The cold weather may still be biting and the wind blustery this month, but we do keep getting a few days' of respite when the sun shines and it feels vaguely like spring may be coming.
And it's in these milder moments that we're granted a prime opportunity to get out into the garden and put in the leg work that will see our patch bloom into something beautiful come the warmer months. Looking after your garden at this time will also help protect your plants from the frosts that are still likely to hit.
Geoff Hodge from The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company has come up with a diary of jobs to get cracking with this Feb.
Tackle your beds and borders
- If your snowdrops have been growing in the same soil for several years and haven’t flowered so well this year, then it’s a good idea to do something about it. Carefully lift the bulbs – this can be done when they’re still in leaf, or ‘in the green’ – without damaging the roots too much. Split the clumps into smaller sections and replant them at the same depth in soil that has been improved with lots of organic food, such as home-made compost, well-rotted manure or planting compost. Then water them, adding a liquid feed to the water to help them away.
- Dry snowdrop bulbs planted in autumn often don’t grow well because they've dried out too much. Growing snowdrops from plants and planting when flowering has finished, but they’re still in leaf, is usually a better bet. Or better still, buy potted plants. Plants sold in the green are often freshly dug up, so it's vital to water them in as soon as they are planted.
- Deadhead winter-flowering pansies and other winter and spring flowering bedding plants regularly to keep them flowering well. Give them a liquid feed to help improve their chances.
- Sow sweet pea seeds one by one in sweet pea tubes or Rootrainers (available from most garden centres), which allow their roots plenty of room to grow. Fill them with a good seed sowing compost. Then place them in a cold frame, cold greenhouse or conservatory to germinate.
- After a focal point for your garden? Put up an arbour, arch or trellis covered with colourful climbers, such as clematis, wisteria, ivy, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper or climbing roses.
- The young growth of hostas, delphiniums and other perennial plants, can be susceptible to a nasty slug attack at this time of year, so protect vulnerable plants with slug pellets.
- Tidy up herbaceous perennials, removing any dead or damaged leaves plus any dead flower stems that were left on over winter.
Perk up your patio
- Trees, shrubs, fruit and other long-term plants growing in containers add a great touch of colour to any patio. But they will always benefit from topdressing with fresh compost. Scrape away the top 2.5-4cm (1-11/2in) of old compost and replace it with fresh. Mix in some controlled-release plant food into the fresh compost, which will feed the plants throughout spring and summer from just one application.
- Plants that have been in their containers for several years may have become potbound, which may mean they're not thriving as well as they could. These plants need very careful, regular watering throughout spring and summer. If they are already in large pots and you can’t move them into even larger ones, it pays to at least freshen them up by working over the outside of the rootball with a hand fork to remove old and dead roots and old, stale compost.
- Plants may start growing during warmer spells, or even continue growing after the mild winter, so check the compost to make sure it remains moist and doesn’t dry out.
- For a great summer display of colour and scent, plant lily bulbs in pots for a fantastic patio feature.
Love your lawn
This is a great time to create a new lawn, or repair a damaged one, by laying turf, providing the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged. To ensure you achieve a luscious green lawn to be proud of, it pays to do some soil preparation work first.
- Start by digging over the soil to a depth of 15-23cm (6-9in) and improve it with compost, lawn soil, soil conditioner or similar material and, at the same time, remove large stones, the roots of perennial weeds and other debris. If your soil is very heavy clay, it may even pay dividends to add some sharp sand to the soil too.
- Rake the area flat and level, and then lightly consolidate the soil by walking over the area with your weight on your heels and rake flat and level again. You’re now ready to start laying the turf.
- Lay your first row of turfs along a straight edge. Butt each one closely to the last and ensure good contact with the soil by tamping down firmly with the back of a rake. Lay the next row, again ensuring each turf is pushed right up to its neighbour. Stagger each row in a brickwork pattern. Finally, water the turf well or, better still, water and feed with a liquid plant food to aid rapid establishment.
You can also do this soil preparation if you plan to sow grass seed, but wait until next month to actually do the sowing. This early work is a good idea, as it gives time for weed seeds in the soil to germinate and you can then hoe them off or spray with a weedkiller.
Top tip: In mild weather, at temperatures of 5C (41F) or above, the grass will grow and need mowing. But avoid walking on the lawn if the grass is frozen or wet.
Get going with growing your own
To make sure you grow all the veg you need this year, draw up your cropping plans and order or buy your seeds. When you get your veg seeds, make a month-by-month seed sowing organiser in a cardboard box or similar. This way you won’t forget to sow everything at the right time. Store the seeds in cool, dry conditions until you’re ready to sow.
- At this time of year there is an almost irresistible urge to start sowing seeds outside. But, unless your soil is very well drained and you live in a sheltered mild district, it is far better to wait until spring. Most vegetable seeds that are sown outdoors won’t germinate until the soil temperature reaches 7C (45F) and if sown in cold soil will rot.
- But you can get ready for an early start by covering beds with cloches or sheets of clear polythene. This warms the soil, keeps clay soils from getting too soggy during wet weather and encourages weeds to germinate. These weeds can then be dealt with before sowing to produce a ‘weed-free’ veg bed.
- Make sure you buy your seed potatoes as soon as possible, as the most popular varieties soon sell out. You can then start chitting early seed potatoes, which generally produces a bigger, better crop as a result. Chitting means getting them into growth to produce strong young shoots before planting out. Stand the seed potatoes upright in trays or egg boxes with the ‘eye’ end (the end with the most eyes or buds) uppermost. Keep them somewhere cool but frost free, and in good light.
And when it comes to fruit, this is a great time to plant fruit trees and bushes, providing the soil isn’t waterlogged or frozen solid. Planting bare-rooted fruit needs to be completed by the end of the month.
- When planting, dig over the planting area and make sure the soil is well prepared with plenty of added organic matter – such as well-rotted manure, garden compost or a tree and shrub planting compost.
- Water the roots thoroughly before planting. Plant at the same depth that the plant was originally growing and carefully firm the soil around the roots.
- Trees will need to be staked with a good tree stake and secured with two tree ties.
- Towards the middle or end of the month, give all fruit a good start to the year by applying a granular balanced plant food. This should be applied over the main rooting area – roughly equivalent to the spread of the branches.
- Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries by cutting down all the canes to the ground. Summer raspberries can be cut back to one or two buds above the top of their supporting wires if they’ve grown too tall.
Top tip: Protect the blossom of early-flowering apricots, peaches and nectarines from frost damage by covering plants with fleece. But remove it on warm days, especially when pollinating insects are about.
General gardening jobs
- Keep your garden clear of diseases by raking up and destroying any badly-infected leaves (just burn or bin them).
- Garden birds will still rely on us to put out food for them and they are particularly in need during cold and freezing weather. So top up bird feeders as necessary. And don’t forget to ensure there is a supply of unfrozen, clean water. Bird tables should only be stocked with enough food that the birds can eat without leaving excess from day to day.
- When gardening on wet clay soils, work from a plank of wood, board or similar, rather than treading directly on the soil. This will help spread your weight and help avoid compacting the soil.
There's more gardening jobs in every issue of Yours