Something drew me out into the garden yesterday morning when I got back from the school run. Perhaps it was the fact that there’s a bit of warmth to the sunshine again. I let the spirit take me and didn’t even stop to change my clothes. I had a lovely time clearing out a couple of small borders, chucking all the weeds and old growth into the compost bin, and planting some leftover tulip and allium bulbs, and a few perennials that have been hanging about in pots over winter. I even peeked into the greenhouse to see how my tender fuchsias have got on (they’re fine!) and looked through my seed packets to see if there are any I might sow soon (sweet peas).
I’m definitely feeling the urge to begin my spring garden clear up, and I’m loving all of the blossom and flowers that are popping up everywhere. The blues, purples and yellows which say spring to me are increasingly evident, and I’m feeling like gardening more and more. I hope you are too. Hurrah for February! Here are some things that you might like to do this month.
Take a moment to enjoy the early flowers
I’ve been enjoying the early flowers in the grass verges near my house and in my garden this week. I like to stop and crouch down to get a closer look. These flowers merit close inspection, especially if their petals naturally turn down. It’s worth gently tipping the heads up to get a better look. You’ll discover that their form and colours are fascinating close up.
I’ve seen delicate nodding tete-a-tetes and big blousey daffodils; butter-yellow winter aconites that hug the ground; pink and purple crepe-like flowers and spotted leaves of pulmonaria (or lungwort); creamy yellow native primroses; knobbly-bobbly yellow mahonia flowers; stinking hellebore’s pale green clusters of cup-like flowers, tinged with pink; and a mystery trailing perennial with tiny sapphire blue flowers that might be a lobelia (see photo below, and do tell me if you know what it is). If you look at crocuses in the middle of the day you’ll be rewarded with the sight of their eye-poppingly orange stamens. Early and later in the day, crocus flowers will be closed up as the flowers hunker down to get through the cold night.
I believe it’s called the art of slow living or something like that. It’s very hip, apparently. Anyway, whatever you call it, make sure you take time to pause if you’re walking somewhere. Stop and really look at all the early spring flowers. And don’t just look at the flowers, but sniff them or touch them too. Stimulate your senses! I know it will be good for you.
Start your spring garden clear up
It’s time to get out there and begin clearing up all the dead growth, decaying leaves and weeds that are undoubtedly making themselves very happy in your borders. The mild winter has been a boon for weeds. Getting ahead of the game now, before the weeds have a chance to flower and set seed, will save you lots of work in the future.
Clearing up your whole garden at the start of spring can feel like an epic task. But you needn’t do it all in one go. Start now and aim to finish the job next month. And if you chunk up the work it will feel much more manageable. Pick a task that can achieved in an hour or two, and then pick another task the next time you go out, and so on. I tend to choose a border to focus on and then work systematically from right to left (or left to right), pulling up and cutting back old growth, digging up weeds, and piling it all into a trug that I drag along as I go. Every so often, I get up to stretch my back and empty the trug into the compost bin before it gets too heavy. You’ll be amazed how far you can get in an hour and, what’s more, you’ll have done a really thorough job of it.
Prune roses, summer-flowering shrubs and wisteria
Now is the time to do some pruning. This job is best done when plants are dormant but it’s been a very unusual, warm winter, and to be honest I’m not sure my shrubs and roses have actually been dormant this year. When pruning, a handy guide is to remember to prune away the three Ds: dead, diseased and damaged growth. Then you can begin to think about the structure of the plant and where you want to encourage new growth. Do make sure that your secateurs are sharp so you cut cleanly, rather than tearing at stems. Cut at an angle, close but not too close to the last bud (no closer than half a centimetre). After pruning, mulch around the base of the plant with well-rotted manure or garden compost.
I’ll be pruning climbing roses this month and next. Start by tying in strong new stems, laterally if possible to promote flowering growth, where you want to extend the framework. Remove any crossing stems, and cut all stems coming off the main structure back to two or three buds. On bush roses, prune stems back by a third or half, cutting just above an outward facing bud. The aim of this is to establish an open woody structure that will support new growth and flowers, improve airflow and deter disease. If you want a more detailed guide, the RHS website is a great source.
If you have any suckers – shoots that are growing up from the soil near the base of the rose – trace the stems back under the ground as far as you can and cut them out close to the roots. Suckers are growth that comes from the root stock (usually a tough as old boots, wild, species rosa rugosa), onto which your beautiful floribunda or hybrid tea rose, for example, is grafted. Suckers should be removed because they will quickly out-compete the stems of the grafted rose that you actually want to grow.
Summer flowering shrubs that flower at the ends of the current season’s growth, such as buddleja, spiraea japonica or hardy fuchsia, should be pruned hard back to a woody framework now. These tend to be very vigorous growers and without a good spring haircut they can become gigantic in just a season, with flowers barely visible at very top. Prune last year’s stems back to a couple of buds from the main structure. Don’t be tentative. I take my buddlejas down to about a third or quarter of the size I’d like them to get to.
Last year’s whippy wisteria shoots should have been pruned back to about five or six buds in late summer. This month, you should take those shoots back to two or three buds. This should ensure good flowering growth this summer. Without the leaves, you’ll be able to see the plant’s structure clearly, so you can also make changes to the main framework now if you need to.
So there you go. There’s lots to be getting on with. I hope the sun will shine for you while you’re out there.