Preparing for spring18th February 2020
The UK has taken such a battering in February with Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis pounding us with heavy rains and wind. With so much grey sky, sunshine feels like it’s a long way away. However as Landscape Architects we are all too aware that spring sneaks up on you quicker than you think and that there is so much to be done over the winter months so that you can enjoy your garden as the colours burst to life.
This horrible weather can also give you ‘cabin fever’, there is never a better time than February to shake off those cobwebs, wrap up warm and get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Below are some tips and hints from us to help you get gardens in shape ready for the colours of spring to burst!
Mend any garden structures
We have had two strong storms come through the UK within a week and even the best of garden structures will have been tested to their limits. February is the ideal time of year to tackle those maintenance jobs.
Fix broken structures now to prevent any damage caused over the winter from getting worse and so that you can use those precious summer days enjoying your gardens. Next clean wooden structures with a pressure washer and a good stiff brush, then let the wood dry completely before applying two coats of stain, paint or wood preservative on a dry day.
Trust us, it will be worth it if you do this now!
Clear out debris and weeds.
February is the time of year to let your bear soil come out from its winter hibernation! Clear out your plant beds, removing debris such as fallen leaves, blown in rubbish and fresh mulch. You can leave well-rotted mulch where it is, to be dug into the soil at a later date, but everything else needs to be cleared to expose the soil to sunlight and fresh air.
With sunlight getting to the soil your next concern is weeds. Any weeks that are still alive need to be pulled up and disposed of before any seeds can be germinated. Its best not to compost weeds in case they have any seeds as this will only cause you problems later on!
Get your soil summer ready
February is a fantastic time for preparing your soil as the frosts have usually lifted. However, the general rule here is that patience is a virtue. If the earth is too frozen or wet starting to work it may result in areas of your garden becoming even more compact.
A good trick, to see if the soil is ok to work, is to pick up an handful and try and squeeze it into a ball. If it has a putty consistency and you’re able to mold it easily it is too wet and needs to be left a bit longer to dry out.
If your soil is not too wet and the frosts have cleared get yourself a tiller or a sharp spade and turn over the soil to a depth of about 30cm to loosen it up. Any mulch or leaf litter that is well-composted should be mixed in to help build up nutrients.
Next add some nutrients to your soil. PH and nutrient tests will tell you what you need to add. If you have poor or clay-based soil, it is especially important to add a healthy helping of compost, this will help to improve the soil’s texture, nutrient content, and moisture-retention.
Finally give the soil a rake to level it and a light water, this will help it to settle and release any air pockets.
Prune those branches!
February and March are the perfect months to give many trees and shrubs a good pruning. Before the buds break dormancy you can see the branch structure and it will be easier to work towards the shape you’re aiming for and pick out the old wood from the new.
However before you start to snip away we suggest you prep a washed rag with some isopropyl rubbing alcohol. By taking the precaution of sterilizing your pruners before each cut you will stop yourself from accidentally spreading any plant disease around your garden.
Some of the plants that can be pruned this time of year include Campsis, summer blooming Clematis, Rose, Wisteria, Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Lonicera (Honeysuckle), Hydrangea Paniculate and Cercis (Redbud). You can also trim back winter-flowering Heathers as soon as the flowers have faded.
There are plants that should not be pruned this time of year as they bloom on old wood, these include Camellia, Rhododendron, Azalea, Hydrangea Macrophylla (Bigleaf), Magnolia, Kalmia (Mountain Laurel) and Forsythia. We’d also recommend you delay pruning spring-flowering shrubs until immediately after flowering or you might lose this years display.
Finally we’d encourage you to add a small amount of fertilizer to the soil whenever you prune a plant as the nutrients will be taken up and allow it to heal the cuts quicker.
Give your lawn some TLC
By the end of February/early March any frosts should have cleared, however if a frost hits remember not to walk over your grass. During a frost the blades can be easily damaged and this can result in lawn disease or other issues further down the line.
As with your soil, you need to give your lawn a good tidy up, removing any debris or weeds. If you don’t do this the rotting down material can smother the grass or cause discolouration.
Its not yet time to weed kill or feed your lawn (that will come later on in the spring), however if there has been some growth you may be able to do your first light going over with the lawn mower set at its highest height. Just watch out for stones that may have been carried onto the grass over the winter as they can be flicked up by the blades and hurt you or smash a window.
You can also take time edging your lawn, this can really improve the look of your garden and save you a lot of work later on when new roots have become established.
Get rid of those pests
If you wish to save yourself a lot of nibbled plats in spring and summer now is the time to go hunting for garden pests! Have a good look through the crowns of your perennial plants and check for hibernating slugs, snails and aphids, ridding yourself of them before they become a nuisance.
We’d also suggest you check your pots and summer bedding for any white-vine-weevil larvae, destroying it as you go along.
Crowd control for perennials
Some perennials, such as Hostas, Peonies, Shasta Daises and Daylilies have a tendency to crowd each other out, resulting in a slow deterioration of their performance. February is a good time to give them more space, by separating them out, as the growing season hasn’t yet started. We’d recommend these four easy steps for separating your plants: 1. Dig out around the perimeter of your perennial, making sure you leave plenty of leeway so as not to damage any roots. 2. Clear the soil from under the root ball and lift the plant out of the ground. 3. Gently disentangle the roots by hand, pulling apart the distinct root stocks/tubers. 4. Choose where you want to plant and re-plant immediately, watering well.
By splitting and de-crowding your perennials you will not only enhance the bloom they give you but you will also develop a large collection in a cheap and easy way.
Plant for spring and summer colour
Some seeds, such as those for Begnoias, Geraniums (Pelargoniums), Achillea Millefolium, Antirrhinums and Consolida need a longer growing season and so need sowing in February. To encourage the best growth, we’d recommend sowing them in a heated propagator first and transferring when they are strong enough to flourish outside. If vegetables are more your thing then aubergines, broad beans, chilli, chard and pepper all need sown now.
As long as the frosts have passed there are also some late-spring and summer bulbs that can happily be planted now. Bulbs such as Lilies, Eucomis, Liatris and Galtonia will all tolerate being planted in well drained soil in a sunny spot.
And to our final piece of advice…it’s now time to have a cup of tea, warm up and wait for your garden to bloom having enjoyed a wonderful few days in nature!
Written by Kate Kershaw, Practice Manager. Photos by Magda Pelka, Senior Landscape Gardener