Monthly Advice - February Jobs in the Garden

posted this on 18 Jul 2016

FEBRUARY IN YOUR GARDEN february

Hedging

      • This is a tip that will be repeated several times here and next month. The best months for planting most bareroot hedging, if you did not get it in in November are February and March. Spring kicks the plants into growth and they do not spend too long in cold wet soil.

      • As in January, beware snow. It is heavy, as anyone caught in an avalanche can tell you. It weighs down and can snap young branches, especially if they are coming into bud and leaf towards the end of the month, so sweep any snow off your young hedges as soon as you can.

      • Older hedges that have overgrown or been neglected can be tackled now. Deciduous hedges and broadleaved evergreens like Laurel can be pruned hard and into shape ready for a growth spurt in spring. Yew can also be pruned back hard, even into old wood, and will recover. For these hedges (Beech, Hawthorn, Hornbeam, Privet, Yew and the like) you can follow our  instructions on pruning an overgrown hedge. However any other conifer (like Leyland cypresses) need to be regularly and lightly trimmed. A severe haircut on these plants will result in bald patches for ever, and ever, and ever…

      • If any conifer branches have become bent down or misshapen over winter, the best thing is not to cut them off which will leave a gap but to tie them back up again. Use plastic coated wire to attach the drooping branch to the trunk of the tree to restore the balance. Pad where the wire encircles the trunk using an old rag to protect the tree. 

      • Keep any newly planted conifer hedges protected from the drying and defoliating effects of cold winds using polythene or hessian barriers set against the prevailing wind.

Fruit Trees

      • When it is not freezing (see below) this is the best time to plant fruit trees. The cold weather we have had also means that March will be a good planting month this year. Stocks tend to start running short however, so order quickly if you have not already.
      • Where there has been a hard frost the water in the soil will freeze and expand and once melted it can dislodge or lift newly planted fruit trees. When the freeze has passed, check that they are as firmly rooted as they were when planted, but equally do not compact the soil so much around the roots that they cannot breathe! At the same time have a look at the ties and stakes and adjust them if needed.
      • Your nectarine and peach trees should remain covered with polythene until late spring to prevent the onset of peach leaf curl. ‘Peach leaf curl’ sounds quite sweet but in fact this disease blisters and contorts the leaves to make them look really hideous and weakens the tree at the same time. Spray again with a copper compound like Bordeaux mixture (if you can find it) unless the flower buds look like they are beginning to swell. In which case stay your hand as the copper will damage open buds; there is a reason why copper is used as a contraceptive!
      • Stored fruit that is looking a little wrinkled or dry and of course any that is starting to rot or become mouldy should be put out for the birds.
      • For a real boost, sprinkle sulphate of potash (see Autumn fruiting raspberries below) around your fruit trees as far out as their branches extend. This extra injection of nutrients will improve your crop. However it should be in addition to any organic fertiliser like fish, blood and bonemeal and all that well rotted farmyard manure or compost that was recommended in January. If you use a non-organic fertiliser, do always follow the dilutions and strengths recommended by the manufacturer. You really can have too much of a good thing!

Garden trees

      • When the ground is not frozen this is the best month to plant larger trees.
      • Hopefully there is very little to do to your established garden trees at this time of year. Any dead, damaged or diseased branches should be whipped off on any day when it is not freezing. Another consideration is to observe how easy it is to mow under and around any trees in your lawn. Raising the crown by cutting off a few of the lower branches may help the (human) lawnmower of the family and will allow more light in for grasses and bulbs to grow well. 
      • Don't forget that bulbs in the green (see below) can be planted underneath almost any deciduous tree this month and next.
      • If you have not wrapped your tree ferns (Dicksonia) up warm then you really must do so now. February usually has several frosts cold enough to kill unprotected plants.
      • Viburnum tinus and V. Bodnantense benefit from a rejuvenating prune after flowering, especially if they are quite mature. The former can be cut right down to the ground if it has been neglected. Otherwise for both, removing a third of the older wood will allow new shoots to grow, will de-congest the centre of the plant and will ensure more flowers with that gorgeous winter scent next year. 

