What to do in the garden in February
Everyone knows gardening is seasonal, which means there are no hard and fast rules about what to do when. Garden advice always has to be tempered by the weather which varies. No two Springs are ever the same and the weather can make a big difference.
Generally, February is a month for pruning, although since it is often a cold month it is always best to wait for a mild spell. What to do in the garden in February also depends where in the country you garden, as different areas can experience very different weather conditions during the same period.
This means if you garden in the south of England or have a garden which is sheltered, more can be done earlier, but northern gardeners, especially those with exposed plots, may need to leave tasks to late February or Early March. All gardening calendars are just a guide it depends on the weather.
Since February is a pruning month for those two tricky climbers Clematis and Wisteria below are links to the advice pages and short videos explaining how to prune.
February is the time for pruning month Clematis and Wisteria which is really important to keep them flowering. Pruning at this time of year is essential for Wisteria to ensure it flowers reliably each year. Also the right time for pruning all Clematis except Group 1.
Getting Wisteria to flower is more reliable if you prune it correctly. Video advice on Wisteria: how to make Wisteria flower and advice video on how to prune wisteria, and a video on winter prune wisteria.
For pruning clematis it is first necessary to work out to which pruning group the Clematis belongs and then check out how to prune it. Video advice on pruning Clematis: Clematis pruning groups 1,2 and 3 explained, How to prune Group 2 and Group 3 Clematis.
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Other plants pruned in February
February and March is the right time to prune a number of plants and shrubs. It is best to prune in a milder spell and the following shrubs and plants are suitable for pruning:-
Clematis groups 2 and 3
Climbing and bush roses
Over grown shrubs which need renovating
Do not prune any shrubs which are spring-flowering or you will cut off the potential flowers. Spring flowering shrubs are always pruned after flowering which is generally in the early summer.
During a mild spell in Feb/March you can prune Cornus, (Dogwood) ( image left) which has lovely red stems in the winter. The one illustrated is Cornus Alba 'Sibirica' fully hardy, deciduous and easy to grow in any soil. Pruning in late winter helps to produce the bright winter stems next year. Cut right back almost to ground level and be assured it will re grow in the spring. Cornus is a great, easy to grow shrub which has lovely variegated foliage and looks good in a mixed border. It looks striking grown along side Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' the lovely creamy green variations contrasting with the deep purple of the Cotinus.
It is possible to get germination under way in February in the right conditions. To germinate seeds early in the year, a warm benign environment is needed. Very few gardeners can afford the luxury of a heated greenhouse which means bringing seed trays into the house, not ideal, or use a heated propagator mat and site the seed trays in a porch or unheated conservatory. Seeds will need to be placed into a sealed propagator to create a warm atmosphere which will not dry out, and once germinated, removed and kept frost free. Light levels are very low in February so seeding is not easy and plants need to be turned regularly to keep even growth.
The benefits of seeding in February is if it goes well, the plants will mature earlier. March and April are easier because of the extra light and warmth. Tips and advice for successful sowing and germination. Video advice on sowing seeds and germination.
Suitable for seeding in February: Aubergines, Beetroot, chilies, courgettes and cucumbers, french beans, lettuce and rocket and tomatoes. Flower seeds, many of the popular garden plants such as Ageratum,Antirrhinum, Calendula, Cornflower, French Marigolds, Nigella, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Scabious and Zinnia.
Planting bulbs for late spring and summer
We always associate spring with bulbs, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth but there are many lovely summer bulbs, which are usually planted in the Autumn, but if you missed that slot, early spring provides another opportunity. Allium, (illustrated left Allium 'Globemaster' ) make a fabulous display and mix so well with many popular plants and if planted in February will flower in late spring and early summer. Allium are easy to grow and once established return reliably each year.
Lilies can be planted in Feb/March and make a great scented display. Lily do not like heavy wet soil which can make them less reliable in subsequent years and if your garden conditions are not ideal, wet heavy clay conditions, better to plant in containers.
Anemone can be planted now. The corms (bulbs) are best soaked overnight before planting. There are lots of summer flowering bulbs in the garden centers from now onward, check the packets carefully as not all are fully hardy, those which are not frost hardy need to be planted later.The best chance of ensuring summer bulbs flower the following year is to feed them during the growing season right up to flowering. Tomato feed is ideal.
Crocosmia can also be planted in the Spring and they will flower late summer and make a great display. Crocosmia are easy to grow and return reliably each year. Some varieties can be a little invasive which can be the case with some very easy to grow plants.
Cut back Sedums
It's just great to get January over with, February seems like turning a corner to-wards spring. Even though the garden appears dormant there is growth at ground level and tiny buds are appearing. The image left shows early growth on a Sedum reminding us what lies ahead. If you haven't already cut the old top growth away now is a good time, cut carefully to avoid damaging the new growth coming through. This can be done on other plants which have last years top growth in place (except the slightly tender) with new shoots coming through. If cutting back is left too late it's harder to cut back without damaging the new growth.
February and early March is the time to tackle pruning Clematis in either group 2 or 3.
If it's a group 2 ( characterised by large flowers in the mid summer) it needs only a light prune. If it is a group 3 ( flowers bloom from mid to late summer)it's a harder prune. The words "pruning" and "Clematis" are scary but here is how to make it easy.
Do not prune the early flowering Clematis at all, which are those which flower between February and May, they are varieties such as Clematis Montana, Alpina, Armandii and known as Group 1. These types of Clematis, because they are to flower shortly after this time of the year, if you were to prune now you would cut off the branches carrying the flower buds. They only need pruning if they get out of control. These images left show the axil buds which you need to identify whether you are pruning group 2 or 3. How do you know if it is a group 2 or 3 ready for pruning now?
