February: to-do list

P10009811. Hard prune dogwoods and other shrubs with ‘winter’ bark. This will encourage fresh growth that is even more brightly coloured than the old stems.

2. Prune winter-flowering jasmine as soon as its flowers have finished. Remove some of the old brown wood entirely, making the cut at the base of the plant. Don’t be tempted to give it an all over haircut, as this reduces most of the wood that you wish to keep.

3. Tidy up and deadhead your winter-flowering pansies in hanging baskets and containers. Remove any dead heads and soft, soggy stems from cyclamen.

4. Don’t rush into planting – if you really can’t wait to plant spring bedding, treat yourself to a pot-grown, spring-flowering shrub. I’m currently hankering after a Stachyurus praecox – a beautiful, quite unusual, large shrub/small tree whose long strings of bell-like yellow flowers look like catkins hanging from the bare branches. Also, you can’t go wrong with the waxy beauty of Chaenomoles, the flowering quince. My personal favourite is the lovely, late-flowering, Chaenomoles speciosa ‘Moerloosei‘, with white flowers flushed with blush pink before the appearance of the aromatic fruits – which can be eaten once cooked.

The beautiful Stachyurus praecox in flower.

5. Time to plant the very underrated Jerusalem artichokes. These have a potato-like texture, look like a knobbly ginger root and can be cooked in much the same way as potatoes and parsnips. They also make a delicious soup. They are closely related to and look very like the sunflower; their name ‘Jerusalem’ is nothing to do with the Israeli city but derives from the Italian for sunflower, ‘girasole’. A very interesting, attractive addition to any vegetable garden, especially for young gardeners.

6. If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, now is the time to box or pot up stored dahlia tubers. This is especially worthwhile for dahlias normally planted in patio containers which you want to flower as soon as possible. It is good to do if you want to force young shoots to take for cuttings. It’s important to take cuttings early so they have enough time to make good, strong plants that will flower this year. One tuber per 15cm pot. The tuber should nestle just below the surface of the compost.

7. Chit potatoes! Another fun thing for young gardeners to do. In a clean seed tray lined with old newspaper, or even an old egg box, place seed potatoes up on end with the tiny buds facing upwards. Stand the box in a warm, dry, light place (no need for a greenhouse). Mine are next to a sunny radiator but a bright window ledge will do. When the shoots are 2.5-4cm long, the tubers are chitted. And then you pot them up.

8. Plant my mother’s favourite flower – lily-of-the-valley. The dormant crowns should be planted in between shrubs in well-drained, moist soil in an area that, come summer, will be dappled shade rather than full sunshine. They can be quite ‘hungry’ so ensure some well-rotted organic matter has been added to the soil. The beautifully scented bell-shaped flowers will appear in May/June.

9. Prune your clematis, if it is one that needs pruning! Many don’t. How do you tell? They key is flowering time. The earlier your clematis blooms, the less pruning it will need. There are three categories: no pruning, light pruning and hard pruning. Early spring varieties like C. armandii, C. alpine and C. macropetala need no pruning. June-flowering types such as ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘The President’, which often bear a second bloom of flowers in late summer, can take a light prune. This means cutting back any straggly growth on the top part of the plant just as far as a fat bud or a growing shoot. Later flowering varieties; all the C. vitella types, ‘Comtesse de Bouchard’ etc need a good hard pruning. They all flower on new growth (unlike the others) so pruning encourages more vigorous growth. Make the cuts about 45 centimetres above the ground, cutting just above a good pair of buds. To encourage even more new growth, mulch liberally with compost or manure. Clematis are at their happiest with cool, moist roots.

My Clematis 'armandii' last winter.

My Clematis ‘armandii’ last winter. Beautiful, bold and a bit out of control!

10. Paths and patios can become very slippery in the winter, especially those (like mine) which are mostly in the shade. A great way to warm up on a bright wintry day is to grab a bucket, hard-bristle brush and a paving cleaner. Getting down on your hands and knees (on a protective, cheery kneeler) in the fresh air and removing that green slimy stuff from your tiles, decking or paving is very therapeutic and certainly gets the blood pumping. Then you’ll be obliged to make a cup of tea to sip while you sit down and admire your handiwork.


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