Finally the end of winter is in sight and within just a few weeks the first shoots of spring will start to appear across the UK.
it’s not over yet though late frosts are extremely common and often February can end up showing us some of the worst winter weather going.
However this doesn’t mean all of your gardening activities have to stop, there is plenty of things you can prepare for spring and even though it’s getting a little late you can still select some great fruit trees to plant. Container grown is the best choice for this time of year although bare-root fruit plants will still establish.
As with all of our advice you may need to tweak your schedule depending on local weather, if the ground is still waterlogged or even frozen you should avoid sowing anything until your confident that the soil will support new plant life.
Chitting is a subject which comes with a great debate attached, in a similar way to searing meat before stewing, some say it makes all the difference others notice no difference, the main thing to take from this is that it does not harm the potatoes either way so if you have the time and resources you should go ahead and do it anyway.
Place the potatoes in a cool, frost-free environment, the room should be light, but you should ensure your seeds avoid bright, direct sunlight which might hamper their development. This process allows the initial roots and shoots to form on the seed prior to planting out later in the spring. Personally I think the process is worth the extra time and effort, I find it makes planting out easier.
February is not the best time to plant most vegetables outdoors, however there are some exceptions if soil conditions in your area allow for it. As the soil warms up and the risk of frost decreases you may want to consider planting early peas and broad beans for harvest during May and June. Excellent for an early summer treat!
There are other vegetables which you can plant and germinate towards the end of February, these include shallots which can be given a helping hand with the use of some protection.
So that covers outdoors what about greenhouses?
If you are lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of a greenhouse or coldframe you will be well aware of the advantages, however those with a cool spare room can also achieve similar results.
You want to be sowing radish, lettuce or rocket, if using a windowsill ensure there is plenty of sunlight to avoid weak, stretched seedlings and also keep an eye on the temperature, simple problems can be easily avoided if you know what your looking for.
Deciding to invest in a greenhouse, grow-house or small polytunnel doesn’t have to be expensive, there are lots of affordable options available at your local garden centre, pop in and ask next time your close. A cheap growhouse is often the best “starter” option.
With the use of a heated electric propagator you can start growing more adventurous vegetables (or fruits) including varieties of different spicy chillies and sweet peppers, both excellent additions to “grow your own” recipes. If you want to give these a little head start a small grow bulb can help you establish seedlings more easily.
Always ensure the light is placed directly above the plant. The light should be approx 10cm from the top of the seedling, but remember as a general rule too far away and the seed will stretch, too close and the small-vulnerable leaves will scorch. You don’t have to go crazy buying expensive growing equipment an old lamp and a “cool-white” bulb won’t cost the earth and it’s a good way to kick start the growth before we plant them on later.
Remember: Be very careful when using electricity in grow areas, you need to be sensible with how you power the light, make sure the plug is ABOVE the height of the bulb and as far away as possible, this ensures there is minimal risk when you water your seedlings. Never use a misting sprayer around any plants which are under a light, this can also be dangerous. Use common sense and be mindful at all times.
Finally in February we can also look at forcing and growing Rhubarb, it requires nothing more than a change in light and heat conditions to get it going so don’t worry about it not falling into the not organic category no chemicals are used.
It’s not even a difficult process, simply take the Rhubarb crown and place it under something which will block the light, personally I use an upside bucket but I have seen other methods used. It’s a great idea to insulate the outside of the bucket using an insulating material, a personal favourite of mine is to use straw but again it’s up to you, some prefer sheets of plant fleece.
We hope to put together a full guide shortly to cover this subject.
So that covers most of the Vegetable jobs for February, remember depending on conditions you may need to adjust the timing’s slightly and allow for local frosts to pass before some of these projects can be undertaken. If you get stuck let us know, we would love to know why and we can help if you think we have missed something important.
Making improvements to your garden can contribute greatly to injecting a new lease of life into your home. Whether you are installing decking or simply laying new turf, these changes can pay dividends towards giving your garden a fresh new look.
Laying new turf will certainly make your outside space look neat and tidy and if you are thinking about installing decking or a new patio, for example, your garden will have a more welcoming, sociable feel.
You may decide to take on your planned alterations yourself and if so, it would be useful to have some DIY experience, or someone with the experience to give you a helping hand!
Whatever changes you are thinking of making, you can be safe in the knowledge that you will not only add significant value to your home, but also achieve a look that you can show off in those summer months and gain a usable outdoor space for your family and friends.
