Peter’s Gardening tips for February

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 has spent his life gardening, working in garden centres and advising in all aspects of gardening, wildlife, and bio-diversity in horticulture.He managed Clandon Park Garden Centre in Surrey at the age of 23 and was a gardening radio presenter with the BBC. This continued for 15 years, running live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows.Now self-employed, Peter works on a wide variety of gardens from private to large estates and also concentrating on consultancy and advisory work to fellow gardeners. He works with the RHS Gardening Advice team at Chelsea, Hampton Court, Wisley Flower shows and is an RHS External Gardening Advisor

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