February is not a good gardening month. There….I have said it. Cold, dark, windy and the soil is still too wet to really get on to it. However it is a good month to visit gardens looking for inspiration just as you are planning your plot for the spring. Goltho Gardens near Market Rasen, in Lincolnshire, opens on 4th February. As members of the National Garden Scheme, they are also holding 2 charity days on 17th and 18th February (01673 857768). Another garden in the NGS is The Beeches in Tuxford, near Newark which opens its gates on Sunday 27th February (01777 870828).
Did you know that the month is named after the Roman festival of ritual purification, Februa, which is associated with spring cleaning and took place on the 15th February? Some sources connect the Latin word for fever, febris, with the same notion of purification, due to the sweating commonly seen as a means of purging. The month of February was also known to the Saxons as “sprout-kale” due to the availability of brassicas at this time.
The 12th to 14th February are said to be “borrowed” from January, so if the weather at this time is fine, then expect bad weather later on in Summer, but if these days are foul, then the year should be fine. It will be interesting to see if this superstition is proven to be true in 2011 and we have managed to plan our gardening tasks accordingly!
February is a good month for preparation, so prepare pots in advance of the hectic sowing season. Oil and grease the lawnmower and sharpen and adjust the blades in preparation for mowing. Sunnier days may increase the temperature in greenhouses, so take the time to clean and disinfect, making sure to provide ventilation. With any luck, we will also have a few sunny days to get out and appreciate early blooms. If exceptionally cold weather is forecast, do not forget to protect early flowers and shoots. Whilst there is still time to prune summer and autumn flowering shrubs, do not be tempted to attack those that flower in winter and spring until all blooms have finished. After flowering, lift and divide snowdrops to prevent overcrowding. Later in the month, fruit bushes trained against walls may have begun to produce blossom. It would be beneficial to hand pollinate them with a fine brush as there will be few pollinating insects in the cold weather. If bare rooted fruit trees have been ordered, prepare the ground in advance so that the roots are not left open to the cold. If that is not practical, soak the roots and protect with soil and sacks. It is essential to remove old crops and decaying leaves now from the plot so that disease does not spread to seedlings. Heavy frost may have moved the soil, so firm down any spring cabbages. It is a good month to dig over the vegetable plot and leave the weather to finish breaking up dirt clods. On colder days, dive into those gardening books for tips. In the words of American entomologist, Neely Turner “Probably more pests can be controlled in an armchair in front of a February fire with a garden notebook and a seed catalog that can ever be knocked out in hand-to-hand combat in the garden”.
Continue to feed birds as you will need them to help you with insect control later on. This may be particularly useful for an unmarried lady as tradition states that the first bird she sees on Valentine’s Day shall dictate the character of her future husband. A woodpecker should be avoided as it means there will be no wedding bells in the forthcoming year and a crow is an omen that it is time to leave a current romantic involvement. However, the sight of a duck will lead to a stable loving relationship – that is not a hint to encourage single men down to the banks of the local river! The kingfisher or goldfinch suggests the arrival of a rich man and amongst others; the canary means a doctor, the robin foresees a sailor and a bird of prey denotes a businessman or politician, whilst the common garden sparrow signifies a man working on the land. I suppose that, even if such folklore does not inspire her, a spot of birdwatching will at least lift any loneliness on Valentine’s Day!
This is the start of a busy time for sowing seeds. In sheltered gardens, seeds can be sown under cloches, especially early salad leaves, carrots, radishes, onions, peas and broad beans. It is a good idea to sow low growing lettuces around peas and beans to economise on space. Secure cloches will also deter mice who like to eat young seedlings – if you use poison, please keep it away from children, pets and wildlife. It is also essential to keep an eye on slugs hidden beneath warm covers. Alternatively, sow peas and beans in pots indoors. Early brassicas such as cabbages and sprouts can be sown in trays at the end of the month. Do not forget sweet pea flowers which will provide an attractive back drop to the vegetable plot as well as a sweet scent to attract beneficial insects. Any onion seedlings in trays should be separated into small pots for the greenhouse to be planted out towards the end of the month. Onions will appreciate spreading and forking in bonfire ash to the soil beforehand. Shallots and garlic are useful crops to plant amongst others as the scent will deter pests. Therefore, it is also a good time to divide and replant chives – why not try garlic chives for an alternative to garlic – chopped leaves are great in salads and on buttered toast! Seeds are available at Original Touch. Herbs such as sage and thyme which have become too large can also be divided now. If the tops have become damaged by the hard winter, it is a good idea to cut back to encourage new growth.
If you are concerned about grass beneath young fruit trees and bushes taking up nitrogen otherwise available for the tree, why not sow clover which will fix nitrogen into the soil, provide a home for beneficial insects and attract pollinating insects.
“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.”
- William C. Bryant