February is an important month for your garden. It is the last month where there are not absolutely urgent tasks, yet if these February jobs are not completed you will be chasing your tail for the rest of the year. It is the great set up month, and if you put the hours in, you will ride the wave for the rest of the year.
We have had a very mild Winter so already plants are beginning to shoot and bulbs are up even earlier this year.
In order to allow space for new or dormant plants to thrive, a full scale clearing and cutting back is needed. Once this is achieved you will be able to see where to plan new beds, create a planting scheme and perhaps put in some stronger evergreen structural interest that will create a powerful contract to the froth and colour of Spring and Summer.
If you are going to design a new bed, or get help with a garden designer, now is the last time you’ll be guaranteed availability!
Firstly, this is the month to clear away all the old leaves you were leaving in the beds for wildlife, gathering up piles and relocating them to corners of your garden and under shrubs where they can’t be seen. Old seed heads and perennials, now pretty much eaten and cleaned out by birds and the weather, can be cut to ground level. Deciduous ornamental grasses can also be shorn to ground level and composted. Evergreen grasses like Anamanthela lessoniana and the Carexes can be thinned out and trimmed if necessary. The old foliage of perennials like old Aquilegia and any brown or yellowing leaves of Hellebore leaves take be stripped out to allow more light for new growth. Sedums can be pruned to ground level.
Shrubs like Dogwood, Willow and Cotinus can be strongly pruned back, even to 40cm from ground level depending on the new height you need it to attain this year. Dogwood can even be pruned all the way to the ground.
The famous Buddlea pruning is also done now and you can be a rigorous as you like with these.
Most winter flowering plants, like Viburnum bodnantense, Mahonia and Jasmine nudiflorum can be strongly pruned back once they have finished flowering, and climbers such as Wisteria, Grape and Climbing Roses can be cut back to two buds from the main leader or structural stems. The Clematis in your garden that flower AFTER June can be pruned hard back now, the ones that flower before June just need a light trim now- if at all. In general, Group 1 Clematis only need a light touch tidy up eg Alpina, Macopetala and Montana, Group 2 more of an intelligent prune and Group 3 a vigorous prune as these latter will flower later on in the year.
Any deciduous hedges can be pruned hard back now before birds start setting up their nests and autumn fruiting Raspberries can be taken right back to the ground. Fuchsias can be taken back- normally I just prune them with big shears into the shape I want them to begin new growth from. You will need to assess how robust a plant they are in order not to clobber so mush they won’t Spring back.
Evergreen shrubs and hedges can be pruned now.
Last chance to prune apple and pears, as well as give them a good feed of potash around their roots. Hygranges can be reduced up to a half with some old craggy stems removed from the base.
Moving and Planting
This is the last time shrubs and trees can be moved around the garden now if they have become too big or you need the space for other plants. It is surprising how good the success rate can be if you manage to dig out a good proportion of the root ball. We moved many huge shrubs and trees last year and so far haven’t lost one.
Perennials of course can be moved or split in half to get an extra one to give away or replant.
There is still time to plant bare root trees, shrubs and hedges. These are cheaper than pot grown plants and sometimes take to the new conditions more quickly.
Once you have cleared your garden, you can start preparing designated areas for vegetables, annuals or new perennial and shrub planting. Creating a fine tilth in your vegetable beds will set you up for the first seed rows to plant at the end of this month. You can get ahead of the game by bringing on seeds in your greenhouse or lean to: Ammi major, Marigolds and Cerinthe major as well as runner beans, french beans, carrots, beetroot and spinach. If you have a frost free warm pocket in your garden you can start to chit potatoes ready for planting out early. If you experienced a lot of blight recently, try the Sarpo varieties.
Hardy plants like kale can even be sown directly into the soil now.
As well as seeds, clumps of snowdrop bulbs can be divided after flowering to help multiply your collection and summer/autumn flowering bulbs like Gladioli, Nerines and Dahlias can be ordered online now, or bought from a nursery.
You can also force Rhubarb now.
Fruit trees like peaches can be protected with cloche to keep the frost away from tender blossoms. Your soil can be kept moist and considerably weed free this year by applying a thick bark mulch (not too thick that your bulbs can’t emerge) and tender seeds can be covered with horticultural fleece to keep them warmer.
What to do in February
Wakehurst garden launched it’s Winter Garden two years ago with 33,000 plants in unusual bold combinations, so if you need some late winter inspiration that’s the place to visit. You will need to book a time slot ticket and it is open from 10-4pm. Arundel Castle will have its usual large Tulip display in March/April.