Winter Gardening: February Garden Checklist Zones 6-8

It is still very much winter for gardeners in Zones 6-8, but the pace starts to pick up in February. It’s the early start of the gardening season, particularly for Zones 7 and 8 and, for some things, Zone 6. February is a time packed with initiating garden preparations, carving out new garden beds, edging, pruning, and much anticipated planting of indoor seeds and outdoor cool weather crops.

Check out our robust February Garden Checklist Zones 6-8 for valuable information on all you can do in your garden this month to ensure a hearty and healthy garden this year.

a gardener wearing bright red wellies digging over soil in a vegetable patch.

Spring Garden Planning

It is best to have garden beds prepped and ready to go during this month so that you can plan what plants you want to fill the space. February is an optimal month to put to work all of those ‘December and January Year in Review’ reflections and ‘Planning for the Year Ahead’ plans from your garden journal. Use your sketched-out garden design plans and dream boards to figure out where your newly acquired plants and seedlings will go.

Decide what you still need to fill the spaces. Use your garden planting charts to guide you on what to plan and when. By the middle or end of the month, some limited outdoor planting of woody shrubs and cool weather crops can begin.

Garden Preparations and Maintenance

One of the premier things to do on our February Garden Checklist Zones 6-8 is garden prep and maintenance. Prepping garden beds include edging, amending soil, mulching garden beds, pruning, dividing and transplanting, fertilizing, and even carving out new garden beds for the upcoming planting season.

Cleaning Up & Clearing Out Garden Beds

Start with cleaning out your already established perennial garden beds. If you haven’t done so already, rake your beds out. Take garden leaves, spent foliage, and debris right to the compost pile. It’s time to get those beds ready for when those perennials start sprouting up and eventually planting vegetables outdoors.

Amending Garden Soil

It’s time to put that compost pile to good use and dig out some of that dark, nutrient-rich soil and add it to your beds. Use a hoe or garden rake to work compost and soil amendments into your soil, so it is ready to receive plants.

Mulching the Garden

February is definitely the month for mulching all garden beds. Many weeds start germinating in late February and throughout the month of March, so getting a nice thick layer of mulch down in your garden beds will help to keep some of those weeds at bay.

Pruning Perennials for Spring

It’s time to do a hard pruning of dormant woody perennials and dormant ornamental grasses. You can be aggressive about your pruning with these dormant plants and only leave the first bud at the plant’s base. This applies only to plants that produce blooms on new stems.

Many perennial shrubs have already formed buds for next season’s blooms. It is not the time to prune these shrubs unless you are only growing them for greenery or hedge; otherwise, you risk cutting away their blooming potential. If your plantings are purely for greenery and privacy, you may trim the bushes’ tips to shape them. Boxwoods are an example of these green shrubs.

Some of the flowering shrubs to leave intact at this time include:

  • Forsythia
  • Rhododendron
  • Azalea
  • Viburnum
  • Daphne
  • Weigela
  • Japonica

Pruning considerations can get confusing at times. If you have any doubt on whether or not to prune back a perennial dramatically, simply let it be and prune it after it flowers. Do some more research on your plant variety and gain more insight for the next time around.

Dividing and Transplanting

There’s a good reason why dividing and transplanting is on the February Garden Checklist Zone 6, 7, and 8. It’s a great time to spread your garden wealth with friends and neighbors and also around your own yard. Some perennial plants form large root balls over time that can benefit from some plant division. This practice can infuse more life into the plants.

A few great examples of plants that can benefit from dividing are:

  • Daylilies
  • Hostas
  • Shasta
  • Daisies
  • Rudbeckia

Fertilizing the Garden

February is a great time to add some slow-release organic fertilizer around your shrubs and garden beds. Note that you can feed your indoor plants as well as your outdoor ones at this time to ensure optimal growth.

gardening tools hanging on the wall.

