Peter’s Gardening tips for February

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As I write the monsoon winter continues. Many friends young and senior have never seen rain and flooding like it. Shall we go in for aquatic gardening, Paddy fields and rice?!

Joking apart things are starting to bud, sprout, flower with the mild temperatures. As for working the ground, treating the lawns for moss, raking up leaves, cleaning the huge amount of acorns still around its going to have to wait, the ground is too wet to dig and any walking on the grass or flower borders will only do damage to the soil structure and compaction, keep off!!

Machinery – Did you manage to get the machinery serviced? Mower, blower, hedge trimmer etc. Also, the cleaning and maintaining of the tools in the shed, treating the wooden handles with wood preservative/wood-worm killer, if required?

Greenhouse & Indoor Plants – check all plants over for bugs and beasties, I have recently found some vine weevil grubs in pots of indoor begonias. Also, check for mealy bug, red spider, whitefly and greenfly. A useful control product available is Pyrol Bug & Larvae Killer by Neudorff.

Check Stored Fruit, Bulbs & Corms – after this monsoon of a winter so far, I am finding things not storing so well and its been so mild.

Potatoes sprouting – store them somewhere cooler if possible, concrete floor of a garage?

Fruit – any rotten apples, pears, quinces throw out for the birds to enjoy – recycle!

Onions, Dahlias, Gladioli – please check and only store firm ones. Any rotten, soft or smelly throw away and do not compost as you will spread diseases.

Mice have been in the greenhouse and cold frame eating sweet pea seedlings, so worth looking out for and also observe over wintering cuttings for caterpillars, holes in leaves might not be slugs and snails? For any slug damage it would be well worth putting around a few slug pellets, vary sparingly (Growing Success, Slug Gone, or Sluggo Slug and Snail Killer from Neudorff).

Begin sowing lettuce and salad leaves in seed trays, try and use fresh seed for good germination and store opened lettuce seed packets in the fridge! Another tip with lettuce seed is sow thinly on the surface of the compost, do not cover the seed with compost, the seeds are in fact light sensitive.

Vegetables & Fruit – Shallots, onions, garlic, rhubarb, asparagus are all available in pre-packs to buy now. Also ready for purchase are Raspberry canes, Blueberries, Blackberries, Grapes, Red & White Blackcurrants, Apples, Pears, Plums, Cherries and Figs. Plants in pots, keep outside well-sheltered and plant in final position when the ground has dried out. Bare-root plants pot-up.


Vegetable Allotments

Allotment/Veg Gardeners – there is a full-range of seed potatoes available now in garden centres, catalogues or on-line. It also pays to look out for ‘Potato Days’ near you, specialists supplying a bewildering variety of potatoes and masses of free knowledge, some of my favourites are: Red Duke of York, Ratte (French, similar to Anya/Pink fir apple in shape), Belle de Fontenay, Marfona, Witchill, and Formost . Once you have purchased, place your seed potatoes into open egg boxes or trays to chit! Place somewhere cool, light and frost-free. These can be planted up around Easter weather depending?

Summer Flowering Bulbs & Corms – Available to buy in pre-packs are Lilies, Begonia tubers, Dahlia tubers, Nerine bulbs, Gladiolis, Cannas, Crocosmia and Ranunculus at your local garden centres.

Outdoor Jobs (when the weather allows) – Grape Vines outdoors:- these must be pruned now or else the cut stems will bleed and this can kill a vine. If the stem bleeds when you do a trial cut at the end of a stem, then stop, you will have to prune again in May. Reduce side branches to 2-3 buds, this may mean 2ft of growth cut off. The main stem can be reduced to 5-6ft unless you are training your vine along wires or over a pergola. Save your pruning’s and dry them in a shed, why, they make excellent kindling!

Apple & Pear Trees – It is also time to prune apple and pears, where possible look at the shape of the tree and cut out the criss-crossing branches in the middle of the tree, unless you are growing trees against walls, cordons or espaliers? Reduce shoots to 3-5 buds which helps create fruiting spurs, and cut back main branches by a third.

Birds – As I mentioned last month continue to keep bird feeders clean and also bird baths. Put up nest boxes, please avoid the front of the nest box facing south or west as they can get too warm. Many birds last week started to sing in the South of England already, Blackbird, Robin, Great Tit, House Sparrow and Dunnock.

Winter Scent and the first Hints of Spring – Daphne Bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. If you have the room and acidic soil it offers a sight and scent to stop you in your tracks, if you are near Wisley Gardens in Surrey do go and have a sniff! Witch Hazel, Christmas Box, Winter Honeysuckles, please feast your senses on these and even the Snowdrops, Hellebores and Cyclamen are poking through…..

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Peter Mills

I love everything to do with natural history, wildlife, biodiversity and of course horticulture - basically the big outdoors. I grew up with very good teachers namely my parents and my French grandfather who was a superb grower of vegetables. At Hadlow College I studied a three year OND in Horticulture. I had a market stall selling plants. Went onto wholesaling house plants to florists and garden centres across southern England. In 1986 I joined Clandon Park Garden Centre as manager. Whilst there I started my career as a gardening radio presenter with the BBC Southern Counties Radio. This continued for 15 years, building up valuable contacts with the RHS Wisley, live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows etc. Since 1998 I have been self-employed, working as a Head Gardener and in private gardens . Through the RHS Advisory Department at Wisley I advise on horticultural problems in members gardens, including pest & disease problems, lawn-care advice, pruning of wisterias, fruit trees, roses, wildlife gardening, growing fruit & vegetables, creating wildflower meadows, identifying plants and control of pernicious weeds. Autumn 2016 finds me at the Autumn Flower Show 6-8 of September at RHS Wisley and Taste of Autumn Sunday 23rd of October. Sunday 11th of September I am cycling from London to Brighton for Perennial ( Gardeners Benevolent Fund) who helped me when I broke my leg badly in 2014. Had the plate removed in February this year. My Just Giving page is Perennial is a Fabulous Charity who help anyone working in horticulture. I didn't think I would need their help at the age of 52! They were brilliant and helped us as a family. It's my turn to repay their help and others too! John Ambrose and I have raised over £ 2000.00 thank you all. I am an extremely lucky guy who loves what I do and the trade called Horticulture!

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22nd Feb 2014
Thanks for voting!
I have a bed of herbs - old and overgrown - how shall I deal with this please.
Peter Mills
22nd Feb 2014
Thanks for voting!
Hi Cynthia.
Best is to dig them all up. If mint is in the mixture go through the soil thoroughly. Little bits left behind will get going again.
I would also mulch the area with compost, your own if you have some, or buy it from your local gardencentre. Cover to a depth of two inches and mix in some Q4 fertilizer. Handful to the square yard,(35 grams per square meter). Then you can replant with new herbs,or something completely different... Roses,shrubs,fruit and veg, summer flowering bulbs,herbaceous plants or wildflowers. The choice is yours. Happy Gardening. Peter.

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