If conditions are favourable you can plant container grown or bare rooted ornamental trees and deciduous shrubs (see March Trees & Shrubs for planting instructions).
Established hedges should be cleared of any decaying matter that might harbour pests and given a light trim if untidy. February is also the ideal time to plant a new hedge from bare rooted deciduous plants. See our section on why bare root is best.
Towards the end of the month is an ideal time to prune Hybrid tea (large-flowered) and Floribunda (cluster flowered) roses. Cut away any dead, diseased and damaged wood. Prune back until healthy green (not brown) wood is reached. Also cut out any thin, twiggy wood and crossing branches.
With large flowered roses, cut back the remaining healthy shoots to remove about half of their length. Cluster flowered roses benefit from slightly lighter pruning, with a third to a half of the length removed. With cluster flowered roses, you should also cut out, almost to ground level, some of the very old wood each year, to improve vigour. In each case, make the cut at a 45° angle around 2in (6cm) above an outward pointing bud, for a well shaped bush.
There is no need to wait until spring for some cheery blossom. Why not bring some indoors now? There are many trees and shrubs that can be forced into early flower indoors. Good candidates for this include: forsythia, magnolia, pussy willow, flowering cherry, quince, witch hazel and many other woody plants that flower in March and May.
To create your indoor treat, cut the branches around four to six weeks before they are due to flower. Choose a day when the temperature is above freezing and select branches with larger buds, as they are more likely to flower well. Cut medium-sized samples of at least one foot long or more. Soak the branches in warm (not hot) water to moisten them for a few hours. Snip an inch off from the lower stem at an angle to ensure good water uptake. Pop them in a vase of tepid water and place them in a cool sunny place, at a constant temperature of between 13 to 18 deg C. Change the water every few days so they don’t rot from a build-up of bacteria. If they are kept cool enough they can flower for several weeks.
A mild weekend in February is an ideal time to plant a hedge. Popular varieties that can be planted now include:
Alder, Beech, Blackthorn, Box, Buckthorn, Ribes, Forsythia, Hawthorn, Hazel, Hebe, Hornbeam, Lavender, Lonicera, Maple, Photinia, Potentilla, Privet, Pyracantha, Quickthorn, Wild Rose, Snowberry, Spiraea and Weigela.
The exceptions are container grown Cypress, Leylandii, Thuja and Yew, plus broad-leaved evergreen hedges, made from plants such as bare-rooted Holly, Elaeagnus, Berberis, Euonymus, Laurel and Viburnum Tinus. Leave these until April, when the soil and the air are a bit warmer and there is enough moisture about to keep the leaves from drying out, before they have become fully established.
Choose plants that will grow to the height required, from dwarf lavender and box hedges of 1ft (30cm), to those of yew or hornbeam, that can be grown very tall. Whatever plants you choose, make sure they are sturdy specimens, with good growth at the base, rather than taller spindly ones.
Not only are bare roots plants cheaper to buy they are also a much greener alternative to pot grown culture, for the following main reasons:
Carefully prepare the site a week or two before planting. Clear the ground of perennial weeds and dig over the strip where the hedge is to go. Make it least half as wide again as the planting width and dig in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure. Let the ground settle, then just before planting, sprinkle on a good general fertilizer and fork it into the soil.
Soak bare-rooted plants for at least an hour before planting and prune off any roots that are broken or damaged. Water container grown plants thoroughly before planting. Try not to disturb the root ball, except to gently tease out any roots growing in a spiral at the bottom.
Position a stake in at each end of the strip and run a garden line between to ensure the hedge is planted straight. Use a length of wood or cane, cut to the required distance between plants, to use as a guide for spacing. Dig a hole at the first position and plant at the correct depth, spreading the roots well out if it is bare rooted. The soil level when firmed should match the soil level mark on the stem. Space out the second and following plants at the correct distance. Firm each plant in with your feet before planting the next. Water copiously until well established.
The planting of bare-rooted or root wrapped, deciduous trees and shrubs should be completed before the end of February / early March. The aim is to finish planting them before there are any signs of growth. Prepare the site well, first by digging a hole large enough to accommodate the root system.
Evergreens, conifers and container grown plants should be left till April, when the weather and soil is warmer.
February is the best time to prune late-flowering clematis such as 'Jackmanii'. Either cut them back hard, to within 1ft (30cm) from the ground, or to keep a larger framework of stems, just cut the side-shoots back to one pair of buds from the main stem.
This is also the month to prune buddleia, Spiraea japonica, tamarisk and hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata). The woody growth made last year should be cut back hard to one or two buds from the old wood. If the plant is young, leave some of the strong new growth to build up the plant's framework.
Once winter-flowering jasmine has finished its display, prune back the flowered shoots by around half, thinning out any overcrowded and crossing over branches at the same time.
Cut back the summer-pruned extension shoots of wisteria to two or three buds to build up extensive flowering spurs.
Overgrown climbing honeysuckle can be hard pruned now. Cut one or two of the main stems back to ground level, then remove any remaining dead or diseased wood. It is best to detach branches from their supports, to unravel twining growth and cut the stems cleanly. When the pruning is completed, rearrange the branches on the support and tie them in place.
Honeysuckle that flowers on new growth will need careful pruning. If you prefer the look of rambling and bushy honeysuckle, it can be simply left to its own devices and pruned when it becomes too large or very unkempt.
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Deciduous trees and shrubs providing colour:
Witch hazel (Hamamelis)
Evergreen trees and shrubs providing colour:
Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Some cultivars of Daphne
Some cultivars of Camellia
Winter flowering jasmine