This Month in the Garden – February 2018

February is a month for preparation; preparing for the new gardening year that lies ahead. Writing this in mid January, I had been working in the garden for the first time this year cutting out the old leaves on the hellebores when I noticed the first signs of white on the snowdrop buds and then streaks of yellow on the winter aconites. Things are beginning to move and it is time to get going. Once again, Spring excites us with a sense of anticipation …First of all, there are likely to be some rather unexciting jobs waiting to be done. Methodical people will doubtless wash each set of flower pots once they have been used but if you are like me, you may have a good array of pots and seed trays that need washing. It’s a good job for a wet day, as I remember from my student holiday job in the local parks department a great many years ago. The glass in greenhouses and cold frames is likely to be murky and green and that too will need  a scrub. Perhaps the shed could also do with a tidy-up. This is also a good time for painting sheds and fences with wood preservative provided the wood is dry.

If you have left dead growth and seed heads on perennials in the expectation of feeding the birds and enjoying a frosty sun lighting up the garden, now is the time for tidying up. Cut down dead growth and shred it or break it up for composting or used as a mulch. Deciduous grasses should be cut down nearly to ground level while evergreen grasses can be ’combed’ to clear out the dead debris. The dead growth of large flowered clematis that bloom in summer should be cut back to a bud a foot or so above ground level. Pampas grass is best dealt with by cutting out the old stems and combing or raking the dead matter from the green growth. The soil in the borders will need turning over either with a large fork or a hand fork depending on the amounts of bare soil. Watch out for spring bulbs coming through and wait until soil is reasonably dry.

Many days of cold, dull and dank weather may have kept you indoors during January but the best time for pruning fruit trees and bushes will soon be running out. Pruning is necessary for optimum fruit production and to keep things a manageable size. Where possible, it is best to keep fruit trees so that you can reach the fruit easily rather than needing a ladder. If you are buying new trees they will be available on dwarfing root stocks so that the tree will not grow very tall.  Most pruning of apples and pears  consists of cutting back the straight growths that developed last year. Larger branches may need to be taken out where  growth is very dense. The aim is to keep the centre of the tree open so that light and air can get into it.  New growth on currant bushes should be cut back by a third and autumn-fruiting raspberries  cut down to just above the ground. Summer fruiting raspberries must be left alone now as this year’s fruit will come from the existing canes. They should be cut down in late summer after fruiting. Raspberries benefit from mulching at this time of year.

There won’t be a lot to do in the vegetable garden yet apart from finishing the winter digging if the ground is dry enough. Turning over wet soil is hard work and will leave it muddy and lumpy rather than friable.  If you have got a heated greenhouse you will be able to start sowing early green crops and tomatoes in pots or seed trays. Most of us will need to wait until March for this. If you have a greenhouse with an earth border you can start sowing radish and early salad leaves.

February needn’t be all hard work and I hope you will find time for the increasingly popular activity of visiting a snowdrop display.  Anglesey Abbey is first choice for many and I think Chippenham Park near Newmarket is very attractive.  Many other gardens now have snowdrop and hellebore displays. Use Google for options and visiting times.

Jeremy Arthern

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