As the days are getting longer, and the February days are warming, now is the perfect time to be pottering in the garden and preparing your garden for spring. Whether you use your garden as a floral emporium, as fuel for your kitchen, or as a wildlife haven, there is plenty to be getting on with.
For perfumed blooms later in the year, plant your bare-root roses now – these are roses in their winter dormancy that aren’t potted, which makes them cheaper to buy and transport! You can prune your climbing roses while they are still dormant too, which will help them grow their gorgeous petals come early summer.
If you’re fancying February flowers, you can establish your own colony of snowdrops or hellebores, which you can buy already bloomed from garden centres and nurseries.
There are also more tedious tasks that need your attention, which will bring rewards later in the year. Be sure to clear away any soggy, collapsed perennial stems from your lupins, irises and delphiniums, as this will help them grow in the spring. If you have a compost bin, put the old stems in there!
Remove and bin (not compost) any hellebore leaves with black blotches to limit the spread of leaf spot disease. Be sure to remove any leaves, or other wind-blown debris, which are smothering your small alpines, which will need as much light as they can get.
Check any new or stored dahlia tubers to make sure they haven’t completely dried out or rotted over winter. Now that the winter pansies are over, be sure to deadhead them and remove foliage with signs of downy mildew.
You can also plant bare-rooting raspberries and blackcurrants, if you’re the jam-making type. Any old blackcurrant bushes will need pruning at this time of year, removing about a quarter of the old stems. Gooseberry and redcurrant bushes will need pruning too – cut the side-shoots back to three buds away from their base.
Winter-pruning your apple and pear trees and removing dead, diseased or congested branches will ensure a bountiful crop of fruit in the autumn – and don’t forget the blossom that will bless your branches before that! Do Not prune your stone fruits yet! Plums, apricots, peaches and the like will need pruning on a dry midsummers day to avoid fungal infection.
In the veggie patch, be sure to cover your kales and cabbages with a net as protection from pigeons. Any rhubarb that you’re looking forward to tucking into can be covered with a large bucket or pot to force an early crop with lovely, tender stems – delicious!
On a rainy day, it is worth planning this year’s crop rotation. It is important to alternate each year and make sure you don’t grow the same crop in the same bed two years running. Each plant will give the soil a different nutrient content, and the healthiest soil will be that with a range of crops grown in it.
Your planning should also involve sorting through your old seed packets, ordering new ones and discarding any out-of-date packets. Don’t wait until spring to plan, as time will run away from you in the warmer months when lots of planting needs to be done all at once.
In your greenhouse, conservatory, or sunny windowsill, you can sow winter salads such as wild rocket, cress, or lamb’s lettuce. These will be ready to harvest in just a few weeks! Any potted strawberry plants you already have will thank you for being moved into a warmer, covered spot with a glut of early fruit.
It’s not just the plants that are dormant over winter. Look out for bumblebees while you’re digging, as they will have buried themselves over winter for warmth. If you accidentally unearth a queen bumble, don’t rebury her as she will probably wake up soon. Instead, gently place her somewhere cold and dry and leave her with a sugar solution in a bottle top – this will boost her energy for a new hibernation state!
It is, of course, always beneficial to keep your bird feeders topped up with calorie-rich food that resembles the birds’ natural diet. Apples, sunflower hearts, mealworms, seed mix will be great for your garden birds. For the really keen birders, or the tired parent looking to give the kids something to do, you can make your own fat balls using melted lard, nuts, seeds and fruit.
Keep your birdbaths clean and regularly change the water – this will reduce any disease transmission at the baths. On a cold morning, top them up with a little warm water to melt the icy surface. It’s also important to get up your ladder and check any bird boxes you have for rot or wobbly fixtures. While you’re up there, remove last years nest as it will, again, reduce any disease transmission between birds and give the new chicks a fighting chance in the spring.
Not sure where to start? If you’ve only just got your green thumbs and are looking to start on your gardening journey, read our Easy Growing article, which will talk you through the basics and tell you which plants are easy for beginners! Read our gardening for beginners article.