You can check out the Sunday Gardener video about Groups 1,2 & 3 explaining the differences between the various Clematis groups and the Clematis pages.If you don't have the label its a bit of a headache so you can only try a rule of thumb, which the video explains, and is all about the time it flowers. If you cannot identify your Clematis and there is no label the only way to decide how to prune it is by when it flowers. Most important is not to prune Group 1 or you will cut off the wood on which the flowers could come in the spring.
Group 1 flower from very early February up to around May;
Group 2 tend to flower in early summer
Group 3 flower late summer.
Its a real pruning month since February is also the time to prune that other tricky climbing plant, Wisteria. Detailed advice on how to Grow and Prune Wisteria and how to make sure your Wisteria flowers.The rule of thumb to get Wisteria to flower is that it must be pruned twice a year winter and summer and there is detailed explanation on the Wisteria page and also video on winter and summer prune. If you want your Wisteria to flower, or it has stopped flowering, get pruning.
February/March during a mild spell is also the time to prune Buddleja davidii for the best summer flowers.
Sow Sweet Peas
February is time to germinate sweet peas which are easy to germinate but quite time intensive to grow. Sweet peas make a showy addition to the garden, climbing up an obelisk or fence and are great as cut flowers. They do require a fair amount of attention and if you want nice long straight stems you need to know about the tendrils which must be removed to keep the stems straight. Advice on sowing and growing sweet peas Video on how to plant sweet peas.
Prune Rosa Rugosa
In February you can also prune Rosa Rugosa, with care, as they have very prickly stems. Take out the oldest shoots at ground level and half of the rest for a good display of flowers and hips later in the year. Rosa Rugosa is one of the plants suitable to grow in a coastal garden for more ideas of plants and shrubs which tolerate sea side condition check out plants for coastal gardens.
Prune Evergreen Shrubs
If you want to tidy up or reduce the size of ever green shrubs you can prune in February. In a mixed border, pruning the lower stems nearer the ground on shrubs lifts the canopy to allow more light for plants close to or under the shrub. Check each plant before pruning and be careful as pruning at the wrong time can result in no flowers.
Plants which flower on last year's growth need to be pruned later, after flowering, which is usually later spring/summer not late winter/spring; otherwise you will cut off the stems on which flower buds are forming.
Take care when pruning not to prune early flowering shrubs or you will prevent flowering. Whilst its tempting to prune as the garden comes awake and clearing the borders, each shrub is different, and bears checking out individually. Pruning at the wrong time can be the answer as to why a shrub doesn't flower as expected.
Mould in the Greenhouse
Late winter is the time there can be problems in the greenhouse, as the image left, which shows a mould attack, Botrytis also known as grey mould. This frequently occurs in the winter when the days are very still cold and damp, especially the damp. Even watering very sparingly, which is essential in the winter, when there is no sun to dry out the air and soil after watering means that damp is a real threat to the plants. Check the greenhouse plants regularly, physically feel the soil and don't water unless it is dry which may only be monthly, or less. On Mild winter days open up the greenhouse doors and manual vents to let as much air in as possible. If you do get an attack of mould cut off all infected leaves and if it is severe move the plant out of the greenhouse to prevent the spread of infection.
February in the Veg plot
In some parts of the country, the more southerly and in sheltered gardens, February is the right time to prepare the veg plot by warming up the soil ready for early plantings. This can be done either by covering with polythene, ( well pegged down to be secure in the event of gales) or with cloches. If this is too much faff just wait a month or so and nature should do the warming for you.
If you are a keen gardener and in a sheltered spot, it is possible to start some veg growing but only a few and specific named varieties. Only plant in a mild spell and protect with cloches. There are some very hardy broad beans, such as Aquadulce Claudia. Also, Garlic can be planted now in sheltered areas with light soil. Some garlic is suitable for autumn planting and some for spring so you need to check the variety and also there is soft neck and hard neck. Garlic is very easy to grow and can even be grown in between other veg, and in pots. Importantly Garlic needs a light soil and lots of sun. More information about growing garlic.
You can germinate under glass hardier varieties of Peas, Beetroot, the Bolthardy variety would be suitable, radishes, some lettuces can be started in a length of drain pipe in the green house such as the cut and come again varieties which includes rocket. You can also propagate (with heat,) leeks, cabbages, Brussels and chilies which need a long growing season. Remember once germinated they will need to continue growing under glass or frost free until all risk of frost has passed which means space is needed for growing on. If space is a problem, it's sometimes easier to germinate later when the weather is better. Broad beans can be sown indoors into root trainers or cardboard tubes to give them a long root run.
Take the old brown foliage off strawberries to encourage new growth and to let in more light. To get an early crop of Strawberries cloche them later this month/early March but remember to water under the cloches periodically.
February is also the time to chit potatoes ready for planting out in the spring. Place them in a cool and light area and from the "eyes" shoots will form over the next few weeks until planting out. This is said to help get the potatoes off to a good start, don't worry if there is not time to do this before planting the jury is out on how much good chitting does. High levels of blight have been a problem during the past few wet summers. It's hard to avoid but there are varieties of potato which are blight resistant, such as the Sarpo varieties. Another possibility is to grow early cropping potatoes such as Charlotte, pink fir, rocket, anya (all sold in garden centers and on line,) which may crop before the blight arrives. Tips on how to grow potatoes. If you have grown potatoes in containers, it is worth scrubbing them out with disinfectant to eradicate any remnants of blight. Don't reuse compost which has had blighted potatoes grown in it. And as always rotate the crop so the potatoes, and all veg, are not grown in the same part of the veg plot on consecutive years.