In February the days are getting longer, bulbs start poking their green shoots out of the ground and even if the weather’s still chilly, we know that spring is on the way.
Wordsworth’s famous ‘host of golden daffodils’ is getting ready to flower. If you’re wondering what to do in the garden in February, here are 12 tasks to get your outdoor patch into shape for spring:
Gardening jobs for February
1. Prune shrubs
Prune shrubs like rhododendrons and clematis now. Prune mahonia, winter jasmine, and forsythia after flowering. You can also prune roses now to encourage a bushier shape. Mulch the roots of all these plants with a good layer of compost too.
2. Cut back any ornamental grasses
This is important because new shoots are emerging and this will be made difficult if old brown stems are still in place. Leave the attractive stems of yellow loosestrife over winter but cut them back now and you will notice new shoots emerging.
3. Prune trees
Fruit trees like apple and pear should be pruned now while still dormant. Pruning any later than February may cause damage to the tree so sharpen the blade and cut branches that are crossed or unwieldy.
Do not cut cherry or apricot until new growth starts because pruning now will allow disease to enter via the cuts. These trees should be cut in summer when they’ve recovered from the colder months.
4. Divide roots
Divide tarragon, mint and lovage roots, which are protected in your greenhouse or indoors. Re-pot them and when all danger of frost is gone, you can place these pots outside.
Mint is frost hardy but the other two won’t survive frost. My indoor tarragon plant is enjoying the spring sunshine and has already started to produce shoots. Dividing now means you have two plants ready by April or May.
5. Plant spring bulbs
Plant spring bulbs if you haven’t done so already. Tulips, daffodils and narcissus will flower this year. Dig holes deep enough for the bulb size and allow some extra depth for roots.
Cover the bulbs with compost and in a few weeks, you’ll be rewarded with an array of bright colours that will return for years to come. Remember where you plant them by placing a row of twigs to remind you because it is easy to forget where they are when summer arrives.
6. Transplant hyacinths
Hyacinths that bloomed indoors in winter can be transplanted outside now too. It’s a bit too late to plant snowdrops but you can plant them for next year and you may be lucky and get a late flowering. Grape hyacinths are hardy and can be planted in pots or in the ground now too.
7. Remove leaves
Remove yellow leaves on outdoor vegetables like brassicas and compost them. Purple sprouting broccoli is almost ready and cabbages are still going too. Tidy up and weed around the stems.
8. Get a head start on vegetables and flowers
If you plant seeds in February and ensure warmth using a sunny windowsill or a heated propagator, you can gain extra growth. By the time the frost is a memory, you’ll have young tomato, aubergine and cucumber plants.
9. Other seeds to plant now
Sweet peas, lettuce, salads like rocket and coriander, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and leeks can be sown now. Some herbs like parsley need soil warmth and air temperature to germinate so I usually leave these a little later.
10. Chit potatoes
This means buying some new tubers to “chit”. Save your egg boxes – these are a perfect size. Place one tuber in each part and place them in a cool place to grow tiny new green shoots. You can also prepare the ground you will plant them in but wait until March before you actually put them in the ground outdoors.
11. Make a plan
While the evenings are long, create a list of plants you want to try growing. It may be flowers, fruit trees or vegetables. You can also plan companion plants like nasturtiums which attract aphids away from other plants.
Draw sketches and take pictures of before so that when your garden is in bloom, you can compare and amaze yourself with the change! With smaller gardeners in the house, you will have plenty of help with tasks like adding food to the compost bin – see more below.
If you don’t have a compost bin, then start one. If you have one New Year’s resolution, make it this one. This is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint with minimal effort. The benefits are rich, useful, free soil to feed your plants which helps your plants and saves you money.
More on this: Is Mulch The Same As Compost?
How do I make compost?
Buy a bin or make a space in your garden at least 1x1m but preferably 2x2m if you have space. A corner or a neglected part of the garden is perfect but make sure you have easy access to it, especially in cold and wet weather.
- Place some twigs on the ground to mark out the area. Insert wooden stakes in the corners and fix chicken wire to them to make the sides. Wooden pallets work well too.
- Next, add a layer of newspaper or cardboard to keep it tidy. Worms love the heat under cardboard and will arrive as soon as it is on the ground.
- Add a green layer of fresh waste including outer leaves of cabbages, tomato and potato skins, apple cores and fruit remains.
- A brown layer comes next. This is drier and can be composed of waste paper, twigs, lawn cuttings, old leaves etc.
- Another green layer goes on top. Keep adding a layer of brown followed by green and if you can, aerate and mix the heap by turning the heap and adding well-rotted material to the top.
- DO NOT add meat as this may attract mice and rats.
- Leave it for at least 3 months (ideally 6) and you will have a great supply of rich compost, full of worms that every plant will adore.
What is in flower in February?
Heather thrives in acid soils so any that was planted under your conifer hedges should be in full bloom now. Cyclamen enjoy similar conditions. Heather flowers in shades of pink, purple and white and brings warmth to a winter garden.
Mahonia offers yellow flower heads while winter jasmine delights cold gardens with drooping stems decorated with yellow blooms. Yellow forsythia flowers shoot up on new growth and look amazing against the blue sky on sunny days.
Perennial purple periwinkle has flowered throughout winter in my Kent garden, so perhaps the warmer temperatures are allowing gardeners to be more adventurous. Hebes have been flowering here since November in shades of purple, lilac and pink.
Sarcococca has one of the most enduring, gorgeous scents. Its spikes of powerfully fragranced, delicate white flowers entice pollinators and it works well in a garden where little is in flower, guiding bees to the shrub. It has plump, shiny, black berries, which my gran always told me were edible. They are certainly non-toxic to pets and humans.
Daphne, a shrub native to New Zealand, offers us sprigs of pink blooms right now. There is a new hybrid called Daphne Perfume Prince, which competes with my favourite Sarcococca for scent. Enjoy!
- Warm up the soil where you want to plant vegetables and plants now by placing a layer of recycled bubble wrap, cardboard or black gardening landscaping fabric. This doubles up as a weed suppressant so when you remove it, the weeds will have died back or can be dug out easily before you seed new plants. Remove the layer before planting.
- Leave hydrangea flower heads for a little longer as according to many gardeners (including me) this provides some protection from frost damage. They are quite decorative and can be cut when the frost has disappeared.