The garden seems to slowly start coming to life again, after a few months of dormancy. Towards the end of February, temperatures slowly rise, light levels increase and the dawn chorus increases in volume. Buds on the early spring blossom begin to open and the flowering bulbs begin to push through the soil. Spring is definitely around the corner!
February marks the beginning of the gardening year for me. The shed is given a spring-clean, treasured terracotta pots and tools are given their annual wash and window sills are transformed into mini greenhouses, with pots of early sown seeds competing for space. This year I have taken on a new allotment, so February will be a busy month, as I prepare to sow seeds with wild abandon.
Here are my top ten tips for gardening both indoor and outdoor in February:
1. Remove faded flowers from container grown Winter Pansies and Violas. This will encourage more flowers during spring and prevent them going to seed. Early flowering Primulas should be deadheaded regularly to encourage fresh flowers. Remove any dead or decaying leaves from container plants, to avoid encouraging slugs and snails in early spring. Continue to ensure containers remain well watered, especially if they are planted with spring bulbs. Avoid watering during periods of frost.
2. Once Snowdrops have flowered, congested clumps can be lifted and divided and planted 'in the green'. Simply dig out a clump and divide, taking care to ensure the green leaves remain attached to the bulb. Replant as individual bulbs in an area with damp soil and dappled shade. Snowdrops are best planted in the green, as their bulbs dry out quicker than other spring flowering bulbs and they are available to buy online from bulb merchants.
3. Cut back deciduous grasses to the ground, if they have been left unpruned over winter. Remove dead material from evergreen grasses, to make space for new growth in the coming months. Continue to tidy up decaying material from around perennials and remove remaining leaf litter from borders, so as not to encourage the slugs and snails as they arrive in early spring.
4. Tomatoes and Chilli Peppers can be sown under glass towards the end of the month. Preferably in a heated propagator or on a warm windowsill with lots of light. Avoid sowing too early, as you may end up with leggy plants. Ideally sowing should be completed ten weeks before the last predicted frost.
5. Citrus plants, which have been over-wintered indoors, can be given a prune to encourage bushy growth. Congested branches can be cut back by two thirds, using clean, sharp secateurs. Soil can be refreshed by removing the top two to three inches of old compost and replaced with fresh citrus compost. Overwintering citrus can be challenging for the most experienced gardeners - ensure that indoor grown plants do not dry out completely and that they are kept away from radiators and drafts. A small amount of winter citrus feed once a month may do your plants some good, check leaves for pests and diseases regularly.
6. Cacti have once again become a popular choice of houseplant, are easy to look after and require little attention. Winter is their dormant period, so they require little watering and no feeding. Other houseplants should be given little water during the next couple of months, particularly Streptocarpus and African Violets. Ensure that houseplants are receiving an adequate amount of light. Pests and diseases such as Whitefly and Aphids can be kept at bay using a diluted mixture of washing up liquid and water.
7. Indoor forced bulbs can be put outside in a sheltered spot to die back or planted directly into the garden, so they will flower next year. Potted Amaryllis should be kept indoors if you intend to keep them for flowering the following year. Cut back spent flower stalks to just above the nose of the bulb and continue to water and feed until the leaves die back in late summer.
8. Dahlias and other summer flowering bulbs are widely available in garden centres now. Dahlias are easy to grow and can be an inexpensive way to fill your garden with colour throughout the summer months. When selecting tubers, ensure that they are firm and not mushy. Store them in a cool dark place until you are ready to plant them (from March/ April undercover and May directly outdoors).
9. If you have a garden for cutting flowers, prepare your beds in readiness for the sowing season ahead. Remove any stubborn perennial weeds that are hiding under the soil, such as brambles and bindweed. Sieve stony soil, if necessary, and rake the soil to a fine tilth. Borders can also be given a boost by adding organic feeds such as chicken manure and seaweed.
10. Bring the outside in - I love to bring branches into the house to force into blossom. Early flowering trees such as Prunus mume, Blackthorn and Magnolia create stunning displays for the house. Scented shrubs, such as Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii) and Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) will fill your house with fragrance.