The days are slowly getting longer and it is a month of anticipation. Spring is only just around the corner, bulbs are shooting up all over the place – snowdrops, crocuses, early daffodils and primroses are all breaking into bud. It’s a busy month – mulching, pruning, planning new borders and sowing seeds.
Try to make sure you have cut your hedges by the end of this month to make way for the birds who will be busy nesting in March.
Herbaceous perennials can continue to be divided this month – I have a big clump of Stachys byzantina which I will dig up and divide carefully into small plants, discarding any woody centre. I will then either replant or pot up, watering well. Clumps of snowdrops can be lifted and divided after flowering when still in the green – you will then create lots more snowdrops for free!
This year I am going to try to take lots of cuttings from the dahlias which I overwintered in the shed. Plant up the stored tubers in pots and put them in a frost free greenhouse to get them off to an early start. Dahlia cuttings need to be taken early as they will need some time to make good plants which will flower this year. Be sure to look for the eye which is around the neck of the dahlia and make sure each section you cut off contains one of these eyes as they will produce the flowering spikes. Keep potted cuttings under cover in a light warmish place and wait for those shoots to appear!
I know you will all be desperate to get going with your seed sowing (!) – however if you can wait till mid/late February this is definitely better – if you sow too early seedlings become leggy desperately searching for the light, and light levels are still quite low.
Some of the seeds I will be sowing this year include Ammi majus, Cobaea scandens, Antirrhinums, Scabious and Calendula. I plan to do a sow along/grow along Insta feed so watch this space!
If you missed the Autumn sow of sweet peas don’t worry, there is still plenty of time to get another sowing in. This year I have gone for ‘Alison Louise’ which is a gorgeous blue and really unusual. The loo roll method is a good one! Sow two seeds to one loo roll, water and leave to germinate in a greenhouse or on a windowsill. They don’t need light to germinate but for protection and to keep the moisture in it is often a good idea to cover them with some newspaper. As soon as the green shoots appear, remove the newspaper and give them lots of light.
Fruit Trees – Prune any fruit trees (except stone fruit like plums/cherries) to encourage great blossom and fruit. Remove any spindly growth or crossing branches trying to form a goblet shape if you can with lots of air flowing through the centre of the tree – this will help to avoid any fungal infection. Cut back any new growth by a third just above an outward facing bud. Finally thin out if possible the fruiting spurs to encourage fewer better apples in the Summer.
Espalier Apples/Pears can be pruned to achieve the shape you require at this time of year. Take out any branches coming forward, keep it airy and if your espaliers are well established be sure to remove the lead shoot which will continue to grow upwards unless you tend to it!
Clematis – Clematis pruning – eeeek I hear you say! But if you know which Group – 1, 2 or 3 – your clematis is, it honestly couldn’t be easier. Early clematis like Montana just lightly prune otherwise you will lose this year’s blooms. Then wait until it has flowered this year to give it more of a shape and cut back. Those that flower after June HARD prune down to knee height leaving at least two pairs of healthy buds.
Wisteria – It is best to prune wisteria twice a year, once in August after flowering and then again in February – this will encourage the short spurs that hold the flower buds.
Chit your potatoes by leaving them somewhere light and cool for the next few weeks to form green nobbles (!) and then wait to plant them out into the ground in May.
Early vegetables such as lettuce, radish, beetroot, spring onions and peas can also be sown under cover now. It might be an idea to cover the ground outdoors where the young plants are to be put out, using a cloche or a sheet of polythene to protect the soil from further rain/snow and warm it up a bit ready for planting out in March.
You may have had some Hyacinth/Paperwhites/Amaryllis bulbs over Christmas which have now finished flowering and I am often asked what to do with them next! I always plant my spent Hyacinths out in the garden where they tend to come back better than ever the next year. The Paperwhites and Amaryllis I will leave in their pots, cut down the flower stems but leave the leaves intact so they can continue to photosynthesise over the summer.
I have been preparing the beds, particularly in my veg garden, by mulching with mushroom compost – at least 3 inches thick – and will let the worms take down all that goodness into the beds. Come April/May, they should be in a good state for me to plant out my seedlings. I might also incorporate some organic-based fertiliser like Blood Fish and Bone into the borders/veg beds – a sprinkling of this lightly forked in around the plants/ into the empty veg beds will do plants the world of good after a long winter.
Particularly if the weather is miserable, now is a great time to plan other borders or beds that you might be dreaming about! I have marked out four more large herbaceous borders which I am planning to fill with everything that I am growing this year, plus a couple of trees! I use string and bamboo canes to draw out the plans on the lawn. and I am now mid way through cutting the turf off the top and filling with organic matter to give the soil a bit of a boost.