February is a wonderful time in the southern vegetable garden. While the above-ground world is looking bleak and wintry, lengthening days and warming soil mean cool-loving vegetables like beets, cabbage, and cauliflower are ready to get growing.
Veggies perform best with full sun, an even supply of water, and well-drained, fertile soil. Locate your garden, or containers, in a spot that receives at least six hours of full sun. A well-chosen site near a water supply will be of benefit during dry spells. See that your soil is fertile and well-drained by incorporating plenty of organic matter. If drainage is a problem in your area, try building raised beds. Top-dress your veggies with a complete fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Continuous Release All Purpose Plant Food, about 2-4 weeks after transplanting to ensure steady growth.
Let's start underground. Beets, (remember all parts of beets are edible), potatoes, radishes, and carrots planted this month will produce food for weeks to come. Root crops need loose soil and a steady supply of moisture. Be sure to water during dry spells.
In Zone 7b, early to mid-February is a great time to plant vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and all leafy greens. Along the Gulf coast, February is last call for getting these crops in the ground. Cauliflower and broccoli need cool temperatures, full sun, nutrient-rich soil and a steady supply of water. For a colorful change of pace on the dinner table, try growing orange, lime or purple cauliflower, deep purple broccoli, and the spiky heirloom Broccoli 'Romanesco'. This is also a good time to try planting something unusual, like Pak Choi.
Plants with leafy tops are full of nutrients and just happen to be the easiest way for beginners and children to get involved in vegetable gardening. Lettuce plants and seeds are available in an amazing variety of colors and shapes. Plant them in every two weeks for the next six weeks and you will be rewarded with beautiful salads in no time. Other salad greens that can be planted in February are arugula, endive and escarole and raddichio, mustard greens (look for the giant Japanese variety) and turnips grown for their green tops. Spinach and kale can be sown directly into the garden this month. And that most southern of greens, collards, planted now will yield nutrient-packed leaves in just a few weeks. Add a trellis of English peas, a row or 2 of sugar snaps, and a few starts of bunching onions for the most wonderful stir-fries you've ever tasted.
Even though it's the south, there is still the chance of an unexpected cold snap. When a hard freeze threatens, a thin blanket or quilt tossed over your treasured plants will protect them. You will find that many of the plants listed are available in garden centers as young seedlings ready for transplanting into the garden. For the adventurous gardener, grow your own transplants indoors in a sunny windowsill or under lights 4-6 weeks before you want to plant them outdoors.