Roses

      • There is a lot of research suggesting that planting in February and March is best because the roots are not exposed to a whole winter of wet and cold but just a month or so before the soil begins to warm and the plant comes to life. With this in mind, and not forgetting the huge savings you will make by buying bare root as opposed to pot-grown roses, have a quick look at your garden and see if there is room for another rose in a border or for a climber to jazz up a dull shed or bland wall.

      • Any roses that you pruned earlier may have suffered a little dieback over the winter so towards the end of the month in the South – best left till March for those further North – you can prune back any dark, brown twiggy ends to your roses. 

      • If you did not prune your roses in November then you can think about pruning them properly this month.

      • Most of the UK will have had strong winds over the past weeks. Check that any climbing roses are still tied in to their support structures.
      • Give roses a top dressing of Vitax Rose food and then mulch your rosebed with well rotted you know what.

Soft Fruit

      • Last month to plant unrooted rhubarb crowns.
      • Autumn fruiting raspberries are those that fruiting from late August right through to November. Their sturdy canes need cutting right down to the ground now so that new ones can grow over the summer and produce their fruit in autumn. Sprinkle a high potash fertiliser around the plants – preferably an organic one because it releases its nutrients more slowly which works better when the plant is only just coming into growth. High potash means that it has a higher level of potassium (the K part of the NPK ratio that you see on fertiliser packets). Potassium is the mineral that encourages fruit and flower growth and is the big ingredient in all tomato fertilisers. 

      • Have you enough soft fruit? With the new trend of lower sugar diets, berries are a real bonus because they tend to be lower in sugar than other fruits and they make wonderful smoothies, additions to breakfast cereal and are amazing macerated in alcohol! Loganberries, boysenberries and tayberries are all hardy, easy to grow and utterly delicious and this month and next is your last chance to plant one! 

      • Established blackcurrants – that means older than 2 years - need to be pruned. Work out which of the branches is 2 years old or more – (it tends to be the darker wood) -and cut out one in three of the stems right down to the base of the plant. This will cause the blackcurrant to produce more new stems this summer and you have the benefit of the fruit from the remaining two thirds of the old branches.

      • Mature red and white currants can have their side shoots snipped back to one or two buds while the main branches should have the very tips removed.

      • Check gooseberry bushes to see that they have a sufficiently open centre. Gooseberries can suffer from mildew if there is a muddle of branches in the middle of the plant preventing the air from flowing through easily. At the same time, it is worth netting gooseberries even this early in the year because gooseberry buds are a bullfinch’s favourite food. Netting should be taut so that birds bounce off it rather than get caught up in it, firmly attached down to the ground and ideally not touching the plant. 

      • The new growths (the ones that did NOT carry fruit) on your summer fruiting raspberries that have grown too tall for their support frame need either to be pruned back to one or two buds from the top wire or they can be arched over the top wire and tied to it. Both will encourage side-shoots to form along the length of the cane so that you get more raspberries this summer.

Climbers

      • If you did not get round to pruning your wisteria in January, then you need to prune any sideshoots back to 2-3 buds. The wisteria will then be shocked into producing more flower buds and the effect will be a splendid display of purple or white racemes come spring.

      • Jasmines require attention at this time of year. The yellow winter jasmine – Jasmine nudiflorum – needs pruning once the flowers are over otherwise it can become lanky and unruly. Cut out any diseased or damaged wood and then spread the main branches over the area that you want covered and tie them in to the wall support to make your basic framework. Then on each main branch, shorten the sideshoots to 5cm from the main stem for a sunburst of flowers next winter. Feed with an organic fertiliser and mulch. If you are short on mulch, a flat stone at the base of the plant will keep the roots cool and the moisture in.

