By Gardener Jack
The month of February in the garden is one of the most rewarding. The garden is almost like a car that has gone through the gears and is now cruising at highway speed, needing only a little tweak here and there.
We must be aware, however, that we are only halfway through the productive season and must try to keep the crops coming: Another row of carrots here, some more lettuce there, definitely a new sowing of tomato seeds.
Some vegetable crops, once sown, last us through the year. Peppers and eggplants are among these. We must also be mindful that the weather will be appreciably warmer in March and April. That does not mean we cannot grow more lettuce, peas and spinach, it just means we have to be prepared for diminishing returns.
Cucumbers and squash that did not like the coldest months will grow from seed with renewed vigour, and do not forget that February is a good month to start watermelons.
Back to tomatoes. It is usually during February that we experience attacks by the giant tomato hornworm, a 4-inch-long fat green caterpillar that causes devastation to tomatoes. We can take preventive measures by dusting our tomato plants with Dipel or some other product containing Bacillus thurigensis. The only other way of dealing with the pest is to pick it off and squish it underfoot. The wicked looking horn at the tail end is harmless.
Because the caterpillars are green they are well camouflaged among the tomato leaves, especially when lying along the branches. Early morning at first light is the best time to catch them, with another patrol in the evening.
You know they are there from the chewed tomatoes and the black droppings but there may be two or three on one plant, so look with care. The giant tomato hornworm is part of the life cycle of the sphinx moth, a large moth that beats its wings very fast, like a hummingbird.
Easter is the time when we try to have many flowers blooming. Easter is in early April this year so there is still time to sow seeds of your favourite annuals and have them blooming in time. Bulbs planted at this time of year tend to get into flowering mode quickly and afterwards adjust themselves to their correct time of year.
Summer flowers can be sown now and bloom during the warmer months ahead. Mexican sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, gerbera daisies, marigolds, vincas and others will flower into summer once established.
Mango trees start to flower in February and if the trees are not too tall you can spray them with a fungicide on a weekly basis until fruit is set. This helps eliminate anthracnose, a fungus that causes black spots on the ripening fruit that quickly develop and ruin the fruit.
It is usually superior varieties of mango that are attacked by anthracnose; the turpentine, hairy or stringy mangoes are largely unaffected. Late varieties like Keitt are often anthracnose free because they flower later.
This is a good time to prune avocado trees for shape and size. In the ordinary backyard situation it is a good idea to keep fruit trees to a maximum of 12 feet so that picking can be done by hand or by using a standard fruit picker. Those fruits that grow beyond the reach of a fruit picker are usually wasted (the exception being passion fruit). As many fruits will be produced on a compact 12-foot tree as on a tall and spindly 20-foot tree.
Hibiscus shrubs that are pruned now will be back in full bloom long before Easter and be at their best for the paschal festivities.