February: Looking Forward to the Gardening Year


FebsnowdropsOn some days I think it is mid-March: at 8 or 9+ degrees Celsius the days are quite warm at present, although the nights are still cold and frosts are to be expected. As I look out the kitchen window, I can see snow squalls on the mountain, and also flowers in the garden. This is a worthy reminder that winter is not gone yet, but we can still be gardening, given some suitable clothing.

Here beside the ocean, last year’s perrennial growth can now be cut back and tidied up. As regards the soil, I think it is still too wet and cold to be worked properly, so ideally new plantings etc. can be left to early Spring proper.

So, shake out the old coat and head out into the fresh air if you can. Or get in touch with me. A little bit done now makes for more time relaxing in the spring sunshine (sometimes everything just seems to suddenly grow overnight: we must have all had that experience). March is just around the corner…. I often think of the old English expression “Mad as a March hare”.

Halloween and October 31st in the Garden

Now is the time to store away items to protect them from the winter: furniture, frost-prone pots, hammocks, and such, and to clean up the tools in the shed. Being Halloween today, I will be using a few items this evening.

And the leaves….  On dry days, I like to run the mulching mower over the leaves to feed the lawn, and pile other leaves where they can usefully compost down without being blown around. However, we missed the cool dry autumn it seems, and November rains came in October, making clean-up a soggy affair. Here on the east side of Vancouver Island we are at least in the rain shadow of the mountains, but that is a relative term, given that the west side of the island is officially Temperate Rainforest. Well, at least it is not snowing, yet.

So… November looks like it could be this year’s October, which is something to look forward to.

Touch wood.

Tent Caterpillar infestation, Nanaimo

Although there are some newspaper articles with good information on these moth larvae: basic biology and how to deal with them, it is a shame that sprays have sometimes been used due to complaints of aesthetic nature, since they also kill non-target insects, including predators and parasites (that help bring the populations back down again in the longer term).

If the caterpillar tents are not too high, I use a pole pruner to cut down the tent webbing and dispose of it. This is best done early or late in the day, when the caterpillars are concentrated in the tent shelter. Spraying with a hose I have found to be ineffective.

If left unchecked on vulnerable shrubs or trees, foliage can be completely stripped. The “good” news is that all those droppings and dead caterpillars end up in the soil as fertilizer to help with the growth of a new flush of foliage. These pictures were taken on June 5, 2012, at Piper’s Lagoon in Nanaimo:

In my immediate neighbourhood, we are relatively unscathed: just a few tents, although quite a few individuals are found wandering about chewing on the roses etc. Those get a snip with a gardening instrument. The rest will no doubt be predated by wasps etc.

Dandelions in the Lawn

Assuming the tasty leaves (for salad), colourful flowers (for wine), seedheads (for kids to blow) or dried and powdered roots (coffee substitute, but not my favourite) do not convince you of it’s alternative status as Good Thing in the Garden, then what to do about it in the lawn?


Chopping the head off, pouring boiling water or vinegar on it and so on, is very limited since the deep taproot just regrows. That taproot is the reason it does well in your lawn: drawing nutrients from deeper in the soil, it is outcompeting your more shallow-rooted lawngrass if your topsoil is nutrient-poor. Using a long sharp tool is required to dig down deep to remove most of the plant root, and it is necessary to deal quickly with the big round patch of soil that is exposed: carry some grass seed with you as you weed, and sprinkle some in the exposed soil before a new clutch of dandelion seedlings take up residence. The dandelions will return in time, so the long-term approach is also to remove dandelion flowers to prevent seed heads, and also to encourage strong and vigourous grass growth. Allow the grass to shade out the dandelions, so do not cut the grass too low i.e. change the lawn environment to favour taller grass over deep-rooted but low-growing dandelions.

I am very lucky, since my partner says dandelions look pretty.

Moss in the Garden

Our lawn-intensive approach to gardening treats moss as an unwelcome intrusion to be treated, raked out and disposed of as a weed. If you approach a dark moist spot as an opportunity to work with conditions and appreciate what moss can do in a garden, it loses it’s weed status and becomes a fantastic feature. Used extensively in Zen gardens and such, this idea is not new. The photos show naturally occurring mossy trees and rocks in my local park.


Because moss is not hard wearing, consider using stepping stones in a moss law, or encourage it in an appropriate damp niche, such as pond edging, woodland garden glade, or over an old tree stump. Think of the enjoyment to be had from doing less maintenance work and ending up with a special area of the garden. The birds will love it too, as nest building gets underway.

If you do want to tackle moss in the lawn, try pruning to raise the canopy of adjacent trees and shrubs to let more light in, changing your grass variety, and/or an environmentally-friendly dressing.

I see that you can now buy moss “starter kits”. Fortunately I have my own supply of moss, which is being used to edge my new pond. The exposed margin of the pond may feature some nice river rock rising up from a plain of moss… time now to collect the right rock locally, from my neighbour, who is keen that over the next several days I rid him of the river rocks in his vegetable garden.