For me, February in the garden’s invariably about getting all those unfinished jobs ticked off and the loose ends tied up. As all gardeners know, the months of March and April see so much to be done, blink and they’re but a dim and distant memory! Year after year, spring seems to be upon us before we really know it, so try to get out there when the weather allows and get ahead of the game.
Outdoors, it’s mostly about pruning and planting, whilst indoors the seed sowing season officially gets underway this month.
It’s also the month when one of my very favourite plants comes to the fore, the simple and oh so humble snowdrop. As the garden begins to stir from its deep slumber, what could be more heartening than those nodding white bells on the coldest of days? Pure and simple.
Plant snowdrops ‘in the green’
Despite most bulbs being planted whilst leafless and dormant, the likes of snowdrops, as well as winter aconites and snowflakes, are best planted in full leaf immediately after flowering. Order in bulk from online stockists or mail order co’s, planting as soon as possible once received. Plant in clumps of 3-5, some 2-3” deep, water in and leave the foliage until it dies down in spring.
Lift, split and divide existing clumps if overcrowded or to increase their spread.
Cut back remaining herbaceous perennials and grasses
Any herbaceous plants and grasses left for winter interest should be cut back now to make way for emerging shoots. Look out for new growth to avoid damaging it, composting the old foliage. Some of the grasses are best simply combed through with your fingers rather than being cut back hard. These include several of the Carex, Stipa and Uncinia genera.
Sow sweet peas
If you didn’t get around to it in the autumn, sow sweet peas now, 5-6 per 13cm/1 litre pot and pop into an unheated greenhouse or coldframe. I sow mine into old loo roll inners – they’re nice and deep (ideal for all legumes) and can be planted whole into beds/borders/pots where they’ll rot down, resulting in minimal root disturbance at the same time. Alternatively, have a go at making your own pots
The heated propagator is the gardener’s best friend this month! Impatiens, Verbena, Tagetes, Lobelia, Petunias and Pelargoniums are just a few of the annuals to be sown now. Ensure pots and seed trays are clean before use, sow thinly and always use fresh seed compost wherever possible. I bring a couple of bags of compost indoors to warm up a day or two before sowing.
Many perennials can also be sown now, including the seed of those collected last year.
Plant summer flowering bulbs in pots
Including Eucomis, Liatris, Lilies and Gladioli. Dahlias and Cannas can also be potted up now, the former for taking cuttings from next month. Keep all bulbs undercover until things warm up.
Lift and divide herbaceous perennials
Once the soil starts to warm up towards the end of the month, particularly those that flowered in autumn and were best left alone then.
Tired or overgrown specimens can be lifted, split into healthy sections and replanted. Use spare divisions to fill gaps in beds and borders or swap with family and friends.
Deadhead winter bedding
To prolong their flowering rather than setting seed. Pinch off the faded blooms of pansies, violas and primulas every week or so.
Restart Fuchsias and Pelargoniums
Repot, feed and start to water any overwintered. Move to a bright, warm spot such as a porch or heated greenhouse and keep an eye on them for pests and diseases.
Trees and shrubs
Prune deciduous shrubs
February and March are when many of the mid-late summer flowering shrubs are given their annual prune, as well as those pruned to enhance their foliage. Subjects include Hydrangeas, Spiraea japonica, Sambucus nigra, Buddleja davidii, Leycesteria, Cornus and Salix.
Ensure secatuers and loppers are sharp and clean and look to shred prunings where possible. Avoid pruning spring and early summer flowering shrubs as you’ll simply remove this year’s flower buds.
The likes of Hybrid Teas and Floribundas should be pruned now, as should standards, as well as any climbers/ramblers not yet finished. Avoid pruning on frosty days. Treat all roses to a heavy mulch of garden compost/stable manure.
Finish pruning vines as soon as possible. Winter prune Wisteria (cutting sub-laterals back to 2-3 buds) as well as virgina creeper and Boston ivy to control their vigour. Trim winter jasmine to keep in shape – tie in main stems, thin out overcrowded ones and shorten side shoots to 2-3”.
Those falling into pruning groups 2 and 3 (see plant labels) should be pruned this month and next. Large flowered summer hybrids (gp.2) should be pruned back to 3-5 feet from the base, staggering cuts at various heights to encourage flowering all over. All stems of late flowering clematis (gp.3 - eg.viticella/texensis cultivars) are simply cut to 1’ from the base above a pair of buds.
Knock snow off evergreen shrubs/trees
Heavy falls of snow can cause topiary and dwarf conifers to splay outwards, as well as snapping brittle branches. Take a broom outside and simply knock snow from choice specimens.
Plant a living willow structure
Prunings from coppiced willow can be used to make a living willow structure such as a fence, arch, bower, or even a playhouse for little ones. Insert ‘rods’ a foot or two into the ground and weave into the desired shape. Willow roots easily in all but the driest of soils and can make for a cheap and attractive feature in the garden.