      • Summer flowering jasmine requires a different tactic; here you have to be ruthless and remove the whole of one of the main stems. Pruning the sideshoots of a main stem will just result in a complete tangle of foliage making it difficult to see the flowers. Remove as many main stems as you feel necessary to keep the jasmine in its allotted space.

      • Late flowering Clematis that go in group 3 include Clematis texensis (eg Duchess of Albany) the C. viticellas (eg Polish Spirit) and some late flowering hybrids like the popular ‘Jackmanii’ or ‘Ville de Lyon’ and all should be dealt with towards the end of the month. Because they grow afresh every year they are ideal to grow through other shrubs and at the end of February you just need to cut them down to about 25-45 cm from the ground and above a healthy bud. When you clear away the old and often tangled growth, be careful not to damage any of the slightly brittle new growth that may already be emerging, or the supporting plant for that matter. Feed and mulch once you have pruned and, as with the jasmine, use a stone to cover the roots to keep them cool and moist if you do not have any mulch to hand. 

Bulbs

      • Crocuses should be with you this month and even some brave daffodils like February Gold. Some bulbs like Iris reticulate or I. histrioides will also be emerging and they could do with a bit of overhead protection. A sheet of glass or Perspex suspended on some stones or bricks or a lovely Victorian cloche will stop the flowers from being spoilt by rain or snow and will hasten their arrival as well.

      • Great month for bulbs in the green. Snowdrops establish most reliably if they are planted ‘in the green’ this month and next. We sell purpose grown bulbs if you want to order now. If not from us, then find a reliable supplier of snowdrops (not someone who has nicked them from the wild!) Plant them with a smattering of bonemeal a little deeper than they had originally been planted. Water if the soil is dry. If you are lucky enough to have too many snowdrops, now is the time to divide any overcrowded clumps once they have finished flowering by lifting them carefully with a fork. Separate each plant out and replant them in singles or little groups at the same depth as they were growing beforehand. 

Olive and Bay

      • This is the same advice as for December and it will also apply in March
      • Keep an eye on the thermometer and if it begins to plummet then move your pots with bay trees to a frost-free place or wrap them well with horticultural fleece/hessian/straw and polythene. In a sheltered spot, out of the wind. Ours seem to tolerate temperatures down to about -10C
      • If either your bay or olive tree are under the eaves, make sure that they are watered just enough to stop their compost completely drying out.occasionally.

Nature

      • February is the hungriest month for wildlife and it pays to feed your birds and small mammals not only for the joy of seeing them about in the garden but because it will distract them from feasting on any bulbs and buds.

Miscellaneous

      • Despite the cold weather warning below I think February is one of the most exciting times of the year. It is a fantastic time to plant and you can also see the beginnings of spring with some of the bulbs and climbers. Buds will be swelling all over the place. It is just a good time to be in the garden

      • Really boring one this one, but gutters are worth checking for moss and leaves that are clogging up the drainage. Any trapped muck is a great addition to the compost.

      • Remain careful about walking over waterlogged or frosted grass.

      • Open the doors and windows of your greenhouse on a sunny day to let the air circulate so the through draught will help rid you of spores and mildews that may otherwise thrive and cause disease in your plants.

      • Spring really is coming and so seed sowing is around the corner. Get ahead of the game and order your seeds, multi-purpose composts, vermiculites, labels, seed trays and all the other paraphernalia now so that when those first sunny days inspire you to start sowing seeds you are already prepared.

      • Hellebores should still be looking at their best this month. Snip off any large leaves that are obscuring the flowers, especially if the leaves are looking blotchy, and the flowers will look more obvious and will unfurl more readily. 

Postscript

    • February is a funny old month and it often flatters to deceive. There is always the chance of a few warm days that can fool one into thinking winter is gone. But March often comes in "like a lion" so dd not be in too much of a hurry to plant out less tender plants or to remove winter protection.
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