The earliest flowers are up, the frogs are starting to croak in our pond, and spring is almost sprung! It’s time to don a cosy jumper and scarf, and tidy up or move some shrubs, sow some beans and sweetpeas, and generally get everything shipshape for the big push next month. During our recent trip north of the border, I was able to persuade my sisters to do some of the hard work while I gave the orders!
February is a great time to be out there getting started on some early pruning. If a shrub flowers on the stems it made LAST year (like Viburnum, Choisya, Weigela, Deutzia, Philadelphus etc.) then you will be chopping off this year’s flowers if you prune now – not ideal.
BUT if you grow some of the popular shrubs that flower on the current season’s growth – Lavatera, Buddleia, Leycesteria (pheasant bush), deciduous Ceonothus, Fuchsia magellanica, Spiraea and the like (in essence, mid- to late-summer flowerers), then cut them hard back now, and they will repay you by flowering their little socks off this year. Hydrangeas also fall into this category, but I actually like to leave their pruning until March – I just worry about their new low green shoots being walloped by bitter February weather.
So forge in there with secateurs and loppers – don’t be timid about it. These plants can take some rough treatment and will perform much, much better for their spring short-back-and-sides.
Rambling and climbing roses should have had their main pruning last year after flowering, but for all other kinds of rose, their pruning can be started now.
So. For any rose-bush, first chop out all the crossing or damaged stems, the weedy stems, and any gnarled old stems in the middle of it. And then – not sure the rose-purists would approve of this but never mind, it works for me – I just cut all the remaining stems down by half right now.
I’m afraid I grow too many roses in mixed borders to worry much about whether each one is a floribunda, or an English, or Hybrid Perpetual etc. etc., I just vaguely try to keep the centre of the bush a bit clearer of stems to allow good air circulation. I spread a bit of high-potash fertiliser, give the rose a cosy mulch, and that’s that, and they seem to be fine.
One more thing – if you have a tatty-looking yellow winter jasmine, which has just finished flowering, prune that now, too. Cut back all those long unbranched shoots as well as the thin, spindly ones and all the ugly, twiggy stuff. The aim is to encourage good green lateral growth low down which will carry all the flowers next winter. If it’s a total mess, cut the whole lot down – you might not get much in the way of flowers next time, but if it doesn’t die, it will be fab the year after – either way, you win!
SOW BROAD BEANS AND SWEETPEAS
Both these need a long root-run and will flower earlier if given a nice early start. You need deep pots, loo-roll cardboard holders, newspaper pots or root-trainers (yes, plastic I know, but I’ve used mine for years, and I find them much easier to use than the loo tubes which disintegrate too readily, I find. I love the way you unclip the sides of the root-trainer modules to reveal all those luscious roots ready to plant in the garden!)
I put in 1 bean or 2 sweetpea seeds per module of seed compost. If you put the bean on its side, it’s less likely to rot before it germinates. Water the modules and leave them in a cool, frost-free place. Easy-peasy!
Many of us keen gardeners have at times got a deciduous shrub growing in the wrong place (Wrong shape? Wrong colour? Outgrown the space? Spoiling the view?) and feel it would be much better elsewhere in the garden. February is a good time to have a go at this, while the plant is still dormant but is looking forward to starting out into strong growth soon.
Tie some twine round the branches to make things easier for yourself, then dig right round the shrub with a big fat rootball (+ soil) as intact as you can manage. Make an even bigger hole where you’re moving it to, and mix some compost and fertiliser in there. Soak the bottom of the hole and put the plant at the same level it was before. Water it well. Cut the twine. Cross your fingers.
• It won’t be long now before you’ll need all that garden furniture again! So give your outdoor chairs and tables a bit of TLC now – clean them with some warm water and a drop of detergent, and when they are totally dry, apply some timber preservative or furniture oil, using a rag. You’ll be impressed at the difference it makes!
• While the branches are still bare, you’ll be able to see any shrivelled, mummified fruit on plum trees etc. It’s an indication of brown rot and could spread, so do get up there and pick them off. Don’t put them on the compost heap; bin or burn them.
• It’s possible to grow some gorgeous half-hardy annual climbers from seed which will make 6-13 ft of growth in a season, if sown early. Try Cobaea scandens (cup-and-saucer vine), Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean glory flower), Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, Ipomaea lobata or Lophospermum erubescens (climbing foxglove)
• I hope you’ve already got your seed-potatoes. Remember to put them
in a light place in empty eggboxes to encourage the tiny green ‘eyes’ to start sprouting.