FEBRUARY GARDENING TIPS

Regularly deadhead winter pansies and other winter and spring flowering bedding plants to keep them flowering for longer – giving them a liquid feed will help.

Early potatoes are best sprouted (or chitted) ahead of planting next month. They will grow away quicker and give a bigger yield.  Buy seed potatoes now, and set them out in boxes, trays or old egg boxes with the end containing the most ‘eyes’ uppermost and stand them in a light, airy, frost-free position.

If the weather allows and the grass is starting to grow, you may need to start mowing.  Set the cutting height on your mower at its maximum and only mow when the grass is dry.

If the leaves on pot-planted cyclamen start to turn yellow, this may be a sign of over- watering. Keep cyclamen in a cool, well-lit position and water from below (into a saucer). Allow the plant to drink for about half an hour, then pour away any remaining water.

Remove any reverted green shoots on all hardy evergreen variegated shrubs to prevent reversion taking over.  Feed plants to encourage good new growth.

Autumn-fruiting raspberries should be pruned now. Cut the canes right down to ground level, but leave the pruning of summer fruit varieties until after they have fruited.

Lightly trim winter flowering heathers as the flowers begin to fade – this will prevent the plants becoming leggy and bare, and will encourage good new growth.

Feed newly planted and established fruit trees and bushes with pelleted chicken manure or Vitax Q4. All fruit trees really benefit from a good mulch of compost or well-rotted manure.

Lily bulbs can be planted now in patio pots and borders – they’re best planted in groups of 3 or 5, in moisture-retentive, well-drained compost that is rich in organic matter.

Rake out the thatch (layer of dead grass) in the lawn to allow light, air and water through to the roots, using a spring-tine rake for small areas. You can buy very efficient electric scarifiers if you have a large lawn, or hire a powered raking machine for very large areas.

Plant out Jerusalem artichokes and shallots into well prepared soil when the weather allows. Plant the artichoke tubers in single rows about 15cm deep and 30cms apart. Plant the shallots in rows 15cm apart and 30cm between the rows, pushing them into the prepared ground so that the nose of each bulb is just visible.

Keep indoor flowering azaleas looking good for longer by placing them in a cool, light position. Remember to water them only with tepid rainwater, never tap water.

Continue planting hardy trees, shrubs, perennials and climbing plants if the weather permits. Take care when planting not to damage newly emerging spring flowering bulbs and perennial plants.

Plant summer and autumn fruiting raspberries – red and yellow fruited varieties are now available. For best results, plant in a sunny position, although they will tolerate part shade.

Sow sweet pea seeds, singly into sweet pea tubes or root trainers, which will allow them maximum root development, filled with good multi-purpose compost. Place them in a cold frame, cold greenhouse or in a sheltered position to germinate.

Feed overwintered vegetables, including asparagus beds. Apply a balanced general purpose fertilizer such as Growmore or Vitax Q4.

Indoor forced bulbs, which have now finished flowering, will need to be deadheaded and placed outside in a sheltered position to finish dying down.

Lift and divide established clumps of snowdrops and winter aconites that are becoming overcrowded and no longer flower well. Replant divided clumps at the same depth they were growing previously, and water well if required.

By the end of the month, prune back late summer and autumn flowering clematis (sometimes called Group 3). These include Clematis Viticella, Clematis Orientalis and large flowered hybrids such as Clematis Jackmanii. Prune all the stems back down to 25-30cms above ground level, cutting each stem back to a healthy looking bud.

Install new bird nesting boxes as soon as possible – if you get them in place now, the birds should have enough time to get used to them for nesting in this year. Place boxes in a sheltered position, facing northeast if possible and make sure they can’t be reached by cats.

Protect the early flowers and buds of camellias from frost by covering the plants with horticultural fleece, which can be purchased in rolls or as bags with a drawstring. These make life easier and quicker for putting the protection on and taking it off.

Newly emerging shoots of perennials and bulbs can be susceptible to slug attack at this time of year. Regularly inspect vulnerable plants such as hostas and delphiniums, and protect them with slug pellets, traps or nematodes.

Regularly feed indoor orchids – only use specific orchid food which can be purchased as drip feeders, aerosol spray or as a powder which you dilute.

During mild spells, check to see if patio pots and containers require watering. Top them up with new potting compost, too, and feed with a slow release fertilizer.

Take particular care of poinsettias, cyclamen, azaleas and other winter flowering houseplants to keep their displays going for as long as possible. Water carefully with tepid water (rainwater for the azaleas) and feed regularly with a suitable plant food.

Prepare for early sowings of vegetables and salad crops by covering the ground with clear polythene or cloches – this will help to warm up the soil temperature and prevent soil becoming waterlogged in wet weather.

Cut back deciduous grasses like miscanthus, calamagrostis and pennisetum to about 15cm from ground level. Evergreen grasses such as carex and festuca can be trimmed.  Cut back any dead leaves that usually collect around the base.

Plant new bare-rooted and container-grown roses now. For best results, plant in an open, sunny position with a minimum of four hours a day of direct sunlight.

Protect the blossoms on early flowering apricots, peaches and nectarines by covering them with horticultural fleece during frosty weather. If insects are scarce, you can hand pollinate the flowers using a small paint brush, gently going from flower to flower.

Prune overgrown deciduous hedges as soon as possible before the birds begin to nest.  Prune the hedge 30cm lower than the height you actually want, as young shoots will quickly grow.