located near the ruins of an old house on a remote coast of the island. They knew the tree was sterile due to the lack of seed pods and they valued its magenta blossom color, more brilliant than other varieties.
Struck by the beauty of their find, they perpetuated the plant by sharing cuttings with other missions throughout the island. Later, the Hong King botanical garden took over and promoted the tree worldwide. (Today, the blossom appears on the Hong Kong flag.)
The Hong Kong Orchid is a pleasure for those in tropical climates, but there is a catch! In some locations including ours it is invasive. In Florida, we only buy the sterile Bauhinia x blakeana; it does not spread by seed pods. A similar tree, also beautiful, is Bauhinia variegata, with similar coloration and a slightly shorter bloom period, and is highly invasive in our climate. The entomologist we rely on in our town for advice, calls it the “bad brother”!
Learn to Plan for Hurricanes all Year Long
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How did we figure this out? Good training and years of practice. We are a pair of Master Gardeners, volunteers working through our state University system to help neighboring gardeners. (You will likely have similar volunteers if you garden in most US states. Find them through your county extension service.) Find your own County Extension Service
Our Hurricane Prep Plan is everything we have learned as longtime Florida gardeners. Every planting or pruning decision is part of the plan. We hope it helps.
Reliable All Winter Bloomers
Philippine Violet-Barleria cristata
This dense, useful shrub will bring you hummingbirds! It is an opaque, herbaceous bush that will reach 36-48″ in height. Use it as a privacy barrier, a hedge, foundation or border plant. They are easy to propagate from cuttings. It produces beautiful, tubular purple (sometimes white) flowers that will attract humans or any creature with a proboscis!
Native to Asia, they will grow in zones 9-11 where they will bloom throughout the cool season. The dark green leaves pucker around tight, recessed veins.
As often happens in the horticultural world, they are neither native to the Philippines nor violets! Instead, they are another excellent example of a plant that needs to be purchased using its Botanical name.
If you want this plant for your garden (it will live, die back and rebloom in spring in several climates cooler than ours), insist on Barleria cristata. Here is more information from the always-trustworthy Missouri Botanical Garden.
The Philippine violet is a member of the Acanthaceae (Acanthus) family. Here is the Acanthus living leaf on the left and the architectural design on the right.
If you like art and architecture, you will recognize both the living leaf on the left and the architectural design, in use since 500 BC as a motif representing immortality and resurrection.
Called the tropical Hydrangea, the Dombeya is a genus of about 255 species of flowering plants with blooms sitting on top like the Hydrangea. (They are not related.) They are members of the large Malvaceae (mallow) family and therefore related to okra, cotton, cacao and hollyhocks!
A large shrub, reaching 10′ it is valued for its reliable, mop like steady stream of blooms covering the top of the plant. We trim it severely in spring after it finishes the winter blooms, knowing that it will bloom again for us all the next winter.
Use it as a specimen plant, hedge, border or for privacy. Low maintenance and easy to grow it will not disappoint in zones 10 and 11 where you can plant it in any month.
What Edibles are Ripening Right Now?
The Historic (and Flavor-Filled) Everglades Tomato-Solanum pimpinellifolium
Here is our chance to meet an ancestor and find some real tomato flavor too! Our Master Gardener group is starting plants and sharing them through our display gardens, one of which is devoted to edible plants.
The Everglades tomato is considered the ancestor of all the world’s tomatoes and is native to northern Peru, southern Ecuador and we believe, south Florida too. Today’s cultivated tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, has many improvements; it travels well, comes in a wide variety of types and sizes, and huge yield. But, sometimes flavor is sacrificed, we all feel.
If today’s tomatoes fail on flavor we often try the “heirloom” varieties which are the direct descendants of the Everglades originals with it’s tiny fruit, sprawling form and long fruiting season.
We have planted these deeply in pots and discovered they need attention to tying and pruning in our small spaces. They grow and spread rapidly; ours quickly covered themselves in blossoms and tiny green tomatoes.
If you are a gardener in Florida, you can grow bright annual flowers all year round. If you are a gardener in temperate climate zones (with a winter), many of your summer favorites are grown all winter in Florida. A smaller number of annual plants will grow comfortably in our humid summers. So if you are one of the fast growing number of gardeners making the full or part time transition to Florida, welcome down. We will guarantee you some new experiences.
Definition of an Annual Plant
An annual plant completes its entire lifecycle (seed to seed) in one growing season. As many of what we call annuals are actually tropical perennials you will notice that some of these plants, with very modest care, can bloom for us for several years.
How to Know What to Plant-When and Where
Here is a valuable piece of Florida-based research on annual flowers. At the end, you will find a very handy chart showing plants in alphabetical order with their optimal growing months for each region of Florida.
Annual Plants for Florida/UF Publication 319
- Note: For this chart: north Florida is anywhere north of state road 40
- Central Florida: south of SR 40 and north of SR 70
- South Florida: south of SR 7
It’s February-What to See this Month around Florida
If you love gardens or are just visiting Florida and are looking for beautiful and relaxing places to spend some days, here are seven places around the state you will appreciate.
