Traditionally the coldest month, February is the beginning of the excitement I always get when I start to see signs of the end of winter, and the first tempting indication of spring emerging from the ground. Since mid January there have been signs of the Autumn sown bulbs, and even the buds of a Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ that I’d almost forgotten about. From that I’m going to take some root cuttings this week before it get’s too large, if I leave much longer it will be too late. Winter is a good time to take root cuttings and get the new plants growing for Spring but we are getting a little late by now. By the end of the month we’ll have the sun setting at around 6pm, that will really lift the spirits of anyone who has a tendency for the Winter blues. I usually have a positive disposition, but this season I have found even myself suffering from the prolonged damp and dark conditions.
It’s also a busy month when it comes to starting to sow seeds for this years vegetables, annuals, and some more perennials. To make sure that nothing gets left out, and to manage sowing of so many different plants, I came up with a simple but effective system. Using little pots or just using elastic bands, I group the seeds into months that they need to be sown, this means that each week, or simply when there’s space in the propagator, I just take the months seeds and sow something new or a successional sowing of one of this years vegetables. The February and March groups are by far the largest and so it takes a bit of planning to assure that I have enough space at any one time. Successional sowing is one of the most important keys to getting a long season out of vegetables, but annuals and perennial plants should really be sown according to the calendar, unless they’re growing under managed conditions. I did say that I’d report back on the grow lights that I acquired from Britain’s favourite (at least most popular) furniture store, and I’m glad to say that they are proving extremely useful. One of the issues that I have is that unless I move new seedlings into the greenhouse, which can get very cold, and is prone to severe slug damage when it’s clement, I have only a room that is insufficiently lit. As it stands I have lettuce, Rudbeckias, Chilli, Antirrhinum and various other seedlings all growing nicely, until they are big enough for the big time, or simply get moved because of space.
I make my own seed compost from leaf mould from the allotment, perlite and a little compost. The proportions are not an exact science, but as seedlings contain all of the energy and nutrients that they need to get going, you don’t want to give them anything too rich. This is why the leaf mould makes a good base and something for the roots to get started in, the perlite is there to add drainage and prevent water logging. I tend to use something in the region of 2:2:1 of leaf mould, perlite and compost but equal proportions would be fine, most plants aren’t too fussy. Some seeds like courgette and and pumpkin are prone to rotting so especially need the drainage. If you’re not making it though, I highly recommend getting a commercial mix for the job, the rate of success will be much higher than just sticking some seeds in a pot of all purpose compost.
Now that the Wassail at the orchard is over, we can really start to look forward to another bountiful harvest and a year of joy in the company of the plants that hopefully most of us enjoy. If you haven’t got the space or time to tend your own then remember to stop once it a while and appreciate the trees, and even the humble weeds that surround us.
This is the last chance before the garden will require more attention for you to get some of the more menial tasks over and done with, so wrap up warm and employ yourself with some of these.
Force rhubarb as it should be starting to grow quite nicely now
- Sow early vegetables and ones that have a long season, like leeks, onions and celeriac
- Many annuals are sowing this month so looks at your seed packets and make sure you don’t miss anything
- Cut back shrubs like Dogwood (Cornus) and Willow (Salix) down to their base to get a good new growth and a nice display at the end of the year
- This is the last chance that you’ll get to move any shrubs and trees around
- Finish clearing up any winter debris such as dead leaves and think about tidying up old plants in preparation for this years growth
- Pot on rooted cuttings that were taken last year
- Prune winter flowering shrubs now that the colour has faded
- Get excited