Heritage Gardens Jobs for the Month - February 2017
There’s still time to plant bare-root trees and bushes – for best results it needs to be completed by the end of the month. Container-grown plants can be planted any time of the year. The only time you can’t plant is when the ground is frozen or waterlogged. If the planting site isn’t ready when plants arrive, heel in bare-root ones in a spare piece of ground, covering the roots with soil to protect them from cold and drying out. Leave containerised ones standing outside in a sheltered position and water the compost when needed to prevent it drying out.
If you’re planning to plant new beds and borders in spring and your soil is less than perfect – whether it be heavy clay, sandy or chalky – then it pays to get it into good condition first. You can easily do this by applying lots of composted bark, home-made compost or other soil improvers. Heavy clay can be further improved by adding grit or sharp sand.
Check hosepipes and other watering equipment for cracks and leaks, possibly caused by water freezing in them, and replace with new ones now before it’s time to start using them in earnest.
Many diseases overwinter in the soil, or on plant debris, so clear away any plant debris and old leaves. These can also be overwintering places for insect and other pests – especially slugs and snails. Garden hygiene helps in the prevention of disease carry-over from one year to the next. Always rake up and destroy badly infected leaves; burn or bin them. Many diseases, such as black spot on roses, scab on apples and pears and rusts, can all be controlled to some extent in this way.
In mild weather, weeds will start to appear. The best method of control at this time of year is to hoe regularly to keep them in check. Or apply a thick mulch (5-7.5cm/2-3in deep) of bark chips or composted bark to prevent annual weed growth in the first place. Perennial weeds with long taproots, such as dandelions, are best dug up by using a hand fork or trowel. It’s generally too cold for weedkillers to work effectively.
Now’s a good time to install water butts and water-collection systems to make the most of any rain that falls. If you’ve already got water butts, give them a good clean and put on a lid to help keep the water fresh.
Grow Your Own - Fruit
Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries (not summer-fruiting or recently planted Primocane varieties), cutting down all the canes to the ground before mulching with well-rotted manure or compost and top dressing with general fertiliser. Summer raspberries can be cut back to one or two buds above the top of their supporting wires if they’ve grown too tall.
It’s usually now too late to prune grape vines – especially those growing under cover. Pruning grape vines when they’re not completely dormant can lead to severe bleeding, which will weaken the vine and may even kill it.
The tastiest rhubarb sticks come from plants that are forced in the dark. Place a large bucket, dustbin or forcing jar over the crown to encourage the fresh, pink shoots to form. Some manure, straw and poultry manure pellets placed over the soil first will create extra warmth to speed up the forcing process. Check regularly for sticks ready to harvest. Crowns that have been forced should be left to grow for the rest of the year without harvesting any more sticks, otherwise they’ll become weak and crop poorly the following year.
Protect the blossom of early-flowering apricots, peaches and nectarines from frost damage by covering plants with fleece.
Hand-pollinate flowers of apricots, peaches and nectarines if insects are scarce. A small, soft paintbrush or a rabbit’s tail, are the best tools for transferring the pollen from flower to flower.
Peach leaf curl (it also attacks nectarines) is a crippling disease that produces large red blisters on the leaves, which become distorted and then fall off. After a few years this will seriously weaken the tree and affect yields. If the peaches or nectarines are fan trained along a wall or fence you can make a tent from plastic sheeting attached to the top of the supporting structure. Roll this down to soil level about 45cm (18in) away from the base of the plant and secure with bricks or similar. The tent will keep rain away, and stop disease spores splashing from the soil to affect the new leaves. The warmth created will also give some protection against cold weather. Lift the polythene during warm days when the tree starts flowering to give access to pollinating insects. Copper fungicides will give good protection against the disease. Spray in early February and again two weeks later.
Grow Your Own - Veg
From the middle of the month onwards you can start to sow seeds of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers for plants to grow on in a greenhouse. Sow the seeds in small pots of good compost and germinate in a heated propagator or warm room at 21C (70F). Prick out the young plants individually into 9-10cm (3.5-4in) pots once they’ve produced their second true leaf and keep them at a temperature of 12-18C (55-65F). If you want plants for growing outside, delay sowing until March.
Peas can be sown in the greenhouse in guttering with drainage holes drilled in the bottom. Starting them under cover gives them a head start. When the seedlings are ready for planting out, the whole row can be gently pushed out of the guttering, into a ready prepared trench in the vegetable garden.