Garden Tools and Supplies Assessment

If you haven’t done so already, be sure that you assess your tools for sharpening and cleaning needs. The lawnmower should receive a fluid change as well. It’s best to get all of your gardening supplies in tip-top shape so that when spring rolls in, you are fully prepared for yard and garden work, so you do not have any setbacks.

Check your garden tools for disrepair signs, tune-up and thoroughly clean and sanitize, sharpen blades, and oil up moving parts. These steps will give you confidence for a strong start to the garden season. It is also essential to keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.

  1. Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
  2. Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
  3. Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
  4. Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
  5. Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
  6. Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.

February is a great month to scour store shelves for sales for garden tools and containers, so be on the lookout for prime deals!

Winter Composting

One of the best things you can do for your garden is to create a compost system. After all, healthy gardens begin with a nutrient-rich soil structure. If you have a compost pile already established, you’ll be able to reap the rewards of the black gold that is made of decomposed organic materials. Your gardens will be enriched when you amend your soil with this rich planting material.

When you rake out and trim back your perennial gardens, add this garden debris to your compost heap. Continue to add kitchen scraps, pine needles, and fully cooled wood ash to the pile and turn your pile with a pitchfork.

Indoor Planting

Changes are happening for your indoor plants as well as your outdoor ones. Take time this February to repot your indoor houseplants. The sun is higher in the sky, and your indoor plants should be ready for growing strong. You do not need to get all new pots unless, of course, your indoor plants have outgrown their containers.

  • Remove the houseplant from the pot.
  • Shake off loose soil from the plant.
  • Fill the pot with new potting mix and reposition the plant.
  • Add some organic slow-release fertilizer.
  • Give plants a thorough watering session. Consider a shower watering, which will clean the plant’s leaves and give the roots a good soaking.
  • Allow the potted plants to drain water and set them in their sunny location.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Before we discuss starting seeds indoors on our February Garden Checklist Zones 6-8, it is crucial to identify your growth zone’s last frost date. This date varies with each zone and is just an estimation. The last frost date is essential because this is how you will calculate what you can start planting indoors by counting the seed maturation days backward from the last estimated frost date so they will be ready for outdoor planting.

  • Zone 6– estimated last frost date of April 30, which means you can start planting seeds indoors in early March.
  • Zone 7– estimated last frost date of April 15, which means you can start planting seeds indoors in late February.
  • Zone 8 – estimated last frost date of April 1, which means you can start planting seeds indoors in mid-February.

You can begin planting warm-season crops indoors by the middle to the end of the month of February.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Squash
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce

Flower seeds with long maturation periods can also be germinated in seed trays and pots indoors throughout the month as well. Remember to stagger your plantings with new plants every two weeks to prolong your harvest!

hands use a traditional hedge trimmer to trim the leaves of a buxus or boxwood plant

Outdoor Planting

Outdoor planting is also included in our February Garden Checklist Zones 6-8. In Zones 7 and 8, outdoor planting can resume. In Zone 6, you’ll likely have to push these tips off until March.

It is time to plant trees and woody shrubs. When planting in February, be aware that some plants have been grown in heated greenhouses, and they should be protected first and then hardened off to acclimate them to any dips in temperature before they are planted outdoors. This is particularly important if they already have their buds or flowers set on them. In these cases, please keep them in a protected area until all frost threats have been eliminated. This could mean that they do not go in the ground until sometime in March.

As the month the February progresses, it will be the much-anticipated time to begin planting your cool-season crops that were started indoors during January and early February including:

  • Lettuces
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Kohlrabi
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Asian Greens

If frost still threatens your microclimate, consider row covers and hoop houses for protection.

Harvesting Winter Vegetables

If you sowed seeds in late summer and provided some outdoor protection, you can enjoy a healthy harvest of some cool weather varieties of vegetables and herbs. For instance, leeks and kale be picked in late winter. They make great accents to soups and stews to round out the winter season. Winter harvests always depend on the time of planting.

If you did not plant with the intent of a February harvest, don’t fret. Planting season is beginning, and you will start to see rolling yields before you know it.

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close up of green kale plant in garden
close up of purple kale plant.

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