Pinching back houseplants, getting ready for and sowing some seeds, and checking stored summer bulbs are some of the gardening activities for this month.
With the stronger sun and longer days, houseplants will be putting out more new growth that can become leggy. Also these succulent shoots are very appealing to aphids. Keep pinching the growing tips and move plants around if needed to give them all some time in the sunniest windows. Rotating plants a quarter turn weekly will help keep them growing straight.
When a break in the cold brings temperatures above 40 degrees, it's a good time to spray dormant oil on landscape plants infested with scale and other overwintering pests. The oil will smother the insects.
You'll want to get to your pruning tools in February and March for dormant-season pruning, so dig them out and clean them up if you didn't get that chore done in the fall. Disassemble hand pruners if easily done, loppers, and shears; sharpen the blades, oil the levers, and remove any rust. Pruning trees will go much faster and be easier on your hands and on the plants if you use sharp, well-maintained equipment.
If you've stored dahlias and other tender bulbs in a cool spot for the winter, check on them now and then and remove any that are moldy or rotted. Also they may begin sprouting prematurely if they've been a bit warm, and then you'll need to pot them up and grow them indoors (in as cool an area as possible, but not freezing) until spring. If you let the stems grow without being planted, the bulbs will soon die.
For seeds that need warmth to germinate, a heat mat underneath the flat can make a big difference. Once the seedlings are up, move them off the mat and grow them on at a cooler temperature to encourage strong, stocky growth.
It's not too soon to start annuals that get off to a very slow start, such as pansies, violas, petunias, snapdragons, and lobelia. While garden centers offer some favorites, the choices are seemingly endless when your grow your own, and the quantity will be too if you save all the little seedlings. Just remember when sowing to sow a few extras, but not too many. Keep in mind all those plants will need planting and weeding, and do you really have space for them all?
If you just need some color to brighten up winter days, consider a pot or two of forced bulbs (if you didn't start your own), or some cut flowers. Buy cut flowers in bud, just opening, for longest life. Keep cut flowers protected on the way home from freezing, and put right in water containing a flower preservative (available at most florist shops and garden stores).
Another way to get some color indoors is to cut some branches of pussy willow, forsythia, crabapples or other spring flowering plants to force into bloom indoors. Soaking in a bathtub overnight may help, but you don't need to pound the ends of branches as some recommend to "loosen" them up. A clean cut with sharp pruners is sufficient.
Other activities for this month include keeping birds fed regularly, pruning fruit trees and grapevines and blueberries, checking houseplants for pests weekly and fertilizing them.