February Newsletter 2023
February can be a difficult month to get out into in the garden as it is dependent on the weather. This can be frustrating, but it’s helpful to remember that this is the month of new beginnings!
The days are gradually getting longer, and temperatures are improving as the month progresses. Snowdrops, Crocuses, Hellebores, Primroses and later in the month, Daffodils, and Catkins on Corylus Contorta give a feeling that Spring is just around the corner.
New growth on herbaceous perennials starts to show through the soil and the round and fat new buds of herbaceous Peonies are especially welcome as they get ready for their stunning early Summer show.
This Winter has been difficult for many plants and at Van Hage we have had lots of questions regarding damage caused by the extreme cold weather. The long, hot summer followed by a dry December desiccated the leaves on evergreen plants affecting particularly Bay, Cistus, Ceanothus, Salvia and Cordylines which left the leaves looking dried out and brown. New growth should be evident from April to May which will then be the time to remove any unsightly top growth.
New growth on plants like Cordylines should appear from the base, producing multiple stems rather than a single stem. If not protected from frost and frozen compost, the roots of evergreens can be damaged, rot can set in and they are less likely to recover. With any losses, however, always look for an opportunity for new ideas and try different planting schemes.
It is an exciting time of year in our Plant Area with new the season’s stock arriving daily to inspire us.
• If conditions allow finish Winter digging.
• Mulch around borders. (Mulch is a deep layer of organic matter that is either compost or well-rotted farm manure and is a soil improver. These products are sold in bags.) This helps to supress weeds, improve soil fertility, and conserve soil moisture during the summer months.
• Approximately the 3rd week into February, when plants start actively growing, feed trees, shrubs, roses, climbers, and herbaceous perennials with a fertiliser such as ‘Growmore’. For Roses use specific rose feed or ‘Fish, Blood and Bone’. This product supports the development of strong roots, leaves and flowers and is a natural feed rich in trace elements.
• February is the time to prune certain types of Clematis, such as Viticella and Texensis. These plants flower in July and they can then be pruned very hard now. The new shoots will soon appear from the base. Cut back any untidy top growth to a pair of buds on the larger flower hybrids that flower in early and late summer. If you prune too hard you will miss out on early flowering.
Give the early flowering Montana-types a light prune after flowering in early summer.
As we have had a wet start to 2023, it’s a good idea to protect new growth on Lilies, Delphiniums, Lupins and Hostas from slugs and snails as they appear. ’Strulch’ is a mineralised straw mulch that acts as a good deterrent.
Allotments and Vegetable Gardens
- Start preparing the ground for sowing by weeding and mulching to warm up the soil before early planting. You can also cover the ground with fleece or cloche to keep it frost free.
• Start chittting potatoes, usually about 6 weeks (around mid-March) before planting out. ‘Chitting’ means letting the potatoes sprout which reduces the time until harvest. To do this, stand the potatoes in an egg box or tray lined with newspaper. Place the end with the tiny buds facing up in a light, frost-free position. The knobbly green and purple sprouts will soon appear but if they are white and spindly this means they require more light.
• A particularly good tip is to chit main crop potatoes so that they mature before any damage is caused by blight, which can happen in August.
• Sow Chillies, Peppers, Tomatoes and Aubergines in a heated propagator or on a warm sunny windowsill. These can then be moved to a warm greenhouse for growing on.
• If you choose to plant them straight into beds outside, then sow the seeds in March. You can also buy young plants (available from April to May) for planting out, approximately during the 2nd or 3rd week of May when the risk of frost has passed.
• Onion and shallot sets should be planted as early as possible. However, with all the Winter rain we have had, the soil may still be too cold and wet - so it may be a good idea to start them off in plug trays. Cover the sets with a little soil and put them in a greenhouse or cold frame where they can develop a good root system and strong foliage. They can then be hardened off and planted out when soil conditions improve.
• Sow broad beans in pots or root trainers in a cold frame for planting out in late March or early April.
• In the greenhouse start growing Rocket, Lettuce, Spinach and Beetroot.