If you are determined to lay the turf yourself then the perfect time to lay a new lawn from scratch is early autumn, when the grass can root easily. Before you begin, you must make sure that the area to be treated is prepared correctly.
You will need to ensure that all weeds, large stones and non-organic waste are removed from the surface. If you are replacing an existing lawn, dig off the existing grass to about two inches.
The next job is to create a completely even surface to lay the turf upon. Have a garden fork, spade and a rake handy to help you with this. Firm the soil by walking across the entire area, treading down the whole surface and then rake for a fine finish.
Once you are happy that you have a clean, flat surface, sprinkle granular fertiliser over the soil (this is available at your local garden centre and will help the new turf to root) and then lightly rake the surface once more. Finish preparing the soil by watering it. Your turf is now ready to be laid!
It is important that you lay the new turf within 12 hours of delivery to avoid deterioration. Start by laying your first row along a straight edge and ensure good contact with the soil by pressing down firmly with the back of a rake. Lay the next row, making sure the pieces of turf are pushed right up to the first row. Subsequent rows should be laid in a brickwork pattern until the area has been covered.
You will then need to water the whole area; it is best to use a sprinkler to avoid walking on the turf. Try to refrain from walking on your new lawn for a few weeks while the turf roots into the soil and trim it lightly with the mower blades set high.
And that is it! All you need now is a bit of luck with the weather and to keep the turf watered.
The process of constructing a patio or decked area in your garden is a little more challenging than laying new turf, but if you feel comfortable with a bit of DIY then this project can prove very rewarding!
It is important to plan, even before you have bought the kit, the location of your proposed patio/decked area. Think about the parts of your garden that catch the sun for extended periods of the day/evening or that give you a little privacy from the neighbours.
There are various designs for decked areas (for example low level or elevated decks) so you will need to decide which design you prefer or which would be best suited to you garden. If you opt for an elevated deck, you may need some professional help to install the foundations and supports for your decking.
You might also want to consider the purpose of your designated area and what you envisage having on there, to get some idea of the amount of patio slabs/decking you will need to purchase.
Before you begin installing your decking, it is a good idea to remove any turf or plantation that may grow up between the deck boards, and also to make sure that the area drains water effectively.
Plants need a reliable supply of water for germination, growth, flowering and fruiting. Water is essential for the uptake of nutrients from the soil as well as temperature regulation. Although plants have diverse requirements for water, here are some useful general guidelines on watering your plants.
In dry conditions, established plants benefit from thorough and infrequent watering rather than a daily splash.
Plant roots will only grow into moist ground, so if the soil is dry below and damp above, roots will be concentrated around the surface. Occasional heavy watering encourages plant roots to grow downwards where there is a more reliable water supply and source of nutrients.
Unless you have a natural spring or stream in your garden, the best source of water is the mains.
Before watering lime-hating plants though, check whether your mains supply contains lime.
Rain barrels can be used for watering plants growing in the ground but never for containerised plants. This is because phytopthera fungi, often present, can infect and kill such in confined conditions.
Learn how to identify whether your plants need watering.
For plants in containers, you can judge by the weight of the container or by pushing your finger inside the pot to assess the dryness of the soil.
In the garden, the best time to water is in the evening. Water the soil underneath the leaf canopy, not the leaves, and mound the soil to make a basin shape for better drainage.
Top priority should be given to newly-planted specimens. With bedding plants inserted directly from cells or pots, keep the soil moist for one month after planting.
Trees and shrubs planted from containers will need watering for longer – they will need this extra watering for up to a year after planting to make sure they are established.
If a plant is wilting or the leaves look dull or rolled up, it needs watering immediately. The best technique is to shade the plant and spray the foliage with clear water. Then drench the soil and allow the surplus to drain away.
Vegetables grown for their leaves – such as lettuce and spinach – should be kept consistently moist. Others grown for their seeds – such as peas and beans – should not be watered before flowering as this will encourage leafy growth and few flowers.
Watering when in flower results in the production of more and juicier vegetables. If water is in short supply, your potato crop can be increased by a heavy watering about ten days before harvest.
To reduce the need to water, dig in organic material when planting and apply a 50-75mm (2-3in) layer of mulch.
Newly planted and young seedlings should receive a fine mist from a hosepipe spray attachment or a fine rose from a watering can to avoid disturbing the roots. The tougher or older the plant, the more vigorous the watering can be.
Sprinklers are useful for large areas of the garden but remember that watering bare soil will result in the growth of more weeds. It is a good idea to leave a few straight-sided containers on the ground to catch the water and give an idea of how much has been applied. A 25mm (1in) depth would normally be sufficient for each watering.
