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  • Sue

Things to do in February

At some point in February the weather starts to warm up and plants start to move - sometimes at a terrific pace. Crocus bulbs can develop from nowhere and buds break on deciduous trees. Daffodil flowers start to burst open. The grass might start to grow and weed seedlings can sprout. Plant activity can be controlled by temperature, but day length also plays a vital role and in February the days are visibly lengthening. Your garden will respond, even if it remains chilly.

These are the things I will be getting on with this month.

Prune wisteria - I cut all side shoots back to two or three buds from the parent stem. This can look dramatic, but is essential if you want good, strong flowers in a couple of months time. It is also important in that it stops your wisteria becoming uncontrollable and allows you to shape the climber as it develops.

Cut back cornus - or dogwoods, as they are commonly called. Plants with brightly coloured stems, such as cornus and some salix (willow) benefit from either being pollarded (cut back hard to a main stem or branch) or coppiced (cut back to ground level). This causes them to push up new shoots over the spring and summer. These have brightly coloured bark - which looks fantastic in a winter garden. We have a hedge of Cornus alba Sibirica which I grew from cuttings when we first moved here. I don't pollard or coppice mine, but when the buds are about to start opening I take out about a third of the branches (the oldest, least colourful ones) and leave the rest alone. This gives us a blaze of red branches each winter when everything else looks dull.

Adjacent is a photo of Cornus alba Sibirica showing strong, colourful young growth. This shrub is easily propagated in the winter from hardwood cuttings.

In spring - before the buds break - take out the oldest third of the branches which promotes new stems to shoot up during the coming year.

Carry out formative pruning of deciduous trees - before the sap starts to rise you can cut off unnecessary side branches of trees and shrubs. You can do this to raise the tree's canopy (or prune for "transparence" as the French call it ) allowing more light underneath and enabling you to both enjoy the shape of the tree's stem or stems and also see through the plant to what lies beyond. This year I will be tackling, among others, a Betula utilis Jacquemontii which I am growing as a multi stemmed tree. Removing some side branches will make the exceptional white bark of this particular tree look its best.

Finish pruning roses when there is no risk of frost.

Feed your newly pruned roses, hedges, shrubs and bulbs which have flowered. I use something like hoof and horn, or blood, fish and bone, depending on what you can find locally. In France I have been able to buy sang séché (dried blood) or corne broyée (crushed horn) which serve the same purpose.These are particularly good plant foods at this time of year as they are high in nitrogen and so promote leaf growth. They are also slow release so provide sustained support to plants at a time of year when they are particularly active.

Divide snowdrops. These are easiest to propagate "in the green" so once the best of the flowers are over you can divide congested clumps to spread them around the garden.

This is the easiest way to encourage your snowdrops to multiply. They can be divided about every 4 years, depending on how vigorous they are.

I have not been able to find snowdrops sold in the green in France - pre Brexit I would order them by the 100 from UK companies. I have yet to investigate Dutch growers but will, later this year, I will try planting some bulbs.

Plant chilli and parsley seeds. It is tempting to start sowing seeds as soon as the weather starts to pick up, but it really is best to wait until next month, at least, for most things. However, chillis take a long time to germinate and develop so you need to start them off now (in a heated propagator or on a warm shelf). Parsley can be sown directly into the ground, where you want it to grow.

Re-pot houseplants into larger pots if they need it. Strangely, their growth can be checked if you put them into too big a pot - so move them up to a pot which is no more than a couple of sizes bigger than the current one.

And the inevitable - check that protective covers on plants are still in place, water garden pot plants which are under cover, pull out any weeds you spot before they have a chance to dig their roots in......

Eranthis hyemalis (also called the winter aconite) - another fantastic little plant to brighten up January and February. We grow this under trees and propagate it - like snowdrops - by dividing the plants as the flowers fade. It also sets seed prolifically if it is happy and we see tiny green ruffs of leaves popping up all over the place each year in February.

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