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Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 9 - February 2012
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Firm in plants which have been lifted by frost or strong winds.
  • Brush the bulk of snow fall off conifers, evergreen shrubs and hedges so they don’t splay, but leave a small layer of snow in place as it can help to insulate the plant against harsh temperatures.
  • Many shrubs can be pruned now, including roses, dogwoods, elders, buddleias, hydrangeas, cotinus, willows and paulownias. Summer flowering clematis plants can also be cut back.
  • If it’s mild towards the end of the month you can move deciduous trees and shrubs.
  • Deadhead and generally tidy up winter bedding, pots and hanging baskets.
  • Water and top dress containers which are out all year.
  • It's still too early to get your pots of spring bedding plants out, but you can start to harden them off towards the end of the month if it’s mild.
  • Pot up dahlias and lilies to start them off in your greenhouse.
  • Sow tuberous begonias, impatiens (busy Lizzies), osteospermums, pelargoniums, cannas and sweet peas under cover.
  • If the weather’s bad outside, look through catalogues and order your plug plants.
Fruit and veg
  • Warm up areas of soil where you want to plant early crops by covering them with polythene sheeting, cloches or fleece.
  • Sow very early crops such as carrots, broad beans, hardy peas and parsnips under horticultural fleece.
  • Chit early seed potatoes ready to plant them out at the end of next month.
  • Plant soft fruit bushes, bare-rooted fruit trees and summer-fruiting raspberry canes.
  • Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries and plant new canes this month or early March.
  • Cover rhubarb to start forcing it for early harvesting.
  • If you have a greenhouse you can sow French beans, baby carrots, beetroot, radish and spinach in the borders or in deep troughs. Lettuces (and other salad leaves), leeks, onions, early brassicas (eg spring cabbages), peas, broad beans, and early new potatoes can be sown in pots. You can start to sow tomatoes, aubergines and cucumbers in heated propagators for early crops.
General tasks
  • Try to keep off the lawn as much as possible. If necessary, put down a temporary path over frequently used areas.
  • Finish up any winter digging, so long as the soil isn’t waterlogged or frozen.
  • If you haven’t done it already, disinfect pots and trays ready for spring sowings.
  • Keep your greenhouse well ventilated on milder days and keep watering to a minimum.
  • Now’s a good time to design and create new beds and borders, ready for spring planting. It’s also an opportunity to do hard landscaping jobs or add a water feature to your garden.
Galanthus 'S. Arnott'Plant of the month

Galanthus 'S. Arnott' is a clump-forming, bulbous, perennial snowdrop which grows to around 15cm in height. In late winter nodding white flowers appear above the linear green/grey foliage. The inner petals have v-shaped green markings. This cultivar has a faint honey-like fragrance and was developed by Samuel Arnott, a Scottish botanist, around 1900. Find out more...

Problem of the monthSlug damage on a hosta

Slugs can still be a problem, even in the cold February weather. Damage can be found above and below ground. While some slugs may overwinter as eggs in the soil, others will still be active, munching on what herbaceous plants are available at this time of year, eg snowdrops and Algerian irises.

There are plenty of theories for keeping slugs off your plants, such as copper rings, 'sharp' mulches, chemical pellets and beer traps. Winter digging will help to expose and destroy eggs in the soil. Find out more...

In the news

Not so Busy Lizzies

Following last year's devastation of Busy Lizzie's due to Impatiens downy mildew, both B&Q and Thompson & Morgan have announced that they will not be stocking Impatiens walleriana bedding this year. Alan Titchmarsh has also called for gardeners to look at alternative summer bedding options. Substitute plants include begonias, French or African marigolds, New Guinea impatiens, pelargoniums and petunias.

Mild weather brings early flowers

The mild January weather has brought forward many spring bloomers. This is causing concern for open gardens with famous camellia displays, who fear that the best colour may be over before the visitors arrive. Snowdrops are also opening a little earlier this year, but the cold snap forecast for February could bring a bonus of keeping them in flower longer, potentially until early March.

UK growing plants to help restrict spread of HIV

Growers at the East Malling Research centre in Kent are working with scientists from around the world to grow genetically-modified tobacco plants to produce a drug which blocks the HIV infection. Once trials are completed the intention is to grow the plants around the world so countries with high incidences of HIV can produce large quantities to serve their local populations.


Looking good now

The weather may be dreary, but there are plenty of plants showing their best this month. Have a go at our anagram quiz below and see if you can unscramble the names of 10 plants which are looking good now. Just to make it extra difficult, we've used the botanical names, but have given you a little clue for each one!

Blunt sharp luxuries (the 'Autumnalis' cultivar is the cherry on top of this plant-pie)

Heroines libellous rat (this Lenten lovely comes in purples, pinks and whites)

Saga villains hunt (pure white delight)

A racier acne (a lucky charm, particularly the white varieties)

A mindful juniors mum (a burst of yellow sunshine climbs through the dull winter)

A dahlias extreme minim (such a beautiful scent you'll think it's witchcraft!)

I is curing Sir Luau (this violet-coloured Algerian will keep on flowering well into spring)

Cocoa can focus cars (think of white flowers, wonderful scent and a yuletide package)

Zen emu hampered (get its conditions right and you'll have a profusion of scented, deep lavender-coloured flowers)

A bomb stunned vixen run (bare stems bear sweet-scented pink blooms)

See next month's newsletter for the answers!


DIY decorative winter bird feeders

Peanut bird feederWhy not brighten up your garden with some pretty, home-made bird feeders?

Take half an hour on the next rainy day, follow our simple instructions, and then decorate your trees while providing winter nourishment for our feathered friends. Far more attractive than plastic feeders and just as good for the birds!

Why not experiment with adding different food (eg apple slices), creating feeders in different shapes or decorating your feeder with a stylish ribbon?

Find out how to make them in our blog...

Please note - loose peanuts are not a suitable feed for the spring or summer when birds are nesting.


What's on this month

As new life starts poking up through the frosty soil, why not get out and about this February...

  • 3rd, 10th & 24th February - Winter Garden Walks, Ragley Hall, Park and Gardens, Alcester, Warwickshire.
  • 12th February - Kirkdale snowdrop tea, Kirkdale House, Carsluith, Wigtownshire, Scotland.
  • 13th & 14th February - Grow your own, half-term family days, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire.
  • 16th February - Early spring flowering perennials lecture, University of Bristol Botanic Gardens, Stoke Bishop, Bristol.
  • 16th, 18th, 19th, 25th & 26th February - Hellebore Days and tours, Broadview Gardens, Hadlow, Kent.
  • 18th February - British Iris Society Spring Show, Myddelton House Gardens, Enfield, Middlesex.
  • 19th & 26th February - Summerdale House, open garden for National Garden Scheme, Nook, Nr Lupton, Cumbria.
  • 24th February - 'Soil testing and safe use of garden machinery' workshop, RHS Wisley, Woking, Surrey.
  • 26th February - Belstone Snowdrop Sunday, Andrew's Corner, Belstone, Devon.