The days are growing longer and signs of life are appearing in the garden – the first snowdrops of spring are here and daffodils are pushing through frozen soil. The gardening season is about to get under way, so here are the top 10 jobs to do in the garden in February!
1. Sow sweet peas
Sweet peas are one of the nation’s favourite climbing plants and a cottage garden classic. They’re easy to grow, available in an array of colours, ideal for cut flowers and many are deliciously fragrant. Sow seed now, indoors or in a heated greenhouse. To encourage seeds to germinate, soak them the night before planting, placing seeds in a saucer of tepid water. Fill deep pots or cardboard toilet rolls with a quality ‘seed and cuttings compost’ and plant each seed about half an inch deep, covering with compost after sowing. Water lightly and place in a propagator at 15ºC (59ºF).
2. Plant snowdrops ‘in the green’
Gardeners will often see snowdrops for sale ‘in the green’ – and are advised to lift and divide bulbs while ‘in the green’ but what does this mean? To put it simply, snowdrops establish better if bulbs are planted just after flowering, while still in growth. Whether you’re lifting and dividing clumps or planting new bulbs in leaf, plant in moist soil at the same depth as the rootball, before backfilling with soil and firming-in.
3. Warm veg plot soil
If you plan to grow your own food, warming the soil ahead of sowing can get crops off to a flying start. Garden centres sell cloches – low plastic tunnels that can be placed over soil and delicate plants to raise the temperature of the soil and provide protection. Single cloches, often called bell cloches, are ideal for placing over individual plants. If your budget is tight, the ground can also be warmed by placing plastic sheeting over soil, weighed down by stones or bricks.
4. Start dahlias indoors
Dahlias are hugely popular, producing masses of big, colourful blooms from mid-summer into autumn. They’re grown from tubers, on sale at garden centres now, and are best started in pots indoors (or in a heated greenhouse). Choose the biggest, fattest tubers you can find, then part fill a pot with multi-purpose compost. Planting depths vary by variety (check the packet) but as a general rule, plant tubers several inches below the compost surface, top-up with compost, water lightly and place on a windowsill.
5. Buy onion sets
Home-grown onions taste more flavoursome than shop-bought produce, and are easiest when grown from sets (small, immature onions held in an arrested stage of growth). Whether you prefer mild or strong onions, buy sets now, while supplies are plentiful, checking that bulbs are firm and free from rot. Store in a cool, frost-free place until it’s time to plant (usually from mid-March onwards). Soil should be improved with the addition of well-rotted manure a couple of months prior to planting onion sets. Never plant into freshly manured soil, or onions will be at increased risk of rotting.
6. Cut down autumn-fruiting raspberries
Autumn-fruiting raspberries (known as primocane) need to have all their canes cut to ground level in February, so give them a chop now, as they’ll flower and fruit on new growth. Never prune summer-fruiting (floricane) raspberries in late-winter, as they fruit on canes produced the previous season, so should be cut back hard to ground level after harvesting in summer.
7. Keep houseplants healthy
Central heating creates a dry atmosphere in our homes over winter, which houseplants dislike. Misting plants using a hand sprayer filled with tepid tap water can help to raise humidity and keep foliage healthy. Or, to create a humid microclimate immediately around a houseplant, stand plants in saucers filled with gravel. After watering, water will slowly evaporate from the gravel and moisten the surrounding air. Stressed houseplants are prone to aphid infestations, so check plants regularly and treat with an indoor bug killer as soon as problems arise.
8. Install water butts
February is a perfect month for boosting your garden’s water reserves, in case we have a dry summer. Consider fitting water butts to downpipes on your house, garage, shed and greenhouse. Rainwater diverter kits (available at DIY stores and garden centres) channel water from downpipes into butts, then redirect the flow back into the pipe once butts are brimming. You can also fit guttering to your shed for this purpose too (check out this handy guide here). Kits are readily available that link butts together, too, allowing gardeners to build up a big reserve of water in time for summer – a handy way to cut water bills if you’re on a metered supply.
9. Prune wisteria
Wisteria is one of the most beautiful climbers that can adorn your home or scramble over a pergola, with plants smothered in white, blue or pink flowers between April and June. To ensure a spectacular display, prune mature wisteria plants now, while they’re dormant, cutting back summer growth to two or three buds. Wisteria should be pruned twice a year, ideally in February then again in July or August.
10. Restore garden furniture
If your wooden garden table and chairs are looking tatty and weathered, now is a perfect time to restore them before the weather warms up, as long as you have a garage or conservatory where you can work protected from the elements. Before bringing furniture under cover, thoroughly clean it with a brush to remove algae and moss – or use a pressure washer if necessary (don’t hold the jet too close or it can damage the wood). Once clean and allowed to dry, timber that has previously been painted or stained will need to be sanded back to bare wood. It can then be treated with a wood preserver, if necessary, to prevent rot, before fresh woodstain or teak oil can be applied. Always observe the drying times between treatments, and note that several coats may be necessary to fully protect the wood and obtain a perfect finish.
Watch out for our blog on the top 10 gardening jobs to do in March, and in the meantime, keep us posted about what you’re doing in the garden this month in the comments.
Marc Rosenberg is a freelance garden writer and editor. A former journalist with Amateur Gardening and Horticulture Week magazines, he holds seven Garden Media Guild Awards. Marc has written for publications including The Garden magazine, BBC Gardeners’ World and RHS online.