February in the Garden
Author: JM Date Posted:30 January 2019
Coming to terms with and guiding our gardens through an aberrant summer like the one we are currently experiencing demands greater powers of observation and a willingness to act on them.
Quite a number of perennials are looking scrappy just now, particularly if getting water to them has been an issue over the summer.
- If a plant has gone over or it's just not going to perform this summer cut it back in anticipation of new growth as the weather cools. New growth is preferable to an untidy straggle detracting from the rest of the border.
- Hot weather and irrigation invariably lead to some perennials flopping, particularly Asters and trussed perennials are not an attractive feature of any border. This is where the art of staking comes in. We use pea-sticks taken from old hazelnut clumps planted when we first started the garden but any twiggy pruning will do. The idea is to create a low network of twigs or cage through which the plants grow. It really is so much more attractive alternative.
- A good many perennials, particularly Phlox and Asters will , if quickly dead-headed after their main display, provide a smaller show in six-weeks or so. Give them a good soaking to start them off again.
- Achilleas which are looking worse for wear can be cut back , but rather than just leave them as is lift the whole clump, split and replant in refurbished soil to start them off again. They will soon be sending up a few late flower stems.
- Whilst there are eight weeks or so to spare, preparations for bulb planting can begin. With autumn weather becoming increasingly dry bulb planting is increasingly difficult early in autumn, we now find it easier to pot all of our newly arrived bulbs in an assortment of old pots (anything form a tube to a 14cm pot) so that planting can take place over winter when digging decent holes for them becomes easier. It then becomes a creative thing to do as we are removing the perennial remains.
- The same principle applies if you are planting bulbs for naturalizing , planting bulbs from pots with different numbers in them eliminates the singular-spottiness that comes of scattering the bulbs on the ground as we are told to do. That spottiness can take years to disappear.
- If due to the heat , Dahlias have started to flower a bit early this season , a quick prune will delay things for a number of weeks so that most of their flowering is done when temperatures are more forgiving. Cut back to a node somewhere near half-way down , give the plant a deep watering and they'll be off again in no time.
- As the various groups of Lilies come into flower and go over it is important to leave as much foliage as possible on the plant when dead-heading. This helps the plants finish its growth cycle and build the plant up for the following season. A liquid -feed at this time won't hurt either.
- Relabelling our Lilies is a job for a 'too hot to get stuck in' day. We find paint pens by far the longest lasting marker, we use them on strips of neoprene rubber which are secured with irrigation staples at the base of the plant. These strips with a hole punched in them are also great for identifying shrubs , Dahlias etc ,in-fact anything all of our plants.
Those shrubs that berry will be coming into their own whilst others might be need of a bit of girth reduction.
- It is always surprising how quickly shrubs go from just that bit too small to be effective to bullies wanting to take over the whole of the border. In the space of season shrubs can overshadow smaller things and be preventing the sprinkler from reaching them, only in the autumn do we see the little treasure gasping for breath and on its last legs. A bit of judicious pruning this month will prevent that scenario.
- Berries will be weighing down branches this month which in some cases will be preventing light getting to smaller things , pruning or tying up might be necessary.
- Vines of all sorts will be in need of disciplining if they are not to present an unruly tangle over autumn. Early flowering Clematis will be a tangle of old and new growth , neither one thing or the other- a little bit of a trim does wonders. The viticellas and autumn flowering species such as C. Maximowicziana should be will still be making growth and this should be trained out to avoid unnecessary tangles. Wisteria can do with their wayward leaders trimmed back to within a few buds of the main framework and Climbing roses, particularly once flowering varieties such as Albertine, should be given a good going over to remove excess wood and old flowering stems to make way for new growth before it is too late. ( they flower on the previous seasons wood)
- Depending on season and climate - a last trim before autumn of both evergreen and deciduous hedges readies the garden to look its best over autumn.
- Deep watering and liquid feeding of English box hedges will ensure the browning effect of a summer trim will be short lived.
- February is probably the toughest time for lawns, particularly if there has been no rain. Occasional deep watering and lifting the cut a couple of notches is by far the best method to ensure it long term health. Keeping weed at bay reduces competition for moisture and stops patches opening up for more weeds to gain a foot-hold.
