February gardening jobs

SuttonsHere are your gardening jobs for the month – with added links if I have more information on the subject. They are all still relevant to do now if you’ve fallen behind or if the weather’s been bad.

Week 1

There is still time to finish planting fruit trees and bushes, especially raspberries and other cane fruits. Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries by cutting back all growth to an inch long stub and mulch. To extend the picking season, cut half back and leave half to give you extra early fruit.

Autumn-fruiting raspberries
Autumn-fruiting raspberries hold their own against a background of flowers

It’s also time to prune currants – shorten the side shoots to just one bud and remove old stems from the centre of the bushes.

Leeks may well be standing ready but if a long freeze is likely you can dig some up and heel them in to dug ground for easy access. Parsnips and swedes in the ground can come up when you are ready, cover with fleece or straw.

Bulbs coming up in the alpine/rock garden or in containers may benefit from overhead protection from the rain and snow. A sheet of glass or Perspex placed on piles of bricks will do the job.

Summer-flowering Dutch iris bulbs can be forced and used as cut flowers.

Sweet peas can be sown under glass, or in a cool room in the house. Any sweet peas that were sown earlier in the autumn can now be potted on.

Root cuttings can be taken of Papaver (perennial poppies), Verbascum (mullein), Acanthus (bear’s breeches) and Phlox.

Cut back ornamental grasses and other perennials left for winter interest.

Continue to plant hedging plants, shrubs, trees and climbers. Stakes and rabbit guards should be put in place at the time of planting. Continue to plant roses. Avoid planting where roses were previously growing to avoid replant diseases.

Winter prune apples and pears, concentrating on removing overcrowded growth, crossing stems, and dead, damaged, or dying branches. Aim for an open centre, through which air can circulate, as this will cut the risk of pests and diseases.

Cut deciduous hedges if necessary. They can still be renovated before leaf emergence.

Ornamental vines, ivy, Virginia creeper and Boston ivy can be cut back now – keep them away from windows, doors, gutters and roof tiles.

Don’t leave house plants on windowsills behind curtains on frosty nights.

Greenhouse bulbs that have finished flowering (e.g. freesias and Lachenalia) can be fed weekly with a tomato fertiliser to build up the bulbs before resting them over the summer. Reduce feeding and watering as the foliage starts to die back.

Fuchsias can be started into active growth by repotting, increasing watering, feeding (with a slow-release fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone) and putting them in a sunny place.


Week 2

Rhubarb can be forced for an early crop. Cover a crown or two with buckets or even an upturned large pot and insulate the outside with straw or compost for added heat. The stalks will grow in the dark. This takes a lot out of the crown and it won’t recover for a couple of years.

Asiatic Bouquet lilies
Asiatic Bouquet lilies – easily grown in a pot

Lily bulbs can be planted in pots, for flowers this summer. After growing on in a cool greenhouse, they can be moved on to the patio when in flower.

Check on tender plants overwintering outdoors to make sure protective coverings are still in place.

Continue to deadhead winter pansies and other winter bedding. Pansies will carry on into the spring and even to early summer, if attended to often.

Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level (including Helleborus x hybridus and H. niger) to expose the flowers and remove possible foliar diseases such as hellebore leaf spot.

Look out for rots (such as crown rot, Sclerotinia, delphinium black blotch, black root rot and Antirrhinum rust) on emerging perennials.

Many summer-flowering deciduous shrubs can be pruned now – those that flower on the current year’s growth, including Buddleja davidii, Ceratostigma, Hydrangea paniculata, Lavatera, Leycesteria, Perovskia, hardy fuchsias, and deciduous Ceanothus.

Prune Wisteria by cutting back the side shoots shortened by summer pruning to two or three buds (2.5-5cm/1-2in). Avoid cutting off flower buds.

You could dig a new pond. Have a minimum depth of 60cm (2ft) at the deepest point, to reduce the risk of the pond freezing totally. Gently sloping contours between the shallow and deep areas, and between the bank and the water, are more wildlife-friendly.

If you do have any seedlings and/or cuttings in the greenhouse, make sure they are getting the maximum light available, or else they will become weak and leggy. If necessary, turn them once a day so that they get light on both sides. This will stop them leaning over towards the light, and keep them upright and compact.

Plug plants can be grown on in your greenhouse, being a relatively cheap source of large numbers of plants.


