February is nearly upon us & the snowdrops are in flower offering the promise of spring to come. If you want to introduce a bit more colour to brighten your day there are lots of plants in the garden centre that are in flower at the moment including some gorgeous Hellebores & a lovely selection of indoor flowering plants.
The weather forecast for the month is typical for February although milder than average overall. The more settled & cloudy weather we have had recently is likely to remain, especially in the south & east, but there will be some rain & wind in the far northwest at times with spells of colder weather. Take advantage of any pleasant days to get on with tidying the garden, dividing perennials & making space for your summer blooms. There are always jobs to do inside too such as repotting houseplants or cleaning out the tool shed or greenhouse & you can cheer yourself up by browsing some seed & bulb catalogues or planning a new colour scheme for the summer.
Pruning Jobs in February
- Hard prune ornamental shrubs including Philadelphus, Cotinus and Sambucus.
- Thinning out - On frost-free days a few old branches can be pruned off roses and shrubs at the base, (not on spring-flowering shrubs), so that more light and air can get to the heart of the bush. You can also prune out old stems of Mahonia. This also promotes the growth of new shoots.
- Cut down ornamental grasses and herbaceous perennials that were left for winter interest or wildlife cover. Firm them back into the soil if they have been lifted out by frosts. Clearing old growth can even be done a bit earlier if it is hiding spring flowering plants & bulbs such as hellebores or snowdrops.
- As winter flowering shrubs finish flowering it is a good time to prune them back whilst you remember. It lets a bit more light into the garden & gives them plenty of time to develop new growth & set buds for flowering again next winter.
- Wisteria can be pruned back to two or three buds on all lateral stems.
- Prune late flowering clematis down to 30cm (12"), such as C.viticella.
- Trim ivy - Cutting away an excess of old foliage stimulates the growth of young, fresh leaves. Also remove shoots from places where they should preferably not grow (on paintwork and under eaves). This also applies to shoots of climbers such as Russian vine (Fallopia), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus) and trumpet creeper (Campsis).
- Prune newly planted hedges - If you want a newly planted hedge to develop well over the coming spring, you need to cut it back before the end of February. This particularly applies to varieties such as privet, hawthorn and hornbeam (Carpinus). Flowering hedges (such as Forsythia) are best cut back after flowering.
- Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries down to ground level.
- Fruit trees - Prune your fruit trees before the end of February. Later pruning can lead to loss of sap. Bear in mind that vigorous pruning will promote the growth of substantial shoots. Wait until May before pruning trees with stoned fruits - such as cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches and apricots - because of the risk of silverleaf disease.
- Wound dressing - Cover wounds with wound dressing. The risk of fungal infections is great, particularly on deciduous varieties. With conifers always leave a branch stump; you should therefore not saw smooth to the trunk. On deciduous trees make sure that the collar - the thickening at the start of the branch - is left in place.
Planting in February
- Sow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and chillies at the end of the month. Ensure they get some warmth to encourage growth by keeping them on a sunny windowsill or in a heated propagator.
- Plant shallots and garlic.
- Divide herbaceous perennials such as Day Lilies, Iris and Astilbe.
- Divide bulbs such as snowdrops after they have finished flowering but before they die back.
- Dahlia tubers can be started into growth in containers of compost kept frost free.
- Plant and replant shrubs - If there is no frost, now is an excellent time to plant and replant deciduous shrubs. Many varieties (including hedge plants) are offered with bare roots. If there is a frost or if you do not have time to plant them immediately, you should entrench the roots temporarily. Replant shrubs with as much soil as possible around the roots.
- Pot on your over-wintered cuttings from last year’s stocks of tender perennials; water & keep them well lit.
- If you haven’t already started sowing summer bedding it is not too late. Prick out seedlings already planted last month & keep them well lit.
- Sow vegetables under cover, ready for planting out with protection in March.
- Plant Jerusalem artichokes in a sunny place.
- Sprout, 'chit' early potatoes by standing them 'eye' upwards in egg boxes in a cool, light, frost-free place.
Garden Maintenance in February
- Clean out nesting boxes as soon as possible - A thorough clean ensures that any surviving pests or diseases are removed from the box so that it does not bother the new hatchlings. See our blog on National Nest Box Week for some tips.
- Give your window boxes & tubs the once over – tidy up & remove any dead or mildewed leaves from winter flowers & shrubs. If plants like violas or winter pansies are very badly affected it is probably worth removing the whole plant as it is unlikely to recover. Check to see whether they need watering.
- Water - Evergreen trees and shrubs continue to lose moisture in the winter. Therefore it is best to water them during long dry spells if it is not freezing and the ground is frost-free. The plants find it difficult to draw up moisture if the ground is frozen. This can result in them drying out. If there is a hard frost forecast you might consider covering more tender plants with a garden fleece.
- General garden improvements - February is a good time for doing all sorts of maintenance in the garden, like constructing or improving paths and patios, or erecting a fence, pergola or play equipment for children.
- Clean slippery moss and algae from paths. Algon is ideal as it just needs to be mixed with water then applied. There is no need to rinse off & as it is non-toxic it is safe for pets & wildlife.
- Weeding - Weeds may already have grown significantly, particularly annual meadow grass and other annuals. It is best to remove them by hand as hoeing can damage the roots of your ornamental plants.
Restore or improve your lawn
- You can start restoring the lawn from the end of February.
- Turf can be laid during frost-free weather and you can seed patches.
- If a particular ‘track' keeps getting worn in your lawn it might be worth laying something like stepping stones.
This is the best time to remove trees. Leave the removal of big trees to a professional/tree surgeon. They have the right equipment and know precisely how to avoid any damage.