I hope the weather has been kind enough to let you get into the garden a bit this February! How about looking after your potted shrubs while you’re out there? Or the aconites? Or maybe sow some more seeds inside? Here are some thoughts about tasks to have a go at, at what’s normally a chilly time of year:
TOP-DRESSING SHRUBS IN POTS
If you have shrubs growing in pots, as I have, this is a good time to give them some TLC. Using containers is such a good way of achieving flexibility with your plant-positioning as well as growing things that aren’t suited to your soil, such as Pieris which is an acid-lover, and would loathe my chalky earth. There may be weeds growing around the plant competing for water and nutrients, or fallen leaves and exhausted compost.
So mix some fresh appropriate compost in a trug or bucket with some slow-release fertiliser granules. Then scrape off the top 2 inches or so of the soil in the pot with a trowel, and replace it with your compost mix. Spread it out, leaving room at the top of the pot for ease of watering. I like to finish off with a layer of grit/gravel for a neat finish which will also help to retain moisture. Your shrub will reward you by perking up hugely in the next few weeks, I bet you!
We have had a very mild February in East Sussex this year and it is easy to be lulled into thinking that winter is done with. It may be, but be wary – the UK weather-fairies have a nasty habit of biting you on the bum if you become over-confident. Daylight-length has as much to do with germination as warmth in the soil, so I have learned over the years not to sow most seeds too early and risk them rotting in the compost before germination. Even when I’m itching to get going with them all! Once all the plants (and the weeds!) are clothed in tiny new shoots, that is the indication that it’s prime seed-sowing time.
Things like broad beans, sweet peas and chillies can certainly be sown earlier, and I know that Laura’s husband Tim likes to sow tomatoes early too. I also like to continue sowing these things in little batches (successional sowing) which gives me a lovely long season of flowering/cropping. Laura’s sweet peas have germinated well; they are reaching for the light a bit, but she’ll pinch out the tips of them once they have two or three pairs of proper leaflets, to encourage the flowering side-shoots.
What friendly-looking little things winter aconites are, with their bright buttercup yellow flowers and pretty little green ruff! Just the thing to brighten a gloomy February day. Since they are completely invisible for most of the year, it’s a good idea to divide now while you can still see them!
Once the flowers are going over, dig them up and with gentle hands, break apart the knobbly tubers. Try to ensure that each bit has a stem and a few roots. They will establish much better if they don’t dry out at all, so plant the bits immediately where you want them, with their ruffle just up above the soil-level. There’s no need to take off the dead flowers – they’ll develop into seedheads and then self-sow – result: even more aconites -hooray!
* Here’s a confession – heathers don’t float my boat! In fact, I might even go so far as to agree with the iconic gardener Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter who said of heathers: ‘God rot them and serve them right!’ But I know lots of people grow them and love them, and this is the right time as the flowers fade, to cut them back. Just make sure you still have some leaves lower down on each shoot you cut, and the plant will be encouraged to bush out more from the base.
* Make a little mental (or even better, written) note to position more winter-scented plants by your door. We catch the delicious scent of the Sarcococca by our front door every time we go through, but the lovely fragrance of the Daphne bholua in the garden is basically just appreciated by me and the wildlife….must try harder next time!
* You can make a worthwhile start in the veg patch, by warming up the soil. Covering the ground with cloches and/or fleece now will make it less likely to get waterlogged, as well as being a more appealing environment for your crops when you start sowing and planting soon.