If you haven’t ventured out into the garden yet this year, then shame on you, it’s all happening, spring bulbs are forging ahead, some early flowerers are putting on a display such as winter aconites and snowdrops.
I love this time of year as the garden seems to take a long stretch and a yawn, plants (and weeds) start to jostle and compete for space. I like to strike early and weather permitting work through the borders lightly forking the soil and removing weed seedlings. I find this helps avoid a panic later in spring when the greenhouse needs my attention.
If you have a greenhouse it is an ideal time to start sowing although if it is unheated stick to plants that are hardy, and protect at night by covering with horticultural fleece. this can be left over the trays during the day if it is particularly cold.
Growing flowers for cutting is becoming increasingly popular and many of the hardy annuals that are traditionally sown directly into the garden can be sown in trays in the cold greenhouse to give them a better start, and avoids the onslaught of voracious molluscs (slugs and snails). Which reminds me, if you are particularly troubled with slugs and snails, this is the time of year when the application of slug tablets is most effective (ideally February 14th). The most poisonous slug tablets contain Metaldehyde but these have been banned and should not be on sale, the safer ferric phosphate tablets are recommended on the organic garden website and are considered safer providing they are applied correctly. You only need to apply in small doses about four or five to an area the size of a standard A4 piece of paper.
Encourage frogs and toads by having a small shallow pond or some long grass, and leave hedgehog holes in your fence to encourage them into your garden. Hardy annuals to sow now in your greenhouse include Corn Cockle, (Agrostemma), with beautiful purple red flowers, grow to a height of about 75cms ( 2ft 6 inches), Pot Marigold (Calendula) attractive large daisy like flowers in shades of lemon and orange. Some newer cultivars have softer shades of coffee, and pale rose tinted. They grow to a height of about 60cm (2 ft) and can be used to brighten up salads. One of my favourites is the White Lace Flower (Orleya grandiflora) pretty delicate umbels of white flowers it grows to a height of 60 – 75 cm (2ft to 2ft 6 inches) it’s a great flower arranger’s plant and will flower continuously until the frosts arrive.
Early sowings of vegetables such as Broad Beans and hardy salads such as Rocket, Mizuna, Lamb’s Lettuce, and Mustard mix, all can be sown in trays or pots and harvested as mini leaves or planted into the greenhouse border or larger pots spacing small clumps of seedlings 5cm (2inches) apart and allowing them to grow on to larger plants.
Remember don’t throw spare seedlings away, simply wash the leaves and pop them in a sandwich. Broad beans and early peas sown in modules will make strong healthy plants that can be planted outside in late March.
Keep an eye out for vegetable plants in your local discount store. Yes it might be too early to plant out but I usually pick up a few strips and pot them on, keeping them in a cold greenhouse they will grow on steadily and when planted out in mid April won’t look back and will produce an earlier crop than those sown in March. Remember the golden rule, if a plant is grown for its leaves it can be eaten at any stage of growth, so there should be no waste. Top chefs have promoted the use of pea shoots, micro veg and mini leaves, all of which are easy to grow and are in most cases just young seedlings of popular vegetable and salad plants.
It’s been a windy old time over the past months and most gardens suffer some sort of damage even if it is only a few broken branches and a rattling fence panel. It is a good idea to have a check around after a period of windy weather, as if a loose fence panel it not secured is can easily be transported down the street by the next strong winds. During mild dry spells I like to treat my fences and structures with wood preservative, I find that the damp wood seems to take on the stain better and it’s a time of year when work in the garden is less manic so getting this out of the way earlier means I can concentrate on plants during spring and summer. Replacing fence posts can be a pain, especially if they have just broken off at ground level, where the post meets the concrete you set it in. Rather than digging out the post leave the concrete and nip to the DIY store and pick up a repair spur, this is just like the metal spikes you slot a post into but it is designed to fit into the concrete square where the post rotted off. You don’t need to take the old rotten bit out and if the post attached to the fence is still OK you might be able to saw the broken bit off and slot it into the metal collar. Less effort and not as costly.
Happy Gardening, Martin
Next month, (sort out plant supports, get ready for composting, plant summer flowering bulbs and feed spring flowering bulbs).