February in the garden
February can be a very mixed month weather-wise, from sunshine warm enough to take your coat off, to snow or heavy freezing rain. On good days, take time to get out in to the garden to work and look around.
If the ground isn’t too frozen or waterlogged, you can dig the soil over, or turn any compost that you have. Tidy up any debris on beds and the lawn, if it isn't too wet or frozen to walk on. Get organized and buy all the seeds and compost that you are going to need for the coming months.
the cutting garden
sowing & growing
- Prepare ground for hardy annuals. Clear and rake ground.
- You can start sowing hardy annual seeds inside now, if you are impatient for early flowers. Sow them in your greenhouse in seed trays, gutter pipes or Jiffy Pellets. If you don’t have a greenhouse, use a window ledge propagator or seed tray inside and this will work well to get your seeds going. Some of my favourites include: Ammi majus, Anethum graveolens, Calendula offinicalis ‘Indian Prince’, Cerinthe major and all the Scabious. Don't be tempted to sow too many seeds this early in the sowing season – they may become leggy & drawn out due to low light levels at this time of year.
- Start sowing slow-growers under cover – like antirrhinums & cobaea.
- Order dahlias, gladioli & other summer flowering bulbs.
- Now is a good time to add organic fertiliser to your borders. Blood, fish and bone, seaweed or pelleted chicken manure is ideal. Follow the instructions on the packet.
- Pot on cuttings of tender perennials taken in the autumn.
- If there is a dry spell, remember to water containers.
bulbs & tubers
- You could try planting some nerines for inside – they’ll look wonderful in the autumn. Plant them in terracotta pots with John Innes no.3 loam-based compost, and don’t forget to add some grit.
- Plant snowdrops in the green and divide any larger congested clumps if you have any already in the garden.
- Plant deliciously-scented lily bulbs in pots and in your borders. Choose the amazing taller varieties for the back of the beds like ‘Casa Blanca’ or asiatic ‘Nerone’ and the shorter ones like speciosum var. rubrum 'Uchida' or ‘White America’ in the pots. See here for our step-by-step lily growing guide.
- Start dahlia tubers in to growth.
- Plant Lily of the Valley (Convallaria).
- Bring pots of spring bulbs into the greenhouse to encourage flowering.
- Water containers of bulbs and spring bedding if we have a dry spell.
- Keep forced hyacinths that have flowered early inside. Rather than throwing them out, plant them outside. Choose a sunny spot, dig a circle, line it with grit and turn out the bulbs. Cover them with more grit mixed into the soil, leaving the foliage intact, rather than cutting it back.
- Bulbs: crocus, snowdrops, aconites, cyclamen, Iris reticulata.
- Perennials: hellebores, artichoke leaves, polyanthus, primroses, violets, Euphorbia characias in bud.
- Shrubs and Trees: hamamelis, sarcococca, pussy willow, hazel and alder catkins, scented daphnes, winter-flowering honeysuckles and viburnums.
Pick small posies of any flowers you have. You may think these are all too tiny to pick, but little bunches can be held together with rubber bands and slotted through a wooden noughts and crosses grid, laid flat over a small bowl of water. Add a sprig or two of daphne and viburnum for extra scent. Click here for Sarah's Flower Grid video.
perennials, shrubs & trees
pruning & tidying
- Cut back your clematis. Any clematis that flower in late spring and early summer need a light pruning in February. Remove all overcrowded and straggly stems, cutting them as low down on the plant as you can. Tie in any stems that worked their way free from the plant support. Early spring flowerers and winter clematis varieties are happy as they are, and don’t need any attention now.
- Finish pruning fruit trees and bushes and add a sprinkling of sulphate or potash around the base of their trunks.
- Firm newly planted trees and shrubs if lifted by frost. Top dress pot grown shrubs and trees. Scrape away the top 2.5cm of compost and add fresh compost containing some slow release fertilser.
- Move shrubs growing in the wrong place, and cut back your overgrown shrubs and hedges. It's best to do it now before the nesting season starts.
- Prune late-flowering shrubs, such as buddleias and hardy fuchsias. Cut buddleias down to keep them compact – the more brutal you are (cut down about a metre off the ground) the better. Later in the month, prune back shoots on mophead and lacecap hydrangeas to a pair of buds.
- Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering. Cut back stems of dogwoods, willows and cotinus. Cut away vigorous climbers from windows and guttering.
- Cut back large leaves on hellebores so that the flowers are not hidden beneath.
- Coppice willow in the next week or two to leave room for new shoots. Cut them down to what’s called a stool – a clump about a foot from the base. Use cut stems to make willow arches for sweet peas and annual climbers. Make sure to de-bark any stem you stick in the ground. With bark left on, it will take root.
- Dogwoods are looking good at the moment, particularly in large pots. Grow replacements from hardwood cuttings taken any time from now until the end of April.
- Plant bare-rooted trees.
the kitchen garden
- Order your potatoes for chitting, and make sure you order veg seed now for later sowing.
- Chit seed potatoes, standing them in trays in a light but frost-free position. Check last year’s potato bed for any stray little ones left over from last year and remove to prevent any disease spreading.
- Prepare ground for planting asparagus.
- Use cloches to warm soil for early sowings outside of eg broad beans, carrots, hardy peas and parsnips.
