Get into the garden! 5 February must-dos
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By Jackie Hunt, gardener at the award-winning Turn End Gardens, Haddenham, Bucks
Although it can be bitterly cold, I love February in the garden. The early bulbs are heralds of spring and you can really tell it is getting brighter and days longer. After months of tidying up, I think of February as my ‘technical’ month, as it is my first opportunity to do pruning and propagation.
Cut back deciduous grasses
I’ve left the tufts of deciduous grasses over the winter for their pretty, feathery structure. As the weather starts to warm up and the new shoots emerge, some can now be cut back hard to the ground.
You should leave cutting back of some less tough deciduous grasses until mid March to April, as they produce new shoots later and will appreciate the protection of old stems. These include Miscanthus and Pennisetum.
Evergreen grasses just need a tidy up. Cut off any dead leaves around the base, then comb out or cut off any dead stems.
Bulbs such as snow drops are best divided once the flowers have faded and the leaf tips are beginning to turn yellow.
Lift clumps of bulbs with a garden fork and gently pull apart into smaller clumps. Use a garden trowel to replant at the same depth as they were previously growing. Don’t cut off the leaves, let them die back naturally.
Prune climbing roses
You can prune climbing roses anytime in late autumn and winter. I tend to prune mine in late winter, when the garden is tidied up and I can clearly see the structure of the rose plants (and it’s the only time I have free to do it!). The idea of pruning is to keep the plant healthy and put energy into flower development.
Like all pruning, the first job is to remove all dead, diseased, dying and weak shoots.
Next, remove the older woody branches by cutting them back to the ground. Saw away any dead stumps to a nice clean cut to prevent water getting in and causing rotting.
Leave the nice strong, young and vigorous stems. Tie them onto supports (this may be wires or hooks, secured to your wire or fence). Try to fan out the stems sideways rather than pointing upwards. This will encourage the hormones for new flower shoots, rather than the hormones that cause tall upright growth.
If you need to confine the plant to a space, you can shorten the stems by about a third to a half. Otherwise just cut back the side shoots to 2-3 buds. Always make a clean cut just above a bud.
Later in the spring, give roses a feed with rose food and mulch around the plant with 5cm thick compost, avoiding the stem area.
Take Hardwood Cuttings
This is an easy way to propagate deciduous shrubs, trees and climbers. It works well on plants such as Cornus (dogwood), Salix (willow), Forsythia, Philadelphus, Buddleja and Vitis (grape). You can also use this method for gooseberries, black, red and white currants.
You can take hardwood cuttings any time when plants are dormant (mid autumn to late winter), but the best time is just after the leaves have fallen or just before buds open in spring.
If you have room in your garden or allotment, you can prepare a trench for the cuttings. Choose a sheltered spot with well drained spoil. Dig in plenty of compost then put a layer of sand at the bottom of the trench. Otherwise, use a large, deep pot filled with one third grit, one third compost and one third soil.
To prepare the cuttings, select strong, plump, healthy shoots that grew last year. About pencil thickness is ideal. Cut off the soft tip. Cut the shoot into sections that are 15-30cm long. Make a clean, sloping cut at the top just above a bud (to remind you which is the top!). Cut straight across at the bottom below a bud. Dip the bottom in a hormone rooting powder to encourage roots and to help prevent rotting.
Insert the cuttings into the ground or the pot so that two-thirds of the cutting is below the surface. Allow 10-15 cm between cuttings.
You can leave the cuttings until autumn, just making sure they don’t dry out or get weedy.
Start seed sowing indoors
Check your seed packets to see which plants can be sown early. Non hardy plants need starting off inside in containers – on a windowsill or heated greenhouse. You can buy special seed compost. It will be light, free draining and low in nutrients.
Also check whether your seeds need soaking or scarifying.
Select suitable containers. Small seeds can be sown in seed trays, then when the seedlings are big enough they can be pricked out into larger containers. Slightly larger seeds can be sown individually into modules, and large seeds can be placed individually into 9cm pots. To avoid disturbing fine seed, water the trays before sowing.
Check the requirements of your seed on the packet – some may need soaking or scarifying (scratching) to help a tough seed to germinate. The general rule for sowing is to scatter small seeds thinly over the compost. Very fine seeds can be mixed first with dry sand to help an even spread. Sift a fine layer or compost or vermiculite over the sown seeds.
Larger seeds can be planted 2 centimetres deep into the compost.
Label with the date and name, water gently and cover with glass or clear polythene, or place in a heated propagator.
Jackie Hunt has worked as the gardener and estate manager at the award-winning Turn End gardens in Haddenham, Bucks, since 2010. Previously she was a gardener for the National Trust and ran her own garden design and maintenance business.