February Gardening Tips
It is easy to think of February as a good month to leave the garden to itself and stay out of the rain, but this time of year is so important.
If you have ever looked over your garden in midsummer with a critical eye, it is hard not to see jobs you should have done in the ‘off season. That shrub that was planted too close to its neighbour, a clashing colour combination or a wall or edging strip in sore need of replacement. In the summer there is usually just too much to do to take on any remedial work, and the plants will not thank you for being moved whilst in growth. It is also a great time to take on bigger projects like re planting herbaceous borders, creating new beds and vegetable plots or creating paths through woodland. With the leaves off the trees a path through woodland, however small is a great opportunity to use shade tolerant plants with winter or early spring interest like ferns, Camellias, trilliums or witch hazel.
The snowdrops are now coming up and flowering, so it is a good time to lift congested clumps and use the thinning to plant up other areas, perhaps take the opportunity to lift the canopy of a tree or shrub to plant them under. A quick look around most gardens would throw up some self-sown forget-me-nots, perhaps a pulmonaria that would appreciate dividing and a few primulas and you have the next few months covered!
Now is also a great time to plant bare root fruit trees, be it an orchard or a single specimen. Even a modest garden can hold dozens of fruit trees if you train them as cordons, I have a good twenty plus in a 400 square meter garden and they do not dominate it.
I have to recommend a peach to anyone who has a warm sunny spot in his or her garden. One of my clients gave me a 'Peregrine' peach to eat last year, from a fan-trained tree in a modest sized courtyard garden. It was the single best piece of fruit I’ve ever tasted, much better than any peach I’ve eaten from Morocco to Turkey. The sheltered site helps of course, micro climates can be incredibly extreme Friday. I was at a client’s house that faces south in a curve. The garden is terraced with Yorkstone paving and raised beds and the wall of the house just bakes with reflected heat from the Yorkstone. The garden is very exposed to the east with great views and the cold eastern wind was 'bracing...' but there, at the base of the house was an oriental poppy in full flower months early, with patches of snow just feet away.
It is not too early to get seed sowing under cover, in fact I like to get onions leeks and passion fruit sown last month and now is a great time to get chillies started. There is a huge variety of chillies, and they are a varied bunch. I try to stick to the medium heat varieties like Hungarian hot wax, the hotter varieties are not for me. I grew Prairy fire one year and whilst chopping them wiped my face with my hand. My face came up in a red welt. Chillies deserve respect! It is a good time to get vegetable seeds ordered too, which means having to decide between hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. I usually stick with a couple of reliable old favourites and then experiment with heritage varieties. I always grow Gardener’s Delight, which does well outdoors freeing greenhouse space, as does Sungold. When it comes to heritage varieties Brandywine did really well for me last year producing some huge tasty fruit, but you could grow a dozen different tomatoes every year for the rest of your life without ever having to grow the same one twice.
Last year I experimented with melons and watermelons. Watermelons are regarded as probably one of the hardest crops for the UK, but as with a bit of research on cold tolerant quick maturing types (Blacktail mountain) you can get a decent crop, especially with some bottom heat. Melons have been bred extensively now for northern climates so your choice is decent. The fast maturing types tend to be quite small, but in a good year, you can get rugby ball sized fruit outdoors. I usually did a 2-foot square hole, fill it with good garden compost and cover it with black plastic and plant through that. With all these, fruit it is important to keep the roots well hydrated but the stem as it comes out of the ground dry. A roof tile under the stem and the growing fruit keeps them from the wet soil and helps keep them warm. Be ruthless and just leave a couple of fruit on each plant for the best fruit.
Before anything goes into a greenhouse, it is important that they are thoroughly clean, especially if you have overwintering tender plants or crops in there. The low light, temperature and having to limit ventilation on cold days makes the growth of moulds a risk. I check greenhouses regularly and remove any sad looking leaves before a problem arises.
Lots to do and before you know it summer will be upon us!
Head Gardener and veggie lover at Graduate Landscapes