Essential tasks for February
Keep your garden looking its best with our guide to essential tasks that need doing in February.
In the Flower garden
Prune clematis: Summer-flowering clematis can be pruned back hard. These will make rapid new growth during spring to carry flowers later this year. Clematis to prune early in the month include those in the texensis group and viticella group, as well as C. tangutica, C. vitalba, C. integrifolia, and C. x durandii. Many large-flowered hybrids should also be pruned down to emerging buds, including 'Jackmanii', 'Hagley Hybrid' and 'Ville de Lyon'.
Deadheading: Winter and spring bedding plants tend to flower in phases depending on temperature. Play your part by keeping pansies, primulas and other plants regularly deadheaded. Pick off faded blooms to keep plants looking tidy and prevent them setting seed, which can reduce flowering performance.
Moving plants: This is also a good time to move shrubs or flowers to a new position if they have outgrown their site.
Dividing herbaceous perennials: In mild areas, clumps of perennials can be divided and healthy young outer portions replanted into freshly prepared soil. (Herbaceous refers to plants that have leaves and stems that die at the end of the growing season to the soil level.)
Prune dogwood: Now you've enjoyed the dramatic colours of your winter dogwoods, they can be cut back hard down to ground level. This will encourage them to produce brightly coloured new shoots that will provide interest next winter.
Early anemones: Early flowering bulbs come into their own this month. These include Dutch iris and alliums planted last autumn, but now is the time to plant up pots of anemones such as Anemone coronaria De Caen Group, or their double-flowered counterparts in the Saint Bridgid Group. There are several named forms including the scarlet-blue A. coronaria 'Mister Fokker'. Before planting, the dry tubers are best soaked for 24 hours to absorb water, during which time they will double in size. Plant in pots for an early display, or plant outside later in March or early April.
Lilies: Continue planting lily bulbs up in pots. Aim to plant about five bulbs of the same variety in a 25cm (10in) container. Terracotta pots are ideal, as their weight provides extra stability for the tall flower spikes that eventually develop.
In the Glasshouse
Tender plants: Tender plants, such as pelargoniums and fuchsias, must be kept at a temperature above about 4C (40F). Check over plants once a week and remove any dead flowers or leaves that you find, to reduce the risk of fungal diseases. If any shoots have started to rot, trim them back to healthy growth. Keep their compost almost dry and make sure that there is good air circulation around the plants - a fan heater is an easy way of doing this.
Sow bedding plants: Create a heated area of the greenhouse by using bubble polythene to partition off a small area of the greenhouse. This can then be used for raising plants. Make the first sowings in a heated propagator of summer bedding plants that need a long growing season. These include geraniums, petunias, busy lizzies and nicotianas. Most require a germination temperature of 21C (70 F).
Amaryllis: Amaryllis, also known as Hippeastrums, are wonderful flowering houseplants for this time of year. To get the most out of yours, water plants as required, usually once or twice a week, by standing them in a saucer of water. The plants will take up as much water as they require. After about half an hour, tip away any remaining water so the roots are not left standing in water. Feed plants weekly with houseplant liquid feed. Keep them indoors on a bright window-sill in a warm spot.
Cold frames: A cold frame can provide extra winter protection for plants of borderline hardiness. Position the frames carefully, choosing a sheltered site in full light, so that they benefit from the warmth of the sun but aren't blasted by cold winds. Although you could put electric warming cables in your frame, they are normally left unheated, as their wooden sides provide some insulation from the cold. Open them on warm days to provide ventilation and prevent conditions getting too warm. Close up again at night and be prepared to cover the frame with an extra overcoat of insulation, such as an old rug, if conditions turn very cold.
Begonias: Clean off any remaining dead foliage from tuberous begonia tubers. Then remove them from their pots and knock off the old compost. Repot the tubers into pots of fresh compost, water them in and keep at a temperature of around 16C (60F). It’s also a good time of year to plant new tubers of begonias and gloxinia.
