Sometimes rather gloomy, sometimes nippy, often rather damp, sometimes rather snowy... whatever your negative thoughts about February, there’s still plenty to do if you want to get your garden in the best possible state before the spring arrives, writes Pippa Greenwood. Take heart, it won’t be too long now!
Flowerbeds and borders
- Winter flowering heathers will now have finished their gorgeous display (or nearly so!). Once the flowers have faded, use sharp shears to give each plant a bit of a haircut. It doesn’t need the accuracy of secateurs, just try to remove the faded flowerheads and a small amount of the old growth beneath. This seasonal trim will help to ensure that the plants keep a good, compact shape, without that dreadful leggy look.
- If you sowed sweet peas earlier, once the plants are a few inches tall you should carefully pinch out the tips. This encourages side shoots to develop later – and the more shoots you have, the more flowers you’ll get! No need to panic if you have not sown sweet peas, some do it early, some don’t. I usually sow mine next month.
- Snowdrops and winter aconites are some of the real stars of winter, but, like all bulbs and corms, when they are happy in the place they are grown, they will multiply. A bit of density looks lovely, but too dense and nothing performs at its best. This is a perfect time to lift and divide congested clumps, giving each individual more space and less competition. Unlike many bulbs, both of these are happy to be moved when in growth.
Fruit and vegetables
- If your soil isn’t too wet or frozen, then it’s a good time to incorporate some well-rotted manure to veg beds, if you didn’t do so late last year. Plants like beans and courgettes really do appreciate plenty of this and, when it comes to the areas where you intend to sow or plant runner beans or climbing French, I’d advise using even more manure. If the soil is heavy and wet, then wait a week, as working on it under these conditions can damage the structure.
- Once the soil has been cleared of weeds and manure applied, cover a few areas with sheets of polythene or poly-covered pull-out tunnels. Doing this will keep off excess rain and give the soil the chance to warm up slightly before you sow any early seeds.
- Prune back any autumn-fruiting raspberry canes early this month. Take each back to just above the soil surface. The resulting set of stumps may look worrying, but as these varieties flower and fruit on canes that are produced in that year, the growth they produce in the next few weeks will be bearing fruit later this year.
- Cover a few strawberry plants with cloches of fleece to allow them to grow away ahead of the rest. This should allow you to get a few extra-early fruits. Make sure you remember which ones you did this to, and next year you should ‘force’ different ones.
- However good a job you thought you did when you cleared up fallen leaves last autumn, you can be sure that more will have arrived, blown in or redistributed from elsewhere. Check gutters on greenhouses and clear them, if necessary, then flush some water down the drainpipes to check they are all clear.
- Some of the coldest spells often develop in February and this can cause significant damage. So, take a few minutes to check that fleece and other protection is still firmly in place, and top up with more if in doubt.
- Do please give your feathery friends a bit of a helping hand at this time of year. A regular supply of bird food and fresh, clean water can make all the difference.