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.
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.