Whatever the weather, it’s the perfect time to winter prune shrubs to keep them in shape and to encourage strong flowering. Don’t get fooled by westerly winds that provide short spells of mild weather. Remember that February will usually be the coldest month of the year, and hard frosts will return. As a sign that spring is round the corner the flowers of snowdrops and the leaves of daffodil bulbs will be popping through soil and sunny spells will give encouragement for new activity in the garden.
When the soil is not frozen hard, spread a mulch layer of home-made compost or bags of Soil Improver or an Organic Soil Conditioner over borders and between shrubs and fruit trees. Left on the soil it will act as an insulating layer protecting roots from cold and reducing the loss of moisture from the surface. Worked into the top few inches of soil with a fork, this organic material will gradually open up the soil structure so that it is less compacted, holds more beneficial micro-organisms and nutrients to benefit all the plants in the area. Regular applications of any organic matter will turn heavy clay soils and light sandy ones into a rich loam that will grow beautiful plants without a lot of extra effort.
Some spring bulbs will now be through and those people who have planted wisely will have a display of crocus, snowdrops, yellow and purple iris and Glory of the Snow (chionodoxa). Dwarf iris are not very long-lived, especially in heavy soils, so you will need to replant every few years. Snowdrops, on the other hand, are all too hardy and after a few years will produce a dense clump that pushes itself to the surface. At this stage they need dividing so that each bulb has a chance to develop into flowering size. Once the flowers have faded dig up the clump and replant each bulb 8 cm (3in) apart. They move far better when they are in leaf so don’t leave it too long.
Foliage of bulbs that are to flower later will be showing their new leaves above the soil surface and will be tempting food for the slugs and snails that have over-wintered rather easily in the wet. Scattering SlugClear Advanced Pellets around vulnerable plants such as these will keep them clean, but remember follow instructions and don’t ever put in heaps.
Peas freshly picked from the garden are full of flavour never obtained from tinned, dried or frozen versions. For an early picking that will blow your taste buds away, sow a round-seeded variety such as Feltham First or Meteor that is hardy and quick to mature. Choose a site that has been improved in the autumn with well-rotted garden compost or manure and dress the surface with a good Plant Food. If the weather is particularly cold, cover with a cloche to warm up the soil and dry out the surface. After a couple of weeks, sow the peas in a shallow drill about 5 cm (2 in) deep and 15 cm (6 in) wide. Space the peas about 8 cm (3 in) apart in three rows so that you have a good thick row of plants. By covering the row with the cloches again you will help to protect the peas from inquisitive birds and mice that could otherwise dig up and eat the precious seeds
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