Jobs to do in the February Garden
This is a month of anticipation, now that there’s an appreciable difference in the daylight hours. As young green shoots begin to ready themselves for blooming later in the year there’s a feeling in the air that a new gardening season is about to start. If the wind is to the east at the beginning of this month, winter is likely to remain for a few weeks longer. However, if the weather continues to be mild and wet, the winter is virtually over, especially if the wind is westerly. If the weather does stay mild, there are always little jobs that will set you up for a productive gardening year.
Nothing is urgent, but it is a good time to get back into the habit of going out and seeing what is happening and to start thinking about where you would like to be in a few months’ time when summer is in full swing. Remember, you can’t do everything but try something different, challenge yourself and do something that excites you and keeps you coming back out for more!
Start Planning Summer Displays
Set aside some time to start thinking about what you would like to try out this summer. It is satisfying to browse through gardening books whilst the rain is hammering against the window. If there’s an area of your garden that you’re not happy with, decide on a plan of action this month.
Now, before the birds start nesting, is the best time of year to clear your garden, if it has become overgrown. It’s too easy to just live with what you have; think instead of the potential for what your garden might be like if it were to be cleared.
Plant and Divide Snowdrops
If you want to grow snowdrops in your garden plant them ‘in-the-green’ later this month after they have finished flowering, but before the leaves have died down. This helps them absorb moisture quickly after they have been planted, as dry, rootless snowdrop bulbs do not re-establish well. You can buy them from garden centres, or, if you have a friend with some to spare in their garden, ask for a clump. They won’t take long to establish themselves if you choose the right spot in your garden.
Snowdrops enjoy a well-drained spot in light shade, similar to their natural woodland habitat. If you are planting your bulbs in a heavy soil, as many of us have in Oxfordshire, add a little sharp sand or grit to the planting hole to improve drainage. I think a great combination in the garden is to plant them under the red barked Dogwood – Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Variegata.’ All snowdrop species are endangered and wild snowdrops are protected under law, which means that they must never be picked or lifted from their wild or existing habitat.
Apply Organic Fertiliser to your Borders
It’s too early to apply synthetic or chemical fertilizers – these are useful later in the season to act as a quick tonic getting plants off to a quick start – but organic fertilisers release goodness into the soil at a slower rate and now is the perfect time to apply them. Blood, fish and bone, seaweed meals and pelleted chicken manures have some soil conditioning properties and are available to plants over a longer period than chemical products and ensure plants grow steadily and sturdily.
This is a good month for pruning woody plants. Hardy shrubs that flower on new wood later in the summer, for example the ‘Butterfly Bush’, Buddlejia davidii, can be cut right down hard to the base. It’s amazing just how well shrubs respond to this, putting on rapid growth over the spring and summer months to flower later on in the year. Just ensure that you leave a few shoots at the base to form the basic structure of the plant. I use the left over twiggy prunings as supports for plants such as Delphiniums in March but for now you can keep them in a corner of the garden ready to act as stakes later in the gardening year.
One of the commonest questions I’m asked on gardening is how and when to prune Wisterias. In fact, they can be left to ramble unchecked where space allows, but will usually flower more freely and regularly if pruned twice a year, once in August and again in February. Simply cut back the growth to two or three buds to ensure that the flowers will not be obscured by leaves. The idea is to have a skeleton frame of well-spaced branches. On an overgrown Wisteria, this may require some time and patience but it is well worth the effort to enjoy the spectacle of flowers later in the year.