February: Plant roses, fruits trees and camellias, and don’t forget to prune


Historically, February is often our rainiest month, so it is not a busy time for gardeners. Landscapes need deep soaking rains that reach tree roots and flush harmful salts (found in irrigation water) from the soil. If you must get into a saturated garden bed, keep plywood handy to toss onto the wet soil. It will help distribute your weight.

Allow wet soil to dry before planting anything. The test: Squeeze a handful of soil. If it turns into a mud ball, wait.


Fierce winter winds can wreak havoc on some trees. If major limbs are lost, trees may need corrective pruning to bring them back into balance. If they appear lopsided, with too many heavy limbs on one side, call in a professional before more limbs are lost. Trees also may topple when soil gets wet.

Bare root, continued

Early February is still a good time to plant roses and deciduous fruit trees, in abundance at nurseries now. They may be sold bare root, which means they have no leaves and no soil around their roots, or they may be packaged in bags or boxes or even nursery containers. If the dormant plants are beginning to leaf out, it’s OK to snap off the young shoots, which are often distorted in appearance and lacking in chlorophyll. New sprouts will take their place. If you find too few roots on packaged plants, however, take them back because they probably won’t do well and may be dead.

Dormant pruning

Roses and deciduous fruit trees need annual pruning while they are leafless and dormant if they are to continue producing good crops of flowers or fruit. Different roses are pruned in different ways, some hardly at all. On shrubby kinds, eliminate very old branches and encourage the newer ones by opening up plants, so air and sun can reach the interior. Remove branches that touch or cross. You want a vase-like shape with all branches growing out from, not into, the bush. Pull or clip off leaves. After pruning, spray leafless fruit trees and roses with a dormant spray.

Camellia time

It is an excellent time to plant camellias because they do most of their growing right after flowering, and nurseries have their best supply now. Plant camellias high, with about an inch of the root ball above ground so the base of the plant is not covered by soil after the root ball settles. This can be fatal for camellias (and azaleas) and is the main reason they die. Otherwise, camellias are remarkably tough plants.