February weather can be tricky for gardeners. Winter is not yet over and spring remains a way off in the distance so it can be frustrating waiting to get out into the garden to prepare for the seasons ahead but, as always, the weather is the deciding factor.

It’s an exciting time in the Garden Centre because there are so many product ranges arriving every day, with new themes and ideas, seed stands packed to bursting, ranges of summer bulbs, seed potatoes, onion sets, and so much more, so now’s the perfect time to plan and prepare ahead for sowing and planting.

It’s child’s play!

There’s a huge range of flower seeds, including many annuals which are so easy to grow providing brilliant colourful flower displays throughout the summer - children will love to help with sowing, growing and picking! Consider allocating a small area to grow cut flowers for the house, with plants such as sunflowers in colours from creamy yellow to burnt orange, cosmos which flowers throughout summer and into autumn, cornflowers, larkspur, dahlias, zinnias, rudbeckias, sweet peas, all providing so many different colour combinations of flowers in warm rich reds, oranges and yellows and creamy pastels.

You can grow them in mixed colours or in blocks of single colours and the pinks, blues, reds etc make for stunning displays which as a plus provide fantastic cut flowers for the house, straight from the garden to the vase!  Any of these hardy annuals are sown directly into the soil from March to April and to prepare the soil just dig over for a fine tilth and add in some compost. Half-hardy annuals need a little more warmth for the seeds to germinate, and so are best sown in a propagator from March onwards.

As soon as the seeds have germinated and are big enough, prick out and plant out into individual pots or modular trays which are readily available, then grow on in a frost-free cold frame or greenhouse. A classic 4-tier Gro Zone is useful for germinating seeds and propagating plants and for extending the growing season, as is the aptly-named windowsill greenhouse, just the right size for starting plants on your own kitchen window sill.

Time to celebrate

The Queen’s Platinum jubilee is being celebrated this year, as we know, and one of the initiatives is to encourage groups and individuals of all ages to improve the environment by planting a tree for future generations to enjoy. There is a tree  for any size of garden and  they give height and depth to your outdoor space, provide shelter and a home for` birds and insects, improve air quality, give shade in summer and many will flower and produce fruit. Beneath trees you can plant bulbs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals that enjoy the light shade and shelter that trees provide.

For small gardens, consider ornamental flowering cherries grown on semi-dwarf rootstock, which produce a smaller, more compact tree, which don’t lose fruit, making them more suitable for today’s smaller gardens.  They range in colour from pure white to dark pink with single, semi-double or double flowers, good for autumn colour and easy to grow. 

Another group of trees for garden interest are crab apples, with their wonderful spring flowers followed by bright coloured fruit, good for making into jelly. For foliage interest colour and leaf shape, Japanese maples cannot be beaten, especially for a sheltered semi-shaded position.

Longer days and new plants appearing

Some of  February’s gardening highlights include Hammamelis the witch hazel, with scented spidery flowers in yellow and orange. There is also the Corkscrew Hazel (or Corylus avellana contorta, to give it it’s rather clunky full name) with fluffy yellow catkins. 

Then there is Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’, a variety which produces catkins as long as 12” (30cm) which does best in a sheltered position protected from cold winds. Other hardy stalwarts which can survive February’s cold weather are snowdrops, aconites, crocus, hellebores, violets and primroses. A good tip with hellebores is to cut off the old leaves, which shows off the flowers to good effect and helps prevent the spread of disease.

Getting ready for Spring

If you want to get ahead and prepare the ground for new roses, trees, shrubs and perennials you can improve the soil by digging in some organic compost, and if the soil is heavy, add coarse grit to improve drainage. You can also mulch round your existing plants, which simply means covering the soil with a deep layer of organic matter, which will improve the soil, supress weed growth and help to conserve moisture in the soil during the summer months. If you’re planning on growing some vegetables this year, you can prepare the area where they are to be grown, by covering it with some polythene or horticultural fleece to warm it up for early vegetable sowing.

At the end of February, feed trees, shrubs and perennials with ‘Fish, blood and bone’ which is a good balanced fertiliser good for leaves, roots, fruits and flowers. Cut back and tidy grasses although with evergreen grasses don’t cut back, just remove any dead material. Don’t move or divide grasses at this time of the year as this is best carried out later when plants are growing actively.

Soon new shoots will appear through the soil, a heartening sight at the end of winter. If your tubs and planted containers lack colour, there is a quick fix. Primulas are readily available now in many colours and adding a few to your pots and tubs will add instant impact, and pots of potted bulbs can be dropped into the planters too, to fill in any gaps. All these are brightening up our outdoor Plant area at the moment, a great antidote to a grey day.

Grow-your-own

There are many different types of seed potatoes available at the moment. They’re not planted out until late March or April, so to start them off at this time of year you ‘chit’ them, (which just means encouraging them to sprout before planting) in a clean seed tray lined with paper or in an egg box.

Place your seed potatoes up on end with the blunt end facing upwards, then stand the box in a warm dry bright position, such as the kitchen windowsill. In 5 or 6 weeks, they will develop strong shoots 2.5cm long, ready for planting, allowing them to grow faster when planted out compared to seed potatoes that have been planted dormant.

Plant your onion and shallot sets in modular containers and then plant them out when they are actively growing and the soil has warmed up a little. Sow early peas and broad bean seeds into small individual pots. Growing your own fruit and veg is easy, tasty and inexpensive and there has been a huge resurgence of interest in this area of gardening. We’re always ready to help if you want to give it a go, and our seed stands are packed to bursting with the new spring seeds.

The Van Hage plant teams, both indoors and outside, are always happy to help with any gardening questions, from houseplants to Grow your own to seasonal ideas for tubs and containers, or new suggestions for beds and borders.  

We’re enjoying the daily arrivals of all the wonderful spring plants starting to fill our plant areas and look forward to seeing our customers enjoying them too, so please do come in for a visit!

Best wishes
The Van Hage Team