You may have taken a break from gardening over recent weeks but February is definitely the time to get back outside.
If we have snow don't let it remain on trees or shrubs as the weight might break delicate or weak branches and stems. Brush or shake it off and bank up soil around the shrubs to add a little extra strength. Check any stakes and ties for any winter damage or slippage.
When the ground isn’t frozen, plant bare rooted hedges and trees, shrubs and roses. Soak before planting and sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi over the roots to encourage a really effective root system. Follow up with a mulch to assist moisture retention.
Don't tread over your vegetable plot if it's too wet, but you can use a plank to stand on in order not to compact the soil. Spread organic matter so that worms can work it into the earth and dig in any green manure, don't let it go to seed.
If you haven't done so already, clean out and tidy up the greenhouse. Use soap and water or a sterilizing liquid. Seed trays and pots should also be cleaned thoroughly.
Pruning and Thining
Prune autumn fruiting raspberries close to the ground. Summer fruiting raspberries, blackberries and loganberries will have formed new canes last season, so make sure these are tied onto supports and cut old canes out completely.
Prune summer flowering clematis to the lowest pair of strong buds. This will encourage bushy growth and prevent it from becoming top heavy with a bare base. Also prune dogwoods hard for new growth and the best colour next winter, willows, elders and lavatera can receive the same treatment.
Fruit trees will appreciate a potassium boost as this is important for flowering and fruit formation. Sprinkle 100g of potassium rich fertilizer per square metre, late winter rain will then wash the nutrients to the roots. Follow the fertilizer with a 3in compost or rotted manure mulch.
Mop-headed hydrangeas flower on the previous year's wood, only old wood should be thinned out by a third to encourage vigorous new stems and remove dead, diseased and damaged stems.
Remove any damaged or old stems from roses and any stems that are congesting the middle of the bush. On hybrid roses cut back stems to about four buds, on floribundas not quite so hard. For climbers, prune back side shoots to two buds. Always use sloping cuts with a sharp pair of secateurs.
Treat hedges like old friends and give them some attention. Clear away any weeds and a lay down a compost mulch every year with a dusting of good general fertilizer. Regular trimming will keep them neat and also encourage compact growth. Make sure there is a camber or 'batter' on each side of the top, this allows light in and deflects rain and enables snow to be more easily brushed off before any damage is done to the shape. If the hedge is more informal, cut out dead or old branches to encourage new growth and improve shape.
It's worth inspecting variegated plants and ornamental trees to see if there is any reversion, prune out the offending stems, this won't cure the problem but will keep it under control.
Prepare For Spring
If you have left the skeletons of last year’s perennials in the ground, now is the time to cut them down close to the crown of the plant before any new shoots appear.
Clear the space around plants, picking out any weeds and mulch with about 2-3ins of organic matter. Mulching will seal in moisture, warm up the soil and, when worms work it in, feed the soil with goodness. Do not mulch over weeds and any that appear can easily be removed.
Container grown trees and shrubs should be re-potted using fresh compost every couple of years to ensure good growth and healthy roots. If you can't use a larger pot remove a quarter of the existing compost and replace with John Innes No.2, this is soil based and will add weight and stability.
Buy seed potatoes for next year's crop and start chitting in egg boxes. If left in the light at about 50°F each tuber should produce three – four strong shoots. What you don't need are lanky pale shoots that are produced in a dark, warm environment.
If you have poor soil, try chitting seeds by placing them on a damp kitchen towel in an airtight plastic box. Keep in a warm place until they start sprouting, then mix with a 50/50 blend of seed compost and vermiculite and sow in the ground as normal very lightly covered with soil.
Instead of complaining about the lack of colour currently in the garden, order this year's seeds and plants from those colourful catalogues and websites that promise so much. With good weather and hard work, the produce that is so well photographed can be yours.
Towards the end of the month warm up the soil with either cloches or polythene. It will be then be a welcoming environment for planting out seedlings. Slower growing hardy annuals and perennials can be started off on a window sill or in an unheated greenhouse, and sow summer bedding such as petunias, geraniums and verbena in a propagator to be planted out In May.
Fresh ginger roots sold in the shops can be grown as a house plant and in good conditions fresh roots can be harvested. Select a thumb sized piece with a bud, let it dry for 48 hours so the cut surface can heal. Plant lightly covered in multipurpose compost and place in a warm place. By September the plant will be quite sizeable if fed and repotted regularly while growing in good light.
February is more often than not the coldest month of the year and you need to make sure you've taken measures to prevent your pond freezing and livestock from suffering.
You should always keep an eye on the water level and, if needed, top up the pond to ensure that the depth of the pond is the maximum it can be. This helps prevent the pond from freezing solid, as shallow water can easily freeze completely into a block of ice causing fatalities for fish and plant life.
Keep a check on the weather forecast and if your pond is liable to freeze over, you will need to keep a small area free from ice with a pond heater. It will heat up just enough to keep a small gap open in the water allowing vital oxygen to enter and harmful gases to exit the pond.
Pond heaters are available in many sizes from a small 150 watt heater to some larger 2kw heaters, of course the one you choose will depend on the size of your pond and budget you have available.
Turn Off Your Waterfall
There will be no point in running a waterfall at this time of year as freezing water could cause your pond pump to burn out due to back pressure. Your best bet would be to raise the pump off the bottom of the pond if you haven't already and bypass the waterfall but leave your biological filter connected as it needs moving water to survive.
Biological filters will become mechanical filters below 4ºC because the bacteria cannot normally survive below this temperature. Mechanical filtration is better than no filtration of course and the moving water will be oxygenated, keeping the remaining bacteria alive in the pond and helping fish to survive.
Do Not Feed Fish
At this time of the year your fish will most likely be right at the bottom of the pond, hibernating in the deepest part. Leave them well alone and do not feed them as their digestive system will have shut down, any food they eat will break down inside their intestines causing harmful internal bacteria to form.
Towards the end of the month I would advise testing the water using a pond test kit as the rising temperatures will promote the breakdown of organic matter in the water, this can lead to water quality problems and these will only get worse if not treated early.
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