FEBRUARY IN THE GARDEN
February is often deemed to be the hottest month of the year. Rainfall can be erratic and dry periods can literally burn up the garden. This month is always a bit of a challenge for many plants, especially those from temperate climates. Watering and weeding form part of the survival strategy for this time of the year. Perhaps the most important thing about gardens at this time is being patient – see out the summer, whilst preparing for the forthcoming autumn planting season.
- Many summer flowering annuals start coming to the end of their flowering season and need to be removed.
- Continue dead heading plants that are still blooming.
- Regular watering is vital during dry periods.
- Collect ripe seed of flowers that you wish to grow for next season.
- Get seed and flower beds ready for autumn planting digging over, composting and fertilising 4 to 6 weeks in advance.
- Prepare trenches or flower beds for sowing sweet pea seeds next month.
- Make early sowings of alyssum and bellis perennis seed.
- Do not be tempted to plant out early flower seedlings of pansies and violas. They, like most other winter and spring flowering annuals, do not tolerate the heat.
- Remove summer vegetables that are coming to the end of their productive cycle and prepare for planting winter and spring crops.
- Check pumpkins, marrows and cucumbers for mildew and treat with a fungicide.
- Be on the lookout for caterpillars on many crops.
- Harvest the last of the summer crops.
- Sow early crops of peas and broad beans in the cooler climates.
- Try and keep weeds under control by hoeing between the rows in larger gardens. Hand weed in confined areas.
- Water during dry periods.
- Many herbs battle with the heat and may succumb to humidity fatigue. Wait and replace them in autumn.
- Continue sowing regular crops of quick herbs like coriander, mustard and rocket.
- Fertilise to try and encourage healthy growth during this difficult period.
- Harvest ripe fruit and process for storage.
- Protect ripening fruit from birds.
- Top dress citrus trees with compost or well decomposed animal manure.
- Nuts (pecans, walnuts and chestnuts) start falling and need to be collected or harvested from now through to winter.
- Continue disposing of fruit that has fallen on the ground by burying it.
- Keep all trees well-watered to prevent stress.
- Apply a general fertiliser to the whole garden, especially around larger shrubs which have an autumn growth spurt that’s as important as the spring new growth.
- Cut off spent flowers from dahlias and other perennials to prolong the flowering season.
- Dead head cannas and alstroemerias by pulling up the spent stems from below ground level.
- Water camellias to prevent them from starting to abort flower buds.
- Salvias thrive in the heat and will soon provide a spectacular autumn display. Make sure they are fed and dead headed.
- Colourful fillers suitable for planting now – salvias, echinaceas, rudbeckias, gaillardias, euphorbias, evolvulus.
- Prune summer flowering rambling and climbing roses to neaten them. Tie back the main stems to allow them to set make flowering growth for the next season.
- Continue with the yearly fertiliser programme to ensure a spectacular autumn flowering flush.
- Water deeply during dry periods.
- Spray every 10 to 14 days to prevent fungal infection and insect pests. Remember to use a sticking agent.
- Pay particular attention to red spider mites. Use a magnifying glass to check the undersides of the leaves for signs of webs and the pests themselves.
- Dead head spent flowers by cutting back the stem to one third of the length.
- Apply the last application of high nitrogen fertiliser.
- Water during hot dry periods.
- Mow frequently.
- Be on the lookout for fungal infections like fairy ring, dollar spot and brown patches.
- Lawn caterpillar is often rife at this time of year. They are nocturnal and devastate vast patches of grass overnight. Treat with suitable insecticide at first detection.
- Fertilise all potted plants and hanging baskets – water soluble plant food is the most effective means.
- Check tree ties and standard rose ties for tightness and strangulation after the spring and summer growth.
- Trim and prune hedges and topiaries regularly to check rampant growth.
- Take cuttings of soft wooded herbs and shrubs for planting out in autumn and spring.
- Keep ponds clean and control excessive plant growth in and around them.
- Turn the compost heap and sieve out any decomposed material for use in autumn planting.
A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.