Dig in green manures
Green manures sown in the autumn can now be dug into the soil to increase fertility and create space for spring plantings. Look to follow legumes such as winter tares or field beans with leafy brassicas.
As per last month. Second earlies and maincrops can now be set aside in trays or egg boxes to sprout. Keep in a bright, frost-free place at all times. First earlies already chitting will be ready for planting from the beginning of next month.
On the subject of potatoes, keep an eye out for ‘volunteer’ tubers sprouting in the vegetable garden. Dig up and destroy any in case they’re carrying blight from last year.
Plant onions, shallots and garlic
Sets can be planted out from this month if not done so in the autumn. Garlic needs to go in asap. Plant as per instructions on the packet in free-draining soil in full sun. Keep an eye out for birds pulling the emerging tips out, simply replanting if necessary.
Harvest remaining veg
Including brassicas such as Savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and purple sprouting broccoli, as well as the remaining parsnips and leeks. I like to ‘clear the decks’ by the beginning of March to allow raised beds to be topped up with organic matter and other areas to be dug over in readiness for this year’s crops.
Cover vacant ground
By covering vacant ground with old bits of polythene now you can steal a march on spring and bring forward sowing times. It’ll warm up the soil nicely if put down and pegged into place.
Finish pruning fruit trees and bushes
Including apples and pears, as well as currants, gooseberries and cane fruits. Check top fruit for signs of canker and cut out where appropriate.
Treat all fruit to a sprinkling of fertilizer around the base. Sulphate of potash is ideal as it’ll encourage flowering and fruiting, as will wood ash.
Established crowns can be lifted and divided into smaller sections now. Ensure each division has at least one ‘eye’ as well as a healthy section of root. Replant with plenty of organic matter, ensuring the buds are at or just above the soil’s surface. Rhubarb’s a large plant so give it plenty of space.
Continue to force established early fruiting varieties to be harvested from the end of the month.
As per last month. New plants from nurseries/garden centres or potted-up runners need to get their roots down and settle for fruiting this summer. Although perfectly hardy and in need of a spell of cold to stimulate fruiting, I like to start mine in pots of multipurpose and keep them ticking over in a coldframe until things warm up just a little. When planting out, treat to a dusting of sulphate of potash around the base. Cloche strawberries in situ for an earlier crop.
Protect wall-trained peaches, nectarines and apricots
Peach leaf curl can decimate the crops of these tender fruits if rain splashes onto emerging buds and leaves. Erect a simple plastic or polythene roof over the top, leaving open at the sides to allow air and pollinators to move freely.
Plant bare-rooted fruit trees/bushes
Garden centres and nurseries will have fresh stock in over the next couple of months. All soft fruit performs best on fertile, moisture-retentive soils so incorporate plenty of muck into planting holes and treat to a generous mulch post planting. Keep well watered over the coming seasons.
Keep ponds frost-free
As per last month. Avoid attempting to break ice over completely frozen ponds.
Including coriander, basil, parsley and thyme. Most herb seed germinates better if given a little bottom heat so pop into the propagator if you’ve got room.
Top dress container grown herbs
Towards the end of the month, container grown herbs may show signs of fresh growth. Remove the top few inches of compost and replace with fresh John Innes No.2. Take root cuttings of mint if required or split and pot up those which are root bound.
Houseplants fare all the better if repotted into fresh John Innes No.3 every spring, adding a handful of slow release fertilizer at the same time. Look to pot up those outgrowing their pots or cut back both roots and shoots. Take tip cuttings or divide plants where appropriate to increase stocks.
Clean greenhouse glazing
With the seed sowing frenzy about to begin, thoroughly clean glazing of the greenhouse and coldframes both inside and out to allow in as much light as possible. Use a mild detergent to shift engrained dirt, paying particular attention to joints where pests may be overwintering. Scrub down the frame and staging whilst at it. Open doors and vents on warm, sunny days.
Get the lawnmower serviced
Dealers or machinery hire companies will get your mower in tip-top order for next month. They’ll clean the filters, change the oil and spark plugs if necessary, as well as sharpen the blades. Regularly maintained mowers will perform better for you, as well as lasting a good deal longer. Look after your mower!
Stock up on sundries
Such as compost, labels, pots and trays. There’s nothing worse than heading down to the shed or greenhouse to start sowing, mug of tea in hand, only to find that everything you need isn’t to hand or in short supply.
I simply couldn’t do without my coldframes! Use it to overwinter tender perennials and then to bring on half-hardy vegetables and bedding plants from Feb-April. Mine should hopefully be chock-a-block full of seedlings and baby plants in a couple of months time with any luck!
Clean out bird boxes
As well as putting up new ones. Birds such as wrens and tits nest early so will appreciate your efforts. Keep bird feeders well stocked, hang up fat balls and keep birdbaths free from ice.