Ranging from Central to South Florida and from the East to the West coasts these places offer varied experiences.
- A garden on a mountain with musical concerts at it’s unique tower
- North America’s only truly tropical garden
- One of the world’s “10 best new botanical gardens”
- A garden with circus and one of our great art collections
- A varied waterside garden dedicated to ephyphites
- The garden of one of the world’s great plant hunters
- The productive home and garden of one of the world’s great inventors
Here are the gardens.
In February-What to Plant Right Now
This February-What to Do in the Garden
Good Books-What We are Reading this Month
Penelope Hobhouse designed gardens in Britain, France, Italy, Australia, and the United States. Known worldwide as a scholar of the garden, she tells the story of the garden from three millennia to the 21st century. From the Alhambra to the gardens of the Chinese Emperors, it’s all here. You will keep returning to this book. I keep it nearby and try to keep my garden hands clean enough to pick it up whenever I need to.
It’s February-A Tool We Can’t Be Without
We are in the garden every day and will utilize any tools from our list of “tools we would not be without” daily. Our garden has some tools that are in their second and even third generation of gardeners. However when a tool on the list wears out we replace it pronto!
The photo, taken at the pool, shows the folding garden seat, flip it over, and it becomes a kneeler with arms to get up with if needed. On the seat are a hori hori knife and case. This is a wonderful tool that I will use in March to plant caladium bulbs, and the gloves are the rose gauntlet type that we use for bougainvillea.
The Garden Seat and Kneeler
The oldest of the folding garden/kneeler and seat combinations has worn out and we just added a new one. We bought the best we could find from Gardeners’ Supply Co in Vermont. It arrived two days ago and has already been muddy.
The best of these weigh about 9 pounds, fold for handling, have soft parts to sit or kneel on, and metal handles with powder-coated coverings. We can last much longer in the garden without pain by using one of these. Look them up if you have not used one! You will be pleasantly surprised.
In February-Cooking Fresh from the Garden
In our South Florida climate, fall, winter, and spring are times to entertain outdoors. So this month we’ll have a few dinners outside and we are learning to appreciate the idea of the “Cocktail Garden.” That’s a planting area able to give us some good ingredients to improve our beverages.
Herb Infused Simple Syrup
For cocktails, tea or other beverages making enhanced simple syrup is an easy way to improve what we eat and offer to guests. Make them in a few simple steps, and you will think up more ways to use them.
- Make a simple syrup, and bring equal amounts of sugar and water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture (about 40-45 minutes). This will produce a thick syrup of about 1/2 the original quantity.
- Note: I like the bartender’s version of double the sugar to water mixture. (two cups sugar to one cup water.) It is a thicker more dense and flavorful mixture. Try it both ways, we find the denser mixture more practical.
- When using chunks of ginger or dense fruit, you can add them to the mixture as you cook it.
- For additions of soft leaved herbs simply pour the cooked mixture over the herbs and allow to sit about 15 minutes. Strain the final mixture.
- Store in the refrigerator in sealed jars you have sterilized with boiling water. These should last two weeks in the fridge.
For two cups of syrup, use about 4-6 4″ pieces of herbs. For strong-scented herbs such as rosemary you may choose a little less.
Here are my suggestions for specific syrups.
A Plant for February-with its Botanical Name- so You Can Find It!
To be confident at identifying plants accurately, binomial nomenclature (the two names every plant has) is the gold standard of knowledge. The Bauhinia family of flowering trees is a good example of why this is useful. The tree, Bauhinia variegata, was imported to Florida as an ornamental tree in 1936. But by today it is invasive and we avoid it’s beauty like the plague! Invasive means that the plant makes itself so comfortable in its new environment that it takes over wide spaces from native plants. So, today, the Bauhinia variegata is damaging areas from central Florida to the Everglades. It is also invasive in South Africa and some Pacific islands, but fine in others. Always know your own local listing of invasive plants.
This means, to buy a Bauhinia tree for my garden I will need to select a Bauhinia x Blakeana. and I might even see it sold as a Bauhinia ‘Blakeana’which tells me the grower is referring to it as a garden created cultivar. But in my region, I don’t plant Bauhinia variegata!
Summary, February turns to March in the Tropical Garden
We are digging and pruning in February, but we think ahead to March. Winter warms a little more. We still have crisp lettuce but with baseball, Key West, outdoor Opera and allegator wrestling to look forward to.
Reading your Tools for Digging Season
In the last line I added our list of tools we would never be without. We, like all other gardeners, love new tools and labor-saving helpers but, these are the ones we won’t wait for. If one breaks we get a new one right away!
Wildlife Neighbors in the Garden
We entertain lots of wildlife in our garden. Today my husband, one of those people who find pruning therapeutic carefully trimmed a powder puff bush while bees, ignored him but busily gathered pollen all around.
March will be a favorite month for hummingbirds as the many varieties that winter in South America stop for a travel break in our garden before continuing the long journey north. So we’ll be having morning coffee with them soon.
Who could want more?
(While you plan your spring garden, here is our list of “tools we would not be without.”