Week 3

Dahlia tubers stored over winter (or bought this year) can be started into growth. Place them in a light, warm place to sprout before planting. They will need misting with a spray bottle to stop them drying out.

Snowdrops at RHS Harlow Carr
Snowdrops at RHS Harlow Carr

Divide and/or plant bulbs-in-the-green, such as snowdrops (Galanthus) and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis).

Prepare beds for new roses when conditions allow. Avoid wet days (!) and frozen ground.

Send soil samples for pH and nutrient testing (if necessary), or buy a kit from a garden centre and do it yourself. This can help you choose the correct plants for the site in question, and allow you to rectify any nutrient deficiencies with a spring feed.

Clear up weedy beds before mulching. Lighter soils can be mulched now, but heavier soils are best left until March, when the soil is warmer.

Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent stem rots. Remove dead leaves from around the basal rosettes of alpine plants to prevent rotting.

Cut out the top rosette of leaves from the leggy stems of Mahonia x media cultivars to encourage branching.

Mulch and feed shrubs, trees, hedges and climbers after pruning, to give them energy for the extra growth they will put on after cutting back.

Begonia, Gloxinia and Achimenes tubers can all be planted this month. Begonias and Gloxinias need to be planted hollow side upwards; Achimenes can be planted on their sides, in trays if necessary, before potting them once growth appears.

In cold frames, greenhouses or polytunnels, sow beetroot, broad beans, summer and autumn cabbage, carrots, kales, leeks, lettuce and spring onions. These can all be sown in trays or plugs to be planted out towards the end of March.

Start sowing bedding plants such as Impatiens, Viola and pansies in a heated propagator. Transplant when seedlings are forming their third or fourth leaf. This can take anywhere between four and six weeks.


Week 4

Hardy annuals, such as Calendula, can be sown in pots or modules to give early colour.

Calendula Nova
Easy-to-grow Calendula Nova

Place gladioli corms in seed trays or boxes and place in a light, warm (about 10ºC/50ºF) place to encourage them to sprout. This will ensure an earlier display.

Prune back the stems of pot-grown overwintered fuchsias and place in a well-lit, warm place to encourage new growth.

Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials that you want to propagate, those that have become too large or are flowering poorly.

Improve drainage of heavy soils by working in lots of organic matter and coarse gravel (if necessary). Mulching with a deep layer of organic matter helps to condition the soil, suppress weed growth, insulate plant roots and conserve soil moisture during the summer.

Top up pots and tubs with fresh compost. Old compost can be removed and replaced.

Top dress beds and borders with a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone, to feed perennials as they start back into growth.

Protect lily, Delphinium and Hosta shoots from slugs and snails before they appear.

Cut back hard shrubs such as Buddleja davidii, Salix alba var. Vitellina cultivars and Cornus sanguinea to keep them manageable and deepening the stem colour for next winter.

Cut back late summer and autumn flowering (Group 3) Clematis to the lowest pair of strong buds. Mulch and feed at the same time.

Prune winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) once the flowers have faded. Remove dead or damaged shoots, tie in new ones to the main framework, and shorten all the laterals coming off the main framework to 5cm (2in), cutting to a bud. This will keep the plant neat, and improve flowering next winter. Feed and mulch after pruning.

Summer-flowering jasmines may also be pruned (if necessary), providing that they are reasonably hardy where they are. Remove a couple of stems completely to ground level, and avoid cutting back laterals, as this would damage this year’s flowering potential.

Trim winter-flowering heathers with shears as the flowers fade to stop the plants from becoming leggy and bare.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria) that was lifted from the garden to use as pot plants in the greenhouse, should now be planted back outside.

This year’s potato bed will benefit from a good application of compost or rotted manure that can be forked in.

Cover soil with dark plastic sheeting, fleece or cloches to warm it up for a couple of weeks before you start to sow and plant.

Jerusalem artichokes and shallots can be planted now – but cover with a cloche.

Sow summer cabbages such as Greyhound and Primo, as well as turnips and spinach.

Onions from seed should be started now. They need about 15 degrees to germinate, so a windowsill in a cool room is ideal, in 3in pots and prick out the seedlings into their final positions when large enough, or sow into plugs where they’ll stay until planting out.

Sow globe artichokes, celery, celeriac and leeks under heat in plugs; again, if you choose large plugs they can stay there until planting out.