Chrysanthemums: Take cuttings from overwintered stools (root stocks) of chrysanthemum during February. It's also a good time to order new varieties from specialist chrysanthemum nurseries usually via mail order.
In the Kitchen Garden
Harvesting: You can enjoy fresh veg even in the depths of winter. Leeks, Brussels sprouts and cabbages can be picked as you need them. Check sprouts regularly to catch them before they become too large. There are also root crops to lift, including Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips. Covering the soil with straw will help to ensure that it doesn’t freeze solid so you can carry on harvesting in the harshest of weather. Lift them carefully, with a garden fork, to avoid damaging them. Remember to save a few Jerusalem artichoke tubers to replant in spring.
Crops to sow: In warm districts, crops that can be sown under cloches include broad beans, early carrots and parsnips. Shallots can also be planted out. Sow summer cabbage, leeks and onions under cover in a warm propagator. Learn how to sow outdoors
Fruit in store: Check apples and pears in store, removing any that show signs of rot or deterioration.
Early potatoes: Buy seed potatoes of early varieties now and place in trays with their sprouting ends uppermost. Keep in a cool but light spot for the shoots to develop, ready for planting later in March.
Rhubarb: Cover the crowns with either buckets or forcing jars to help promote early pickings. Lift and divide congested clumps.
Asparagus: Order crowns for planting later and start preparing the site to ensure it has been dug thoroughly and is free from weeds.
New fruit: Bare-rooted fruit trees, bushes and soft fruits can all be planted now. Where possible, choose disease-resistant varieties. Prune large apple and pear trees now to remove congested branches. Sprinkle phosphate of potash around fruit trees and bushes. Shorten sideshoots on trained gooseberries back to two or three buds.
Vines: Prune outdoor grape vines, shortening last year’s fruited shoots to encourage new growth.
Spread mulch: Spread mulch this month before plants get too large. Use a thick layer of compost, pulverised bark or similar material over borders and between trees, shrubs, roses and fruit. This can be applied up to 5cm to 7.5cm (2in to 3in) thick, if you have sufficient material. Newly emerging perennials should grow up through it. Take care not to cover dwarf bulbs, such as winter aconites, now in flower.
Clean pots and trays: Piles of pots and stacks of dirty seed trays need to be washed out and stored away ready for use this spring. Add in some general household disinfectant, then rinse in clean water. Using hot water makes the job more bearable on a cold day. Traditional pot cleaning brushes are available, but any brush will do to thoroughly remove dirt and old compost that could harbour pests or diseases.
Order seeds: Send off to mail-order companies for seeds to sow this spring. An impressive range of new varieties of flowers and vegetables can be found in most catalogues, so do try some of these exciting introductions to complement your tried and tested favourites. Remember to store seed packets in a cool and dry place, such as in a sandwich box in your fridge, until ready for sowing.
Cover soil for sowing or digging: Covering soil with a large sheet of clear polythene, held down with lengths of wood or bricks, will help keep heavy rain off so the soil remains dry and workable. Simply roll back the sheet to continue digging when you get time, replacing the polythene afterwards. This is particularly useful for heavy or clay soils. Also use polythene to warm the soil for early sowings. A single layer left in place for a couple of weeks can raise the soil temperature by a few degrees. This will help to encourage rapid germination and establishment.
Composting: Even if you don’t get time to start the winter digging, try and cover areas to be dug with a layer of compost or manure. This will be worked in by worms over time, or it can be lightly forked in to the surface in spring to prepare the soil for planting.
Tree ties: Check tree ties to ensure they aren’t cutting into the bark. Replace any that are worn or damaged. It is particularly important to check your tree stakes and ties for damage after heavy wind and storms.
Ice and snow: Knock snow from trees and shrubs to prevent its weight breaking branches. Keep using floating pond heaters to prevent ice forming over the entire surface of ponds.