- Di-kamba , the active ingredient in most proprietary broad- leaf herbicides is particularly toxic to English Box - be careful with its use near them.
Whilst Spring seems a long way ahead, you know the time for planting is nearing when bulb collections become available on-line and there are other spring flowers that also need attention now .
- If a phalanx of Foxgloves marching through your borders in October is your thing then sowing seed this month is a must. Sowing now will provide good sized seedlings to plant out as the weather cools in April.
- Added to these and if not already dealt with there are a host of biennials which should be sown without delay, these include Hesperis, Wallflowers,For-get-me-nots Iceland Poppies, Bellis ( English Daisies), Orlaya,
- Tulips - those glamazons of the spring garden can , fortunately , be planted well ino May but you have to be a master of the quick change at this point as any delay into June will compromise their ability to flower on nice long stems.
- This season we have planted out seedling in two phases to see how it effects the length of season of our borders. Only time will tell if the staggered planting will achieve this.
A succession of elegant flowering pots for spring needs planning .Much can be done this month
- There is nothing like a group of pots overflowing with bulbs in spring to add a touch of glamour near the house in spring. Preparations for them start this month. Decanting and clearing away the inhabitants of previous seasons is a job to be done in a shady spot this month.
- We grow pots of Primula seiboldii Alba , which are dormant at present so it is the perfect time to decant, split and replant them in their pots ready for spring.
- Preparing bowls of Parma Violets should be done this month so that root systems and new growth are established before the cooler weather.
- In my book anything fragrant that can be bought inside for a few days at a time in early spring is worth the trouble of potting up. Hyacinths are top of the list, followed by Jonquils, Freesias and Stocks. Sowing seed of stock now to grow in the glasshouse over winter is a labour of love but worth it .
- Our pots of Hosta start to look tired at this time so we take advantage of fine weather to chisel away at the dense root-balls and repot them into potting mix with added Copra-peat to retain moisture.
- Hydrangeas make wonderful potted specimens for mid to late summer. We find four years to be their lifespan in a pot before they become too woody to produce good flowering growth. We start off new plant every couple of years to have them coming on as replacements. In order to have blue ones in pots we strike plants in a copra-peat and vermiculite mix (potting mix turns them pink due to the lime in the mix) and pot them on in the same all the way to their final 40cm pots.
All the effort earlier in the season garners rewards over the next few months.
- Chrysanthemums will be showing signs of falling over if not already supported, at times a few wonky stems are useful in arrangements but the majority need to be relatively straight even if it is only to gain maximum height in the arrangement.
- Ordering Sweet Pea seeds is a February treat, each variety has its own individual charm and all have that definitive fragrance.
- Preparations for sowing Iceland Poppies can get underway. They make wonderful cut-flowers for mid to late spring but take time to make strong little plants that will survive the winter.
- Beds which have lain fallow should be top-dressed with manure or compost and watered to encourage weed-seeds to germinate before bulb planting.
- Stocks and Snapdragons make great winter or early spring cut-flowers if grown in a cold-greenhouse. Seed should be sown now.
- A quick spray with copper-sulphate will keep any signs of botrytis at bay on rows of Peonies. Keeping foliage healthy for as long as possible builds up the plants for next season.
- Make sure any Lilies that have not been cut are dead-headed being careful to leav plenty of stem with foliage to feed the bulb until dormancy.
- As Dahlias get into their stride , keep bundles of stakes at the ready and tie in stems as needed.
- Summer pruning of roses will set things up for autumn flowers. Liquid feeding, deep watering and a quick spray of copper-sulphate will keep plants vigorous.
- To secure roses for the right date , count back eight weeks from the date required and do the above then.
Have the following at the ready for autumn jobs
- Potting mix , Bulb Mix, Copra peat
- Lime, Iron-sulphate, Potassium-sulphate,
- Blood and Bone
- Sphagnum moss
- Snail bait
- Stakes for tree planting
- Bamboo canes in various sizes
- Slow release fertilizer
- Having the mower serviced whilst the weather is dry and lawn growth is slow frees up time in winter.
- Compost bins will be drying out in hot weather, leaving the sprinkler on for a good soak will help things along .
- We have a mid-summer cut off point for adding new material to our heaps. Any garden waste from now on in is added to a new pile so that the old one has time to rot before use over winter.