with Gill Storey
February is when you begin to get to grips with the new planting year in your garden. This depends solely on the weather: to put it simply if it is cold, wet and horrid and you do not want to go out into the garden, stay indoors – the plants will not like the conditions either.
Indoors you can start seedlings in seed trays, and generally improve your pot plants, changing their compost and repotting where necessary. With citrus trees you should apply a top dressing of compost to their pots.
Here in the south, many of the older gardeners are firm believers in planting by the lunar calendar.
You may think this is nonsense, but there are many handbooks for sale which are very useful garden planners and diaries, even if it seems to us rather odd to divide up tasks according to the time of day and the waxing (roots and flowers) and waning (leafy plants) of the moon.
Our little book (Mieux Jardiner avec la Lune 2010, Larousse 2009) tells us this month to spray our fruit trees with Bordeaux mixture, to plant out shallots (and how to do it), stake our rosebushes and to prune our shrubs and fruit trees and how to do these tasks.
These books are valuable because they are based on the experience of local gardeners and in many cases the timings are different from those in our more northern reference books.
The main tasks for the month for the garden are:
(1) Sew sweet peas in a cool place. I plant them in the centres of lavatory rolls filled with seed compost, since they need to develop long roots.
(2) Lift and divide snowdrops while they are “in the green” (active growth)
(3) Cut back the winter jasmine stems to about 2 inches.
(4) Lift and divide your perennials
(5) Cut back ornamental grasses
(6) Plant lilies and alliums and start your dahlia tubers in a warm light place.
(7) Prune hedges and winter flowering shrubs like mahonia after flowering
(8) You may be able to cut the grass for the first time, but I have avoided this by planting bulbs throughout the garden.
Fruit and Vegetables
(1) Prepare your seed beds by digging over and raking. If a bed will not be wanted for some time, just dig it over loosely and let the frost (if any) get to work on it. Cover seedbeds with polythene to warm them up.
(2) Chit potatoes in a cool light corner. Chitting is one of the mystery words of gardening – simply it means taking your seed potatoes and if there is only one weedy sprout rub it off and let the tuber grow three or four stems in its place. The new chits will be green and vigorous and will produce a bigger crop. As I suggested last month, get some early potatoes, some middle and some late potatoes. If space is limited stick to earlies. What can beat them for flavour?
(3) Use well-rotted compost to mulch fruit trees and bushes and perennial vegetables (cardoons and artichokes, asparagus).
(4) Trim your summer raspberries to just below their top wire and cut the autumn fruiters to ground level.
(5) Prune apples and pears
(6) Plant your parsnips in ground which was manured last year and plant carrots and a second crop of broad beans.
We are nearly at the end of the season for planning major works. The swimming pool companies may well offer reduced prices over the winter, to keep their teams employed and so will the garden landscapers, if you are planning paths, patios fencing etc.
Remember that here in the south you have to think about run-off, as the very heavy rain showers can easily flood your garden, and incorporate this into your design. If you plan a lily pond put it in a place where it will trap the run-off and if you are creating a hard standing include a gutter, or use perforated slabs for drainage.
FINALLY, FEED THE BIRDS but put the feeders out of the reach of cats. It is also a good time to put up bird boxes.