February Home and Garden Tips

Many gardeners like to start their own vegetable and flower transplants. This is a good way to obtain unusual varieties found only in catalogs. To get started you will need to have a suitable growing medium and plenty of light to produce strong healthy transplants. Growing mixes made of peat moss, perlite or vermiculite are ideal. Unless you have a south facing window with strong sunlight, trying to germinate and grow seedlings on a window sill is usually not very successful. To overcome a low light problem you can grow transplants under fluorescent lights to supplement or replace natural light. Cool white tubes work very well. Suspend the light fixture about six inches above the seedlings. Leave the light on for about 14 – 16 hours per day. Sow the seeds indoors approximately 5-6 weeks before the last frost date. In Central Maryland the last frost date is May 10th and in warmer areas of the state this date is April 25th. Transplants need to be conditioned for the outdoor environment before planted. Do this by placing their flats outdoors on nice days in a semi-shaded location for a week before transplanting them to their permanent location.

Pansies are a colorful, early season addition to any home landscape. Pansies will soon be available and may be planted in early March. Pansies are very cold tolerant.

A red and black insect known as the boxelder bug is now becoming active in many areas. They congregate on the sunny sides of buildings and get inside. Although they do not bite, eat any stored foods nor bother houseplants they are a real pest just the same. When crushed they leave a red stain that is very difficult to remove from carpets and fabrics. If you need to control them use an insecticidal soap on their swarms outside the house. Caulk cracks and crevices around window and door frames. A more permanent solution is to remove the boxelder tree which is attracting them to your yard.

Another indoor pest common at this time are cluster flies. These flies are slightly larger than the common house fly and cluster at the inside of windows trying to get outside. They spent the winter in the house hibernating in walls and attics. Their immature stage is a parasite of earthworms. Swatting them is the only control needed indoors. No control recommended for outdoors.

Horticultural dormant oils can be applied to trees to control scales and hemlock woolly adelgids. Late winter is the usual time to do this. Do not apply horticultural oils if it is going to freeze within 24 hours.

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