Onions grown from seed need a long growing season, and you could sow them now in a heated propagator, growing them on ready for planting out in March. Onion sets can be planted next month.
Spring cabbages planted out in the autumn can be used as winter greens if they are large enough to lift.
As you harvest winter crops, clear away any remaining vegetation and put it on the compost heap or, if it is suffering from severe disease, dispose of it. Crop and other plant debris left lying around becomes a home and breeding place for pests and diseases.
Now’s the time to divide overcrowded clumps of snowdrops. Wait until they’ve finished flowering, remove the faded flowers and seed capsule, then lift and replant immediately in well-prepared soil.
You can do the same with winter aconites (eranthis).
Now’s the time to buy begonias, cannas and dahlia tubers, together with the huge variety of summer-flowering bulbs available. Although it’s too early to plant these in the garden, buy them now to ensure you get the range of varieties you want.
They can be potted up indoors to bring them into growth and so flower earlier.
For a great summer display plant lily bulbs either in the ground or, for a fantastic patio feature, in pots.
Although most alpine plants are cold hardy, some need protection from winter wet. Ones with woolly or silvery leaves are most vulnerable. Sheltering them from rain, ensuring good ventilation, and picking off fallen leaves and weeds will help keep them in top condition. Bare patches within the plant can be covered with gritty compost to encourage the plants to re-grow in those areas.
Hostas, and other susceptible plants, are often attacked underground before the growth buds break the soil surface. Protect these by using a slug killer based on aluminium sulphate, such as Doff Slug Attack
Trees, Shrubs, Roses & Climbers
Towards the end of the month you can make a start on pruning bush and climbing roses. The harder you prune the better the regrowth and the display of roses.Start by cutting out any thin, dead, diseased, damaged, rubbing or crossing stems and then prune back the remainder. Hybrid teas: shorten last year's strong shoots to four to six buds, weaker ones to two to three buds. Floribundas: shorten strong shoots to leave 23-30cm (9-12in) of growth. Prune back less vigorous ones more severely. Climbers: Cut back main branches by one-third, shortening any sideshoots to two to three buds.
This is also the time to make a start on pruning summer- and autumn-flowering clematis; leave spring-flowering clematis until after they’ve finished flowering. Large-flowered clematis that start flowering in May and June should be cut back to around half to two-thirds, just above a bud. Those that start flowering in July or later need harder pruning – cut them back to a bud 30-45cm (12-18in) above ground level. Or you could cut back half the stems in this way and prune the remaining half less severely; this produces flowers over a greater area and at different times.
Winter-flowering shrubs can be pruned immediately after flowering, removing the flowering growth and thinning out up to one-third of the oldest stems. Prune winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) once the flowers have faded. Remove any dead or damaged shoots, tie in new shoots to the main framework, and then shorten all the laterals from the main framework to 5cm (2in).
Tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to protect them from wind damage. Any growth that refuses to be trained in this way can be pruned off.
Give trees, shrubs and climbers growing in containers a boost by knocking them out of their pot and removing a little of the old compost from the bottom and sides of the rootball. Put some fresh compost in the bottom of the pot then replace the plant. Then scrape away around 2.5cm (1in) of compost from the top of the rootball and replace with fresh. Then feed with a suitable slow- or controlled-release fertiliser.
Major lawn care starts in earnest next month, but a little care and attention now will make things easier in Spring.
See January’s garden tips for full details.
Deadhead amaryllis as the flowers fade, leaving the flower stems to die down naturally. To ensure flowers again next winter, keep feeding and watering until the foliage starts to die down. Then carefully remove it and the faded flower stems.
Achimenes, begonia and gloxinia tubers can be planted this month. Begonias and gloxinias need to be planted hollow side facing upwards. Plant six achimenes tubercles in a 15cm (6in) pot of just moist compost at a temperature of 15-18C (60-65F).
Press begonia tubers into trays of compost at a temperature of 15-18C (60-65F) and then transplant individually into small pots once the shoots have started to produce leaves.
You can prune indoor climbers towards the end of the month. Thin out the stems of plumbago, passion flower and jasmine to produce a neat framework of branches. Then cut back last year’s growth to two or three buds from the main framework.
You can also cut back leggy coleus, hypoestes (polka dot plant), pilea (aluminium plant) and tradescantia to encourage new growth and a better shape.
Citrus plants can be top-dressed with fresh compost or repotted if they’re rootbound.
Indoor forced bulbs that were in the house for winter displays, and that have finished flowering, can be put outside in a sheltered spot to finish dying down. They can then be planted in the garden.