The Flower Garden in Winter
What to do in the flower garden in February
Late February is the perfect time to sow seeds of summer bedding plants, either in a warm greenhouse, propagator or on a warm indoor windowsill, provided there is enough room to grow them on somewhere, until it's warm enough to transfer them outside.
It's it now time to sow summer bedding such as lobelia and busy lizzies (Impatiens), ready for hanging baskets and containers later on. Impatiens also make very good bedding plants, given a reasonably moist soil, and will even do well in light shade.
Don't forget the old favourites: ten week stocks, carnations, pinks (Dianthus) and the sweetly scented tobacco plant (Nicotiana). Antirrhinums and the butterfly flower (Schizanthus) can also be sown now.
You can also sow annual climbers, such as the cup-and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens), with purple bell-shaped flowers that flower right through the summer, Spanish Flag and the Chilean glory vine (Eccremocarpus) with its bright orange flowers.
Primula seeds can be started off in trays. For greenhouse primulas, keep the temperature around 16°C (60°F); outdoor types can be left in a lightly shaded cold frame or greenhouse. In both cases, cover the trays with a pane of glass, or polythene, and always water from below so as not to disturb the fine seeds.
Winter-Stored Dormant Plants
Start off dahlia tubers this month, indoors or in the greenhouse, to provide shoots for cuttings. Any tubers that have rotted in storage should be removed. Any shrivelled tubers can be soaked overnight in tepid water to plump them up.
Plant the tubers shallowly in a 15 cm (6 in) deep tray of moist compost, so the tops of the tubers are just covered. Once the new shoots appear, give them plenty of light.
Prune back over-wintering geraniums, and provide them with a little more water and heat.
Forced bulbs, such as hyacinths, daffodils and tulips, that have finished flowering, can be put outside. Either place in a gently heated greenhouse, cold-frame or a well lit, frost-free shed to acclimatize the bulbs to the lower outside temperatures.
Snowdrop bulbs can be divided or transplanted just after flowering is over.
Lilies can be planted this month. They require good loamy soil with sharp drainage and plenty of leaf-mould. Plant stem-rooting lilies (such as the tiger lily) at 20 cm (8 in) deep, and all others lilies at 15 cm (6 in) deep.
Both St Brigid and de Caen anemones can be planted this month for a good show in summer; plant them 15 cm (6 in) apart and 5-8 cm (2-3 in) deep.
When Christmas roses have finished flowering (towards the end of the month) large, long established clumps can be lifted and divided (see propagating plants by division).
The Herbaceous Border
Dormant herbaceous plants may be planted towards the end of the month, if the soil and weather are suitable (not sodden or frozen). They can usually be bought in plastic bags, with their roots wrapped in compost or moss, or growing in pots.
Prepare the ground well first by digging it over and incorporating some well rotted garden compost, manure or bark. Before planting, rake in a dressing of a balanced fertilizer such as Growmore, about 64 grams per m sq (2 oz per sq yd). Remove the plastic bag from the root ball and spread the roots out in the bottom of the prepared hole. Replace the soil over the roots and firm down, so that the crown of the plant is level with the soil surface.
Finish digging any new beds or borders, especially if the soil is heavy clay, so the weather has plenty of time to break it down further.
Preventing Damage to Crocuses
Many early flowering spring crocuses will be coming into flower if the weather is mild enough and they were planted in a sunny position. To prevent small birds from picking them to bits, place sticks amongst the flowers and wind some black cotton around them. Alternatively you can treat the flowers with one of the harmless chemical deterrents that are widely available.
Sowing Sweet Peas
Sweet peas need a long growing season if they are to flower well. Enthusiasts often sow the seeds in autumn and over winter the young plants in frames. However, you can sow the seeds now and still get some very successful results.
Since the seeds have a hard coating it is a good idea to rub or chip a hole in the outer skin and then soak them in water for a day. Only seeds which have swollen should be sown. Sow them singly in small pots of sowing or multi-purpose compost, and place them in a cold-frame to speed up germination and to protect the resulting seedlings from birds.
Because they are long rooted, the best pots to use are those made of bituminised paper, often called sweet pea tubes or you can make your own from newspaper. These will allow the seedlings to grow unchecked as they don't need to be removed before planting, and rot away in the soil, allowing the roots to grow through unheeded.
Autumn-sown sweet peas should be given plenty of ventilation unless it is actually frosty. Pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushiness.
Plants for February
Herbaceous perennials in flower this month:
Polyanthus & primulas
Hellebores such as the lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) with creamy white or pink-tinted flowers.
Also in flower this month are lungwort (Pulmonaria), with its light red and blue flowers.
Violets may also flower if the weather is mild.