Gardening - February spring clean

Posted on: 01 February 2013 by Gareth Hargreaves

February gardening jobs that will ensure your oasis of calm is in tip top shape for spring

February gardening jobsFebruary is one of the quietest months in the garden. For the hardy souls though, there are jobs to do and it can even be pleasant on a calmer, warmer day.

Time to prune your pomes, but leave your drupes well alone. A pome is a fruit with pips, apples and pears (also quince and medlars) whereas a drupe is a fruit with a stone, plums, cherries, peaches and apricots.

The dormant winter months are an ideal time to prune the over congested spurs from pome fruits. Apples and pears are mainly spur-fruiting trees, meaning that the fruits are produced on short lateral branches some 6-12 inches long. When a tree has been growing for some time, these spurs become over-crowded. The result is a rather untidy looking tree, lots of blossom and lots of small and not very high quality fruit. If you reduce the spurs, then the overall yield won't increase, but you will get a good improvement in the size and quality of the fruit that form.

Remove the older more complicated growth and thin weak stems leaving young vigorous growth behind. It depends on the state of the tree, but you should be aiming to remove about a third of the spur stems. If you repeat this process every year or tow, then the tree will eventually be fruiting only on wood that is no more than a few years old

Pruning overgrown branchesOvergrown trees

If you have a very overgrown tree where the fruit is being borne further and further from the trunk each year, then it's a good idea to perform some more drastic pruning. Rather than trying to trim the spurs, you need to cut them all off and about a third of the branch too. Cut back to a fork, and just do 1/3rd of the branches this year and complete it over the next two years.

The dormant season is the best time to this for apples and pears, when the buds begin to burst it's too late. Drupes on the other hand are pruned in the summer when in growth as winter pruning for these carries a high risk of introducing disease.

Plan plants and planting

Put canes or a hose pipe across the garden to mark out planned beds, patios or other features. Then ignore it for a few days, look out of the window and change it all totally if necessary. Winter is a good time to prepare for the coming growing season. Take your time when deciding on your grand design and get it right before you start on it when the warmer weather and breaking buds tempt you beyond the confines of the fire-side (whether metaphorical or literal). 

Patio and decking

If you've already decided, then get a patio or deck ordered and laid now. You'll certainly get it done quicker and probably also cheaper than later on. Make your mind up and order from a contractor in March and the chances are that by the time you move up the queue, you may not get to sit out until June. Hard areas outside extend the season of use of the garden. Lunch alfresco on a warm April day surrounded by the fresh green shoots of spring is a real delight. 

winter bird feederFeed the birds

This gets more important as winter goes on. Don't forget on the warmer days as well. Hunger isn't nice whatever the temperature.

Stay off the grass when it frosty

It will recover if left to thaw out, but walking on it can damage many of the blades. I think of it in terms of having cold fingers, simple things like knocking on a door suddenly become incredibly painful, it's like that for the grass being walked on when frozen. Eldest son puts it terms of having your frozen ears flicked by the bigger boys when standing at the bus stop (would he wear a hat when we told him? - No).

Order seed catalogues and plan what you'll grow from seed this year

I think of this as buying genes for the garden. Perfectly packaged and prepared for growth with all they need to get started. Seeds are natures own genetic technology. If you've never grown anything from seed before, it's one of gardening's main wonders, watch out for the article next month. Thompson and Morgan seeds

Tree and hedge planting

The winter months are the best time to plant any trees and hedging or other bare-rooted shrubs. These are bought bare-rooted from nurseries, this way they will be dormant, but have a more extensive root system than those grown in containers. They should be planted as soon as you can so they spend the minimum time out of the ground. This applies in particular to ornamental cultivars which seem to be less tolerant than most.

Tip. Use an old pair of tights as a tree tie. They're strong, don't rot, are soft and cheap. Tie around the tree and stake in a figure of 8 so that the tree trunk doesn't rub against the stake.

If you can't plant them straight away, then "heel them in". This means cover the roots with soil in a temporary position so that they don't rot or dry out. Don't be tempted to leave them in the bag or other wrapping even for a short time. If you haven't space to put them in the soil, then "planting" them in sharp sand (a couple of quid from a builders merchant for a 40kg bag) will do nearly as well (dries out quicker than soil). You could even do this in a bucket or other container as long as there are drainage holes in the bottom so the roots don't sit in water.

Why bother? Why not wait until it's a bit warmer and more pleasant and plant out of containers?

1/ Bare rooted trees and shrubs are cheaper, as little as half the price for trees and cheaper than this for shrubs though the range of available shrubs is smaller, so you can either save money or spend the same and get a much bigger plant.

2/ Planting now means that they get off to the best possible start in the spring. As soon as the plants wake up and start putting their roots out, they're already in your soil rather in a pot that will then planted in the soil later, one less jolt to the system.

So, there you have it. Use this guide over a couple of weekends and the work becomes manageable and very, very rewarding in the long term both from the perspective of the pennies in your pocket and the ease with which you will be able to keep it in trim throughout the summer.

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