- Continue sowing tomatoes, chilli peppers, aubergines and cucumbers in a heated propagator.
- Sow a pack of onion seeds or slot some sets into trays for planting out once the clocks change in late March. I love the Spring Onion 'North Holland Blood Red’. You can eat it as a redskinned spring onion, but any you don’t pull at this early stage will go on to form mild, bulbing onions that store quite well. It’s a versatile and tasty variety.
- Sow broad beans in rootrainers for planting out in 4-6 weeks’ time.
- Sow peas in guttering. The best way to do this is to fill the gutter with soil, then place the pea seeds on the top of the soil at regular intervals along the line, don’t push them in until you’ve laid it all out – that way you won’t forget where you've sown them!
We grow our salad in gutter pipes. It is the best way, especially if you don’t have lots of room in your garden, and it keeps everything easy to look after and under control. Radishes can be eaten straight from the gutter – they don’t need to see any garden!
- If you want to get going with some salad seeds, you are okay to sow corn salad now under cover, as well as rainbow chard, mizuna, rocket, winter purslane and mustard.
- Sow some delicious crunchy radishes too, and you’ll have a salad feast within 6-8 weeks.
- You can sow some herb seeds under cover now too – really hardy annual and biennials such as chervil, parsley and coriander. Wash your parsley seeds in warm water the night before you want to sow them, then lay them out to dry on kitchen paper overnight. This washes off the germinator inhibitor in the seed coat and will give you a harvest in a shorter time.
- There are a few perennial herbs which you could start off now too – French sorrel, chives, lovage and leaf fennel. There’s no hurry on these, but with a little bottom heat they will germinate fine and get you ahead.
- You may have some straggly mint in the garden. Now is a good time to pot some up ready for your first potatoes and salads later on in the year. Dig up a small clump of mint and take it in to the potting shed or greenhouse. Separate out a healthy looking section, and shake or wash off the soil. Cut a few lengths of the thick root and replant these rooted cuttings in a pot. You’ll soon have a new crop of fresh shoots to grow on in pots or replant in to the garden. Maintain frost-free conditions by installing a thermostatically controlled electric fan heater.
- If it’s not too frosty, you can plant fruit bushes and trees now.
- Finish pruning fruit, and mulch and feed.
- Cut autumn-fruiting raspberry canes to the ground. They will fruit in the autumn on the new canes.
- Force rhubarb shoots for an early crop.
- Protect emerging shoots on fruit bushes from birds by covering with netting.
Here's what you could be picking and eating this time next year or, if you’re an old hand, already are.
- Brassicas: Brussels sprouts, red and green cabbages, cima di rapa, cauliflower, kale and purple sprouting broccoli.
- Roots: Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and salsify.
- Salad: chicory, endive, lettuces, hardy lettuces, mizuna, salad rocket and mustards.
- Edible flowers: violas.
- Leafy greens: chard and perpetual spinach.
- Stems: leeks and cardoons.
- Herbs: parsley, chervil, coriander, winter savory, rosemary, sage and bay.
Evergreen herbs are the stalwarts of winter cooking. See Sarah's recipe for delicious rosemary flatbread.
tidy & mend
- If you have cloches, give them a good wash with soapy water. Cloches are good for warming the soil in preparation for early seed sowing, and they also stop the seeds from becoming waterlogged by too much rain.
- Scrub and hose down patios and paths to get rid of any slippery mud or moss.
- Keep your beds and kitchen garden as weed free as possible. Any time spent digging up perennial weeds now, is time saved later on in spring.
- Keep off the lawn during heavy frosts. If conditions are suitable re-cut border edgings or install permanent edging.
- If you're planning to sow a new lawn in spring then you need to be preparing the ground now. Dig the area over making sure you remove all perennial weeds and leave rough to allow the frost to break down any larger clods of earth.
- Check tools and equipment are sound and ready prepared.
- Prepare plant supports ready to be put in place soon.
- Visit some gardens for inspiration of layout and winter colour.
- Now that a lot of spring bulbs are beginning to show, check if there is planting space under deciduous shrubs. There is plenty of light at this time of year for these flowers to perform, but at planting time in September and October we tend to forget the boring blank areas underneath shrubs and trees. Do a drawing or take some photographs so that you can plan this better for next year.
test your soil
- Check your soil with a pH test kit to find out if your soil is acidic, neutral or alkaline. You need to know this if you’re planning to plant something that needs specific soil conditions. If your soil is acidic, you can make it more alkaline by adding lime. Unfortunately, you can’t add sulphur in large enough quantities to make your soil more acidic – if you wanted to grow something that needs acidic soil, try it in a pot where you can control the acidity more easily.
wildlife & pests
- The birds have been having a hard time, so make sure you fill your bird feeders and try to remember to defrost the birdbath.
- Also hang fat balls or bird feeders in your fruit trees to encourage the birds to come along and gobble up any greenfly or woolly aphids that have survived the winter on your trees.
- Put up a nest box, choose somewhere in a sheltered spot away from the reach of cats.
- If rabbits are a problem, place rabbit guards around young tree trunks to prevent damage.
- Keep an eye out for lily beetle – both the red adults and the black larvae.
- Check houseplants and the greenhouse for aphids and whitefly. Put up yellow sticky traps in the greenhouse so you can identify what pests are around and act before they become well established and hard to eradicate.