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  • Louise Mills

Anticipation!


The anticipation for this year’s growing season continues to build as the days are becoming noticeably longer and new shoots emerge. Weather can be mixed in February so take advantage of milder days by focusing on winter pruning and soil cultivation but remember to keep off the soil and lawn when they are frozen or excessively wet.


Perennials, Shrubs and Trees


● All pruning of open grown fruit trees should be completed by the end of this month. In milder March weather, the buds may burst earlier than anticipated.


● There is still time to plant bare-root trees, shrubs and bushes. Put in place stakes, tree ties and rabbit guards at the time of planting.


● Re-pot or top-dress container-grown shrubs and trees. To top-dress, scrape away the top 2.5cm of soil, removing any weeds. Replace with fresh compost containing slow-release fertiliser that will gradually feed the plant over the coming months. It’s worth checking the root ball, as the plant may need to be potted on or root pruned so it continues to thrive. Organic fertilisers include: seaweed, fish blood & bone, bonemeal, chicken manure pellets and liquid comfrey feeds.


● February and early March is a good time to prune climbing and shrub roses before they resume growth. Renovation is best done when there are no leaves so you can see the structure of the rose better. https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/roses/pruning-guide


● Begin to cut back herbaceous perennials, particularly those no longer offering structure, food, or habitats for wildlife.


● Start tender perennials into growth under cover. Dahlia tubers stored over the winter can now be potted up and the shoots they produce will make good cuttings.


● Divide and replant snowdrops and winter aconites after they have flowered but while the foliage is still green.


● Some late-flowering deciduous shrubs can be pruned between February and March, usually those that flower on the current year’s growth (e.g., Buddleja, hardy Fuchsias, Ceratostigma, Hydrangea and Ceanothus). Particularly helpful to cut back buddleias to prevent wind rock and to keep them compact.


● Prune late-flowering clematis. Cut down all the growth 20-45cm from the ground, cutting just above a healthy bud on each stem. Remove all overcrowded, straggly stems by cutting them as low down as possible and tie in any new stems as required. Check the pruning group for individual species. https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/clematis/pruning-guide


● Prune winter-flowering shrubs when the flowers have faded, including winter heathers. Later in the month cut back cornus, salix and cotinus. Cornus and salix can be coppiced into stools effectively to maintain and highlight their annual display of coloured stems.


● Prune winter-flowering Jasmine. Tie in any stems required for extending the framework and then shorten the side growth stemming from the main framework.


Kitchen Garden


● Direct sow some early vegetables: parsnip, beetroot, and broad beans when conditions allow. The following can also be sown under cloches: lettuce, radish, salad onions and peas. If you have a greenhouse, you may also wish to start sowing tomatoes, herbs, chillies and aubergine to give them a head start.


● If you haven’t already done so compost all your kitchen garden beds ready for sowing later. Charles Dowding, the ‘No Dig’ market gardener, recommends 2.5cm/1” per annum on established beds. For advice on compost see: https://charlesdowding.co.uk/compost-using-and-making/


● Feed and mulch all fruit crops.


● Protect blossom on apricots, nectarines, and peaches from frost. Most top and soft fruit are hardy, but once they begin growing in spring, flowers and buds are especially vulnerable and may need protection to crop well.


● Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries. Cut growth from the previous season down to the ground and apply compost around the base of each plant.


● Tend to seedlings as required. Be prepared to ventilate their growing space on milder, sunny days and prick out as required.


● If you haven’t done so already, chit seed potatoes for early cultivars. Stand them in trays (I use egg boxes!) in a light position, free of frost. Also check your vegetables seeds and make sure you have everything you want to grow this year.


Other jobs


● Check the condition of all plant supports before they are hidden by new growth. It’s worth checking they have not become too tight.


● Keep on top of the weeding. Time spent removing perennial weeds now will save you time come the spring.


● Apply well-rotted compost to beds and borders and if required, apply organic-based fertilisers (e.g. blood, fish and bone, seaweed or pelleted chicken manure). They release nutrients more slowly than inorganic alternatives so the nutrients will be available just as they start into growth in spring.


● Check all tools and machines are in working order. You may wish to get your lawn mower serviced ahead of the first cut in March.


● Order plenty of peat-free compost. You can save by buying in bulk.


● Scrub and hose down patios and paths to clear them of any slippery mud or moss.


● Replenish bird feeders as they won’t have many food sources at this time of year.

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