If you’re going on holiday, you can leave your houseplants with a reservoir of water by placing them on the draining board on capillary matting that trails into a sinkful of water.
Feng Shui is the ancient art of placement. Basically, if you place your belongings in the correct position in any physical environment, the residents of the area will invite balance and harmony into their lives. Incorporate the philosophy of Feng Shui into your garden.
The art of Feng Shui divides any environment into eight sectors known as trigrams. Each trigram is represented by a compass direction and specific characteristics. Use the trigram as a guide when designing your garden.
Incorporate extra grit if your soil is poorly drained or if your plants require it - this is particularly important if you're planting bulbs and alpines.
Add organic matter to improve the soil. High levels of organic matter are required by some plants but all will benefit.
Level off the site and break down large lumps of soil.
If you have not prepared the whole area dig a hole for the plant twice as wide and as deep as the original container and improve the soil as above. If the soil is low in nutrients - for example if your soil is sandy - add a light dressing of fertiliser in the planting hole and mix well. Add a further light top dressing after planting but not close to the stem. Do not use large amounts of fertiliser as this can damage plant roots.
Check the hole is large enough for the plant, ensuring all the roots will fit in when extended.
Soak the plant. Immersion for a short time is the best method - when bubbles stop coming to the surface, remove and allow the surplus water to drain away.
Remove the container and if the plant roots are dense gently loosen so they will branch out into new ground. Ideally, new roots will just be reaching the outside of the pot at planting time - in this case do not disturb at all.
Depth of planting is important: the plant should usually end up at the same depth in the ground as it was in the pot. Place a pole across the planting hole to enable you to judge this.
Planting depth can be important with some plants - for example plant peonies too deep and they will take years to come into flower. Plant clematis too shallow (the lower stem should be buried) and they are susceptible to clematis wilt. Check plant instructions for details on planting depth.
Water in well, thoroughly soaking the soil. For trees and shrubs, mound soil around the perimeter of the planting hole to retain water and fill a number of times and daily thereafter for a few weeks. Trees and shrubs may need watering for up to a year. Tall trees may require staking - particularly in a windy site.
Finish off by mulching the ground with a 50 - 75mm (2 - 3in) layer of organic matter to discourage weeds and retain moisture. If you do not, you must scrupulously remove weeds. New weed seeds will germinate quickly, competing with your plants for water and food.
If the roots have been damaged (eg if you have moved the plant from another situation) balance the roots and the top of the plant by pruning. This will encourage the plant to grow away better. Many plants (never rhododendrons) benefit from pruning at planting time. See Pruning Tips for more information about this.
Tip: For alpines and plants susceptible to neck rots, mulch with grit immediately around the stems to keep dry.
Pruning is one of the most misunderstood and feared subjects in gardening. In practice, though, there is little to worry about. Few plants will be killed by cutting bits off – it’s more likely they will grow even stronger. Here’s how to go about it.
It’s not essential to remove dead branches but it can make plants look better and encourages plants to redirect growth into new vigorous shoots which will flower better. If caused by disease, however, cut out completely to live healthy wood lower down the plant.
Prune as illustrated, just above a healthy bud.
Tip: Clean blades with methylated spirits between plants to avoid spreading disease.
If blocking a view or path, unwanted growths can be cut back to a main stem.
For thick growth, the technique is as illustrated. Make a small upwards cut about 30cm (1in) from the main stem, then a downward cut to remove the weight of the branch to avoid tearing the bark. Lastly, make a single tidying-up cut leaving a small stump about 12mm (1/2in) from the main stem – no closer.
A mass of thin shoots congesting the centre of plants can reduce air circulation and encourage mildew, so on susceptible plants remove all weak and inwards crossing growths, leaving an open centre.
Suckers can grow after root damage to grafted plants. To remove, scrape away soil down to where they join the root and pull off. Cutting may encourage further growth.
Sometimes variegated plants have plain green shoots. Cut out completely or they may take over the plant.
Tip: If you have a plant growing lopsided, trim back the weak side only, reducing all shoots by about half and completely removing thin and weak branches.
For stems up to 12mm (1/2in) diameter, use secateurs. Up to about 37mm (1 1/2in), use long handled loppers. Use a pruning saw for thicker stems.
Long-handled pruners can be used when branches are out of reach – it’s safer than using a ladder!
Tip: When pruning fruit trees do not touch the cut surface with your hands or you will leave a deposit from your skin which will enable invading organisms to take hold. Leave the cut clean and open to the air so that natural healing processes can take place.