• Prune Autumn Raspberries and cut down last year’s canes. The new growth will soon grow, producing Raspberries in late Summer or early Autumn.
February is a good time to plant rhubarb although it takes a year to establish before it can be harvested. Originating from Russia in the Volga and around the Black Sea, Rhubarb used to be more popular than it is today – this is possibly because our taste buds today require more sweet and sugary flavours.
Rhubarb is easy to grow depending on the variety and if forced in early mid to late season you will be rewarded with fruit from March to November. To force rhubarb, cover the crowns with a large pot surrounded with farm manure. The pot excludes light, and the manure gives warmth promoting early growth. The resulting rhubarb stalks are light pink in colour and has a sweet, delicate flavour. The plant needs two years to recover before forcing again so this is best carried out on an allotment when 3 or 4 plants can be growing.
Be inspired by a wide range of Dahlia tubers available – there is so much on offer to choose from. These bright flowers available in all shades of colour (apart from blue) flower from golf ball to dinner plate sizes! Dahlias flower in single or double blooms and can also be water lily shaped, cactus and fimbriated. They also have glossy, rich foliage bringing an exotic touch of colour and diversity to the garden in Summer and Autumn.
The Dahlia originated from Mexico and was first recorded by European Adventurers in the 16th century. They were then introduced into Europe by the Spanish in the 18th century. The original species - Dahlia Imperialis - had single lilac flowers and could grow up to 18ft in height and a smaller species, Dahlia coccinea had single red flowers. From these, the thousands of complex blooms we see today have been produced over the centuries. The plant was named after Dr Andre Dahl the Swedish botanist.
Dahlia tubers can be started into growth by potting them up and keeping them safe from frosts in a greenhouse. To prevent rot, don’t over-water until the tubers are actively growing. Starting growth in late February to early March will produce good strong plants to plant out in May when they are less prone to slug and snail damage.
For an early display of Gladioli, plant corms in seed trays in a light warm spot to encourage sprouts before planting out. For a succession of blooms plant corms every two weeks or so: otherwise they will all flower at the same time.
Lonicera Fragrantissima is a twiggy, shrubby honeysuckle producing scented white flowers in Winter.
Chimonanthus Praecox “Wintersweet” is a plant that requires some patience as it doesn’t flower as a young plant but will eventually produce pale yellow flowers that hang from bare stems. It needs a sheltered spot in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.
Chaenomeles, commonly called Japonica or Quince, are a medium-sized spinney shrub that can be kept neat by growing against a wall or trellis. Several varieties are available in white and pink and the flowers are like apple blossom. These are followed by knobbly green spotted fruit that turns golden yellow in late autumn.
Helleborus are a favourite in the garden and are available in a wide range of colours. They do best in good soil with added organic matter in sun or light shade.
Primrose or prunella vulgaris is one of the earliest wild flowers to open - a sure sign that Spring is on the way!
House plants are Important for improving air quality and provide greenery and a feeling of wellbeing. A Fantastic architectural plant with an unpronounceable name is Zamioculcas Zamiifolia, commonly called the ZZ plant. It has attractive glossy foliage and is easy to care for. It is native to eastern Africa and therefore likes bright, indirect light. Be careful when watering as the tuberous roots hold moisture, so allow the compost to dry slightly between watering.
Ficus lyrate, known as the fiddle leaf fig, is native to Western Africa where it grows in tropical rainforests. It has large green pear-shaped leaves forming a tree-like shape with a woody stem. It likes a bright light but keep out of any cold draughts. Water little and often with tepid water to avoid any rotting and keep the leaves clean and dust free.
There are some 870 species of Ficus available, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from creeping Ficus Pumila to tall Ficus Elastica and we always have a good selection in our House Plants department.
As light levels and temperatures improve towards the end of February, early March is a good time to start repotting house plants that might not have been re-potted or fed for some time.
Even though the weather is chilly and wet there are still plenty of tasks to be getting on with in the garden. Spring really isn’t far away now, and you’ll soon be back out there, creating your patch of heaven.
As always, the VH team are here to help with any gardening queries that you may have.