In February the days finally begin to lengthen and although it is often still very cold and wet there are increasing signs that Spring is round the corner.
Deciduous grasses are beginning to look a bit tatty now and can be cut down to leave room for the new season’s growth. Cut the stems to about 6” and then use a hand fork to rake out some of the debris that has collected in the bottom of the plant. Take care though as the tops of the cut stems can be quite sharp and will scratch your wrists as you reach into the plant.
As winter flowering heathers finish flowering trim them over with shears to the base of the old flowers. It will help to keep the plants bushy.
If you have not already done it, Wisteria should be given its winter prune now before it starts back into growth. Prune all the whippy growth (except those bits being used to extend the framework) back to a few inches which encourages the formation of flower buds. It is also an opportunity to check ties before the leaves and flowers appear especially if we have had a lot of strong winds over the Winter.
Climbing roses as well need pruning if not done last month. Shorten all the side shoots to a few inches and train the main stems to lie at an angle between the horizontal and 45 degrees. This will encourage lots of flowers over the whole plant rather than all the flowers being at the top.
Late-flowering clematis should now be cut down to about 18inches. Feed with an organic or slow-release fertiliser and mulch well after pruning. This will help get the plant off to a great start and topping up the mulch helps to shade the roots once the warmer weather returns. Clematis really don’t like having hot feet.
As winter jasmine finishes flowering tie-in any new long stems you want to extend the framework then shorten all the side-shoots to just above a bud. This will stop the plant becoming straggly and encourages better flowering next year. Where stems have touched the ground they tend to root very readily. These stems can be dug up and replanted elsewhere to form new plants.
If you have any hedges in need of cutting this is your last chance before the nesting season begins. The birds are already beginning to pair up so speedy chopping required! Deciduous hedges that have lost their shape can be pruned quite hard to encourage new bushy growth. If you are being really drastic it is better to do one side of the hedge this year and then the other side next year so the plants are not put under too much stress. Mulch with well-rotted manure or garden compost afterwards.
Pots and containers
Early Spring is a good time to “top dress” plants that are permanently in pots ready for the start of the growing season. Top dressing pots is where you replace the top inch or two of soil with new. A lot easier than completely repotting especially for large pots. However, if the plant has become root-bound a repot may be needed.
Deadheading winter flowering pansies will help to encourage them to produce more flowers.
Keep checking them to see if they need watering especially if windy as it really dries the plants.
Bare-rooted trees and shrubs can still be planted as long as the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. Bare-rooted plants are those that are dug up by the grower whilst dormant, the soil is removed from the roots and then the roots wrapped to keep them moist when they are transported to you. It is important to make sure the roots do not dry out and they will benefit from a soak in a bucket of water for a couple of hours before planting. Plant them out as you would other plants; a large hole so the roots can be spread out and then watered in.
Snowdrops are traditionally planted “in the green”. This means after flowering but before their leaves have begun to die back. Snowdrops are much more likely to establish this way then by planting bulbs in the Autumn. Large clumps can be divided and replanted.
If you have some bulbs flowering indoors they can be planted out in the garden once they have finished but remember to harden them off first. Going straight from a heated house to the freezing temperatures outside will not encourage them to grow! They will need a sheltered spot during the day and to then come back in overnight for a few days.
Birds and wildlife
All animals will appreciate some water on the days everything is frozen and the birds will be grateful for food. A great way to bring them into the garden to watch too. If you are putting up any new nest boxes this is a good time to do it. It gives the birds a chance to get used to them and so they are more likely to use them this Spring. Just make sure you site the boxes so it is difficult for cats to reach them.
Grow your own
If you have a vegetable patch covering part of it with a cloche or some polythene will dry and warm the soil so you sow seeds a little earlier. The cloche will then protect new plants as they begin to germinate.
Autumn fruiting raspberries need pruning. Cut all the old stems to the ground then apply an organic fertiliser. However, raspberries are ericaceous (don’t like lime/alkali soils) so they won’t like mushroom compost. A mulch with well-rotted garden compost or manure will set them up will for the year ahead.