‘February fill-dyke’ is the old saying, and it can certainly be that in a good many parts of the country, either because of rain or melting snow. But the days have steadily begun to lengthen, and the extra light -and sometimes warmth – will start plants into growth towards the end of the month. Lawns may need topping, no more, on a mild day . when the soil is not waterlogged or frozen. If it is very wet, spiking to a 4-in. Depth with a garden fork is better treatment for the turf, and gives the grass roots a chance to breathe; later in the month worm casts may need -sweeping off with a stiff broom.
In sheltered places roses showing signs of breaking into leaf should be pruned quickly before they do; this applies of course to the hybrid teas and floribundas, and those climbers not yet cut back. Clematis, similarly, may actually be bursting. The early summer flowering varieties should be tipped back only, the late summer flowering kinds need cutting back hard to leave 3, 4 or 5 ft. of growth from ground level. They grow exceedingly vigorously in the next four months and such hybrids as the blue-purple C.jackmanii, pink ‘I lagley Hybrid’, ‘Etoile Violette’ and white Iuldine’ relish such harsh treatment and reward it with an abundance of flower. As in January, keep a vigilant eye open for bud-pecking, wind-rbcking, bark stripping and unsteady shrub and trees supports. After gales stakes and ties may need to be renewed, especially in exposed gardens. Be sure to firm the soil round wind-rocked plants.
Throughout the garden weeds may be starting to grow. Hoe them off or otherwise eradicate them before they get into their stride-it is so much easier to do and quicker, when they are at the seedling stage, or when they have only a weak winter hold on the soil. In the growing season it sometimes takes all one’s strength to detach a well-grown weed from the ground.
Before the season really begins, a quick review of last year’s pests and diseases will help in the battle against them this year. It is more than likely that some of the following will have appeared in the garden somewhere: white powdery mildew on roses, apple trees, chrysanthemums and herbaceous plants generally, grey mould throughout, rose black spot, scab on apples and pears, cankers on apple and rose shoots and branches, greenfly, and blackfly on practically everything, caterpillars of various sorts, earwigs, red spider mite, and sooty mould where greenfly have been feeding.
If so be prepared well in advance with such remedies as derris, malathion, BHC and trichlorphon insecticides, and benomyl, captan, dinocap, sulphur and copper for fungi. Spray with the appropriate deterrent as soon as leaves unfold, if there was trouble last season, otherwise leave the plants alone but keep a vigilant eye on them.
Very cold snaps are another seasonal dismay, and the temperature may fall 20 or 30°F ( 10 or 15°C) below freezing, quite unexpectedly, so listen to weather forecasts, follow your own knowledge and experience of local weather conditions, and prepare to increase the greenhouse heat accordingly. Many precious plants are lost by just one night’s severe cold. But, unless this kind of Arctic climate is expected, always ventilate the greenhouse, so that grey mould does not ravage the plants and be ready to spray if troubles appear.
At this time of the year the greenhouse can be very colourful, with cinerarias and freesias in full spate, lachenalias, crocus, narcissus and hyacinths brought on early, haemanthus and hippeastrum joining them, and some of the shrubs, camellias, jasmine, boronia, browallia, abutilon and the shrimp plant (beloperone), and azaleas still just in flower. Primulas such as P. obconica, keroensis and malacoides will be in flower and are charming, especially the Kew hybrid, in lemon yellow, with greyish-white leaves; it is fragrant as well. Many of these plants may be brought into the living room while they are in flower and returned to the greenhouse once their flowers are over.
Begonia, achimenes, dahlia and gloxinia (sinningia) corms and tubers will all start to produce shoots if put into a bed of moist peat. Another pleasant job for a dull February day is pruning many of the shrubby plants, for instance fuchsias, preparatory to topdressing or re-potting next month just as growth is starting. Flower seeds to sow are ageratum, impatiens, cobaea, canna, celosia, nemesia and petunia, in fact all sorts of half-hardy bedding plants for out of doors so that they can be brought on early and planted out at the end of May. Give them a temperature of 60-70°F (16°-21°C); a propagating frame which can be heated will be needed if the greenhouse is a cool one. Sweet peas can be sown if missed out in the general rush in the autumn, and will flower in early July.
Hippeastrums, vallotas, clivias and lilies are some bulbs which can be started now, by watering a little and providing a little heat, to 50°F (10°C) or so. Watering of cyclamen, on the other hand, can be stopped, as flowers will have faded, the leaves will have fed the corms, and finished their useful life, and the plants can be gradually dried off and rested under the staging. More chrysanthemums can be footed from cuttings-the early-flowering kinds this month, as well as the winter ones, and so can perpetual flowering carnations.
Vegetables are an essential constituent of diet – home-grown ones are much better than shop sold (or soiled) ones for flavour and nutrient content, crispness and general deliciousness. Sowing vegetable seed now will give crops much earlier than usual; for instance, French beans, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, leeks and lettuces, cauliflowers and broad beans will all germinate well in a temperature of 60°F (16°C) and more. Unusual vegetables are well worth considering; for instance celeriac seed can be sown inside, and Jerusalem artichokes and garlic can be planted in sheltered places and early gardens.
More run of the mill kinds for planting outside are spring cabbage, onion sets, shallots and chives. Parsnips which have been left in the ground, as good a way of keeping them as any, will not remain dormant any longer, and should be lifted and stored in dry sand before they start to grow again. Seed potatoes can be chitted, that is, put in single layers in shallow boxes in a light, frost-proof shed, so that the eyes start to sprout; the heel should be uppermost. Early varieties will then be ready for planting out in March in mild gardens.
Good vegetables must be grown well-they will not tolerate poor soil. A steady supply of moisture, as well as nutrients, is always necessary, otherwise they will not grow or will bolt. So, manuring and digging if not already done, can be completed this month.
If one’s stomach rules one’s gardening, then fruit growing is another branch which will take up a good deal of time. Pruning of apples and pears should finish this month; spraying with tar-oil winter wash or DNC is still possible; peaches and allied fruits may need protective spraying against leaf curl, with lime-sulphur or a copper fungicide, timing the application for just on bud burst.
Raspberries can still be tipped and autumn fruiting kinds should have the old canes cut right out. Strawberries cloched late in the month will be ready for picking in early May. A tar-oil spray on blackcurrants now will save time later in spraying greenfly, since it will kill the over-wintering eggs. They can be a very real problem in that their attacks will severely stunt new growth on which next season’s fruit will be protluced. Gooseberry and red currant pruning should be completed.