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Seasonal gardening: Flowers, woody plants, vegetables

Seasonal gardening: Flowers, woody plants, vegetables

Master Gardener

December 31st, 2017 by James Quinn, Regional Horticulture Specialist in Life & Entertainment

Discover helpful tips and things to be aware of while tending to your garden or yard this season.


Inspect summer flower bulbs to make sure they are not drying out. Remove any that show signs of rot. Geranium cuttings can be taken in February. In the last half of February, flowers like snapdragon, larkspur, sweet peas and Shirley poppies can be planted where they are to grow. These plants need to start growing well before any warm weather starts. You can also start tuberous begonias at this time, with "non-stop" varieties doing well in Missouri.

Other slow growing flower seed can be started indoors in the latter half of February, such as petunias, coleus, ageratum, geraniums, verbena, impatiens and salvia. Again, bottom heat and supplementing with artificial light will reduce the time for producing nice transplants and should improve the quality.

Trees and woody plants

Removing snow and ice from trees and shrubs is different. For snow, brush off heavy snow from branches and limbs to reduce damage, but for ice, let it melt away naturally. Trying to knock it off may damage the plant further.

Want a natural way to use your Christmas tree and reduce the spread of needles when removing from the house? Try cutting up the branches into 12- to 18-inch pieces, putting in a yard bag, and using it as mulch. The final trunk can be cut up and used in a fireplace once it dries.

As discussed in the fruit section, the end of February is a good time for pruning. For ornamentals plantings a primary interest is the balance and shape of the plant; this is easier evaluated with no leaves.

Anytime in January and February, one can water evergreens if soil is dry and unfrozen, the latter condition more likely as February advances. At the end of February, dormant oils may be applied to ornamental trees and shrubs, if we have a mild day.


Indoor winter seeding can be a good way to use a bit of gardening energy. A good start is to sprout a test sample of leftover seeds you plan to use in the spring. Roll up 10 seeds in a moist paper towel, keep moist (like in a plastic baggie) and at a warmish room temperature for a week. If at least half have not germinated, order new seed.

The first vegetable normally seeded is onions, which can be started anytime in February, the earlier the better. Bottom heat and supplementing with artificial light will reduce the time for producing nice transplants. Starting in the second week of February, celery can be seeded. In the last two weeks, the Cole crops can be seeded (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts) as well as lettuce; these then should be ready to transplant at the end of March.

If weather and soil conditions allow, you can try direct seeding a few items outside, like lettuce, peas, radish and spinach. This is easier if you tilled the soil in the fall. For early spring tillage, make sure the ground isn't too wet (or frozen). To test, squeeze a handful of soil and it should form a ball that crumbles easily. If it is sticky, then it is too wet and you should wait to work it; working wet soil damages the soil structure for the upcoming growing season and should be avoided if at all possible.