Gardening: February tasks in your garden and greenhouse

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening: February tasks in your garden and greenhouse

Wash down your greenhouse this month

I don’t know about you but this last week has been a difficult one. Lockdown fever has taken hold and the idea of another five weeks in these four walls has been dragging me down, so I go to the place that gives me solace, my garden.

Work has been continuing slowly on my own garden. We are still at the hard landscaping stage and most of that has come to a grinding halt since Christmas but there are still some things I can do around the groundworks and hard landscaping.

It has been cold and wet this last week but with a less-than-sexy raincoat and a good pair of gardening gloves, I escaped from the dining room that has become my home office - because one of my kids has taken over my home office for home schooling and Zoom meetings - and enjoyed a couple of hours in the garden.

I spent some of that time in the greenhouse, giving that a good clean and tidy up as I plan some tiling that this year to add a touch of Insta magic to the space so I can use it to photograph and demonstrate some of my garden musings.

For all those like me looking for some peace in the garden in February, especially those new to the gardening game, here is my plan of action for your garden for this month.

In terms of planting, it's mostly utility at this time of year: planting trees and hedges before the end of the bare-root season which is coming around pretty sharpish. Do get any bare-root or rootballed trees and hedging planted now, it will mean that they get time to put their roots down before the growth kicks off again and this will result in a slightly stronger plant than one grown in a pot - and be cheaper too.

There are a number of flowering plants at this time of year and they really lift my spirits, so if you don’t have at least one of these in your garden at the moment I would definitely recommend these.

Hellebores are just the most beautiful friend at this time of year. They are a country garden favourite that produces flowers when everything else is dormant. Hellebores are easy to grow, and will become drought tolerant once they have become established. They are perfect for providing ground cover in a woodland garden, or for planting in swathes through the front of the herbaceous border. Hellebores come in a number of colours and produce single or double flowers but whichever one takes your fancy they really will brighten up your garden in the depths of winter.

My camellias are also just flowering or promising to do so very soon, as my smaller one in its slightly more shaded position is doing. They are well suited to woodland planting or in a semi shaded bed, but they do like acidic soil with a good reliable source of moisture so I use a couple of tricks. Firstly, I always use ericaceous compost when planting to give them the best start. I then use coniferous cuttings or shavings to create a mulch dressing.

The old trick of adding rusty nails also seems to work well plus coffee grinds are also acidic so use those as a top dressing - these will also keep the slugs from your hostas too, when they come up.

My last recommendation is Sarcocca confusa. This sweetly scented, pure white flowering shrub blooms from December to March with its dark green leaves. This wonderful, winter-flowering, dense evergreen shrub is perfect for a shady border or woodland garden.

To fully appreciate the fabulous, vanilla-like fragrance, plant in moist, well-drained soil close to an entrance or path. Mine is right next to the entrance and as such I get to appreciate it every time I walk into the garden. In late winter or early spring lightly trim or prune back shoots that spoil the plant's symmetry.

After pruning, apply a generous amount of mulch around the base of the plant.

What other jobs can you be getting on with at this time of year?

* Cut back deciduous ornamental grasses that have been left standing over winter, before their fresh shoots appear. Cut back to ground level.

* Prune late-summer flowering clematis, cutting stems back to healthy buds about 15-20cm from the base.

* Divide congested clumps of herbaceous perennials and grasses to make vigorous new plants for free. Do this carefully and if you are not sure what to do then I will be putting up a video in the next week on my website and social media showing you the right way to do this.

* If there are deciduous shrubs in the wrong place, now is the time to move them while they are dormant. Lift them with a small amount of soil around the roots to ensure that they don’t suffer damage.

* Prune winter-flowering shrubs like mahonia and heathers, once they've finished flowering

* Cut back wisteria side shoots to three buds from the base, to encourage abundant flowers in spring. Prune buddleja and elder to the base to keep these vigorous shrubs to a reasonable size

*Sprinkle slow-release fertiliser around the base of roses and other flowering shrubs. Maybe leave this until a little later in the month though or you could even hold on until Patricks Day - but no later than that.

* If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, then there a few things that you can be doing in there. I’d probably leave most of them until slightly later in the month, but if I give you the list now it means you can prepare and get the things you might need. With online orders things are taking a little longer in most cases.

* Sow sweet peas in deep pots and keep them frost-free, use a fleece over them other than in the warmer daylight hours.

* Sow summer bedding and tender annuals, including cosmos, lobelia, dahlias, nasturtiums and snapdragons, again keep these frost-free. I don’t sell seeds and some of the online seeds suppliers are under pressure with orders so get yours in now for sowing later in February or early March.

* Sow tender crops such as tomatoes and chillies in a heated propagator. If you don’t have one of them, then delay until the weather starts to warm a little.

* Plant dahlia tubers in trays to encourage shoots to develop.

* Start planting summer bulbs in pots indoors, including liatris, begonias, gloxinias, lilies.

* Remove any faded or yellowing leaves from overwintering plants to prevent fungal diseases

* Wash greenhouse glazing inside and out to let in as much light as possible.

If you get through all that, your garden will be the talk of the town this spring and summer when we will be needing those gardens as much as ever!

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