February Gardening Advice

It’s hard to believe that next month we’ll be greeting spring with open arms. However, winter’s not ready to give up the season without a fight. This month can quite often be the coldest of the year, so don’t be seduced into thinking you should immediately start sowing outside. This is a time of patience, planning and preparing.

Whilst you can, take the time to enjoy February’s offerings. Whether it’s a winter hellebore, primrose or the early arrival of a golden daffodil, these blooms are short-lived and should be celebrated. It’s a moment of calm, stillness and looking ahead to a fruitful growing season.

In the flower garden

Snowdrops

Now’s the moment to lift, divide and re-plant snowdrops. Over the years, they will naturally increase and spread. However, a gardener’s intervention can result in larger displays, without such a lengthy wait. With the flowers past their best, and returned to their ‘green state’, this task can be done without risking harm to the clump.

Perennials

Before spring kicks in and plants begin putting on new growth, divide established perennial plants in your herbaceous borders. After several seasons, these plants will have filled their planting area and become over-crowded. By dividing them, you’re not only keeping the original plant healthy, but gaining several new plants at no extra financial cost. Quite often a sharp spade is the best way to divide them. Think about how you want your border to look this summer, and re-plant accordingly.

Shrubs that have just finished flowering, such as witch hazel, can be pruned. Prune hard on shrubs such as cornus, buddleia and salix. Also, prune wisteria by cutting back to just above three buds. Providing the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged, shrubs can be dug-up and moved to a new growing position. Ensure you plant in well, water, and give the shrub a good mulch.

Borders

A garden pitch fork dug in the ground into some mulch and soil

Remove all weeds and fallen debris and cut away last season’s dead perennial foliage. Finally mulch the area, ideally to the depth of six inches, as this will help suppress weeds. Be careful not to cover perennials, shrubs or protruding bulb shoots as this will prevent the sunlight and warmth reaching them and could encourage rot. By doing this now, not only are you smartening up your growing area, but the mulch will eventually breakdown into the soil. This will help improve structure and ensure you start spring will healthy borders.

Grasses

As winter begins to retreat, ornamental grasses will start to look a little ragged. Deciduous varieties should be cut back hard with a pair of shears to avoid any new green growth. This may seem drastic but don’t worry, they’ll thank you for it. Varieties such as stipa need nothing more than a good comb. By using your hands, and a sensible pair of gloves to prevent cuts, simply drag your fingers through the clump, removing old growth.

Greenhouse

If you have a heated greenhouse, polytunnel, or a well-lit, warm, windowsill, you could set about sowing hardy annual and perennial seeds. Cornflower, cosmos and french marigolds can now be sown.

Fill a seed tray or 9cm pot with seed or multi-purpose compost. Once filled, tap down the container gently, and brush the excess soil from the rim. Sow your seeds thinly over the surface, and cover over with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite. Label sown seeds and place container in a couple of inches of water. It’s preferable to let the pot draw the water from the bottom, leaving the seeds undisturbed – watering from above can easily scatter the seeds and hamper germination. Finally, place in a bright and warm spot. Check every few days for germination, and ensure soil remains moist.

Pansies and violas surrounded by green foliage in autumn/winter

Pansies and violas

To keep pansies and violas looking their best, and continue providing well-needed colour during these winter months, regular deadheading is key. If you let plants go to seed, they will stop producing blooms. Remove fading or diseased blooms, making the cut just above a lower pair of leaves. If you’re growing them in pots or containers, ensure they don’t dry out but don’t overwater. If you have them in the ground, keep an eye out for pests such as slugs and snails.

Clematis

You can prune late flowering Clematis, Prune Group 3 (for definitions of each group, visit the RHS website), they flower from mid to late summer on newly grown stems. Cut back last year’s growth down to a strong pair of buds, about 30cm above the ground. Spread out the stems, tie them into a support frame and mulch around the base of the plant. Once spring temperatures start to rise, they will quickly put on new growth.

Garden wildlife

Continue to keep bird-feeding stations supplied with food and fresh water. If the weather is too bad to work in, then this might be the time to retreat to the shed and think about building a nest box. Garden birds will soon be looking for nests to hatch their chicks, so why not help bring birdlife into your garden and install a nest box.

On the veg patch

Raspberries

A gardener's hand pruning raspberry stalks with a pair of secateurs

Cut all autumn fruiting varieties down to an inch above the ground. Mulch around the raspberry stalks, ensuring you don’t cover them over. If you want a longer growing season, cut only half of your stock down to above the ground. The untouched canes will provide fruit earlier in the season.

Plant bare-root varieties can be bought and planted out. Planted summer varieties should be cut down to ten inches, whilst autumn varieties should be cut down to an inch above the soil. Ensure all canes get a heavy mulch.

Fruit trees

There’s still time to prune your fruit trees and soft fruit, such as gooseberries, as they’re still dormant. Beyond this, tree sap will be on the rise, so pruning too late might create a seeping wound, thus damaging the tree. Consider buying bare rootstock varieties, rhubarb crowns, and plant out.

Chitting

By now, ordered seed potatoes should be arriving in the post, whilst tubs of chitting potatoes will be sat in garden nurseries waiting to go to new homes. Once you’ve bought your varieties, it’s important to start chitting. Sit them in containers – empty eggboxes are ideal – ensure they aren’t touching one another and their eyes are looking skyward. The potatoes should be placed in a cool, light, warm area – windowsills and conservatories are ideal.  Six weeks from now, they should be ready for planting out.

Sow

If you have a cold frame or greenhouse with a heat source, consider sowing onions, beetroot, cabbage, leeks, spring onion, lettuce and radishes. If you sow into large plugs and thin your seedlings out accordingly, then your young plants can continue to grow on until you’re ready to plant out. This method will not only give you the time to prepare the plot, but give the soil an opportunity to warm up in the early spring weather. Bear in mind, it’s still a low winter sun, so light levels can make plants leggy.

Gardener's hands sowing seeds into a black seed tray with modules full of soil

Early varieties of peas and beans can be sown indoors. As legumes have a deep root system, ideally you want to sow them in root trainers as they don’t like their roots disturbed. Not only are you providing the best opportunity to grow strong plants, but when you plant out the roots won’t suffer from stress.

If you’re hoping to sow seeds, such as carrot, straight into the ground, wait until at least the end of the month and try to do it on a frost-free sunny day. Warm the allocated plot by covering over a few weeks before sowing with either cloche or fleece. This extra warmth will help seed germination. Stagger your sowing, otherwise months from now you may find yourself with a glut.

Parsnips

If you still have parsnips growing, lift and store. Beyond February, these tapered roots will start sprouting and their taste could become woody. Place carefully into a box, cover with dry sand, and store somewhere cool and out of sunlight.

Storage

Check regularly for any damage or decay on any fruit or veg you having been storing over winter. Anything spoilt, remove at once and destroy. Ensure remaining produce is individually spaced to prevent further contamination and to encourage good airflow.

Other jobs

  • Continue to water and feed any amaryllis bulbs, as this may encourage the flower to return late next autumn or winter.
  • Trim hedges before birds begin nesting.
  • With little growth in the garden, you can clearly see its structure, giving you a clear blueprint of the space. Repair any structures, fencing or stonework. Create new beds, water features or raised vegetable beds.

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