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Spring Emerging, Endless Possibilities

For some, February is another dreary month. I find the emergence of snowdrops, aconites, crocus and the first of the iris reticulatas always improves my mood. Anything seems possible now – including the arrival of Spring. I have always associated February half-term with the ideal time to start sowing some vegetables seeds like tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, etc. My children, when they were small, used to help with this process. There is something hugely satisfying when you start to see little seedlings emerge. So don’t let the grey days prevent you from spending time in the garden. You will be pleasantly surprised at how good it feels, for body and soul, to be out there.


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.


●      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. - many of you will remember Michael Marriott’s talk on pruning. Do have a look at this most excellent guide on pruning roses. Tips for different types near bottom of page.


●      There is still time to plant additional roses, bare-root trees, shrubs and bushes. Put in place stakes, tree ties and rabbit guards at the time of planting. And don’t forget to feed and mulch them to give them a good start. I tend to use chicken manure pellets for my feed under the layer of mulch.


●      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.


●      Begin to cut back herbaceous perennials, particularly those no longer offering structure, food, or habitats for wildlife. If the weather is mild you can also safely lift and divide some of these. If in doubt though wait until March.


●      Cut back the leaves on your hellebores to give the flowers a real chance to shine! Carefully cut them back to the base avoiding the flowering shoots. Don’t forget to take a few cuttings for the house. Once brought inside make a fresh angled cut at the bottom of each stem. Some people swear by sticking them in boiling for 30 seconds to seal the stems.


●      Now is a great time to mulch all your borders as well. Mulch can be your homemade compost, leafmould or bought in. Mulch helps encourage moisture retention, adds vital nutrients to the soil and helps suppress weeds. Never mulch on top of frozen or excessively wet soil!


●      Divide and replant snowdrops and winter aconites after they have flowered but while the foliage is still green. Now is also a great time to order ‘bulbs in the green’ if you wish to extend your collection. Plants ‘in the green’ tend to establish quickly and are often good value at this time of year.


●      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. Please note that I don’t tend to cut back my hydrangea or Ceratostigma until March until I see new buds about to burst on the stems or at the base.


●      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.


●      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. My display of Cornus Midwinter Fire is cut back on a 2-3 year cycle not annually.


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



Cutting Garden


●      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.


●      If sweet peas sown last year haven’t taken, you still have time to resow in fresh compost and clean rootrainers. Any seeds that have germinated should be pinched out at the shoot tip once they are approximately 8-10cm tall. This encourages more side shoots and a better display.


●      Keep sowing annual flower seeds such as cosmos, calendula, cerinthe, antirrhinums, scabious, Ammi majus, cobaea.  Have a look here for some inspiration and new plant combinations.


Kitchen Garden


●      Now is a great time to make sure all your seed trays, pots, cells and rootrainers are thoroughly cleaned to give your new seedlings their best chance of survival. A good scrub with any good mild detergent should be enough. Don’t forget to check under rim edges for any slugs and eggs!


●      If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, now is the time to give it a good clean before the growing season starts in earnest. Remove any equipment that has piled up over the winter months, sweep, wash off algae, dirt and other debris from glass, shelving, floors. Check under benches and in corners for pests.


●      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.


●      Remember that it is always best to use mains water for new seedlings as water from water butts can harbour many diseases that will cause your young seedlings to rot.


●      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:


●      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. Make sure your gooseberries, currants and any other soft fruits have been pruned as well.


●      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. Pictured here is hairy bittercress nicely invading the bare soil around my asters.


●      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. Try to keep your seed sowing compost in a frost-free shed so you can use it more effectively.


●      Scrub patios and paths with a stiff-bristled broom to clear them of any slippery mud or moss.


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


●      You might need to protect soft new growth on plants that were fooled into thinking that Spring was about to arrive. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and protect any particularly vulnerable plants with fleece.

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