Late Winter This falls in February most years, often bringing the worst weather, hardest frosts and heavy snows, use every mild day wisely.
Check fences, tree straps, ties and stakes after each gale Stick canes around emerging bulbs and plants so you see where not to stand in case of snow When ground is workable plant out hardy trees and shrubs that missed autumn planting After hard frosts re-firm roots of autumn plantings Do major pruning work missed earlier but do not touch stone fruits or evergreens unless damaged by winter storms Stretch cotton over crocus flowers to thwart the birds Mark congested clumps of snowdrops, and other early bulbs, for lifting and dividing after the flowers finish Make sure no weeds are getting away, they pull up easily at this time, stinging nettles come out like magic right now- pull furthest runners first Spread loose mulches under and around everything, preferably immediately after a period of heavy rain Try hoeing as the top surface melts after a long hard frost- the weeds are held fast and slice off cleanly (Only works in stone free soil or with a hoeing mulch of sand) Spread sharp sand on mossy/algae/weed infested stepping stones and paving so they wear clean, and are less slippery. Over-sow balding and worn spots in grass swards, ideally -with a fork make many wee holes first then brush the seed in with a stiff broom
FRUIT-CAGE & ORCHARD
On a bright sunny day take a long cane and knock any remaining mummified fruits off trees as this considerably reduces rots later On a bright day look for and prune out self descriptive Coral spot and any huge Big Buds on blackcurrants, remove and burn both of these Cover outdoor peach and nectarines with plastic sheet as if kept dry over these months they do not suffer Peach leaf curl disease or Spray peaches & almonds (and flowering versions) when buds are swelling with Bordeaux mixture against leaf curl Empty fruit tree crawling-pest traps (cloth or cardboard bands wrapped around tree trunks) Divide clumps of chives into small bunches to under-plant your fruit trees to deter fungal diseases, or line a path with them, they’ll fill out real fast Spread wood ashes not saved for potato and onion crops around your cooking apples and gooseberries
Pre-warm the beds where you are going to plant early potatoes with black plastic sheet and/or cloches Dig in the tougher green manures so they will have died, broken down and incorporated by the time you want to sow and plant or Put down geo-textiles on top of green manures or weed infested soil If your soil is dryish and not frozen plant onion, shallots and garlic sets Dust soot or dark compost onto, raked and weeded, asparagus beds for earlier crops
WILDLIFE & Stock
Put up more bird boxes a.s.a.p. because small insectivorous friends like wrens and tits build their nests this early in the year Clean out pest infested material from old bird nest boxes as these’ll be needed again soon Hang fat balls and seed feeders over your rose bushes and soft fruit so tits awaiting their turn will clean aphid eggs off them Put out old, unviable, but only if untreated, seed for birds Don’t forget to clean and re-fill birdbath again and again Rake mulches and bare soil aside to assist birds looking for snacks Lay an old carpet on any bare soil or turf, after a week move it aside to reveal loads of grubs and slugs to the birds Make sure there’s a breathing hole in pond ice, float a ball which will bob
Check your stores, remove any starting to rot before they infect others Convert softening apples to puree or bottle them so they last longer Convert softening onions to fried ones then freeze them in well sealed bags Make sure all your edged tools such as shears, secateurs, spades and most importantly hoes are sharp, oiled and ready Why not hire an electric grinder to put a really good edge on your tools, then do your friend’s tools too Sort your seeds into batches of similar sowing time and write the labels ready Put silica gel or similar ‘drying agent’ pouches (photographers and electrical spares stores have these) in with your seed packets to keep them drier
ORDER & BUY
Get your new seeds and plants if you've not already, especially onion and potato sets, and any fertilisers you may require Buy new bags of sowing compost from dry fast moving stacks Buy and use large packs of mouse and rat bait- they’re always increasing and need control! Is your mower ready? If not then hurry up, take your mower for a service- properly maintained it will consume less energy, both fuel and yours!
Inspect plants under cover and indoors removing dead leaves etc. to prevent grey mould getting going Bring sowing and potting composts into warmth at least a day before intending using them Paint a watering can, or a plastic water bottle black and stand in sun or close by a radiator to have warmer water for your new seedlings. Place mirrors, aluminum foil or just white paper to reflect more valuable light onto your most important plants under cover To save heat at night place a piece of aluminised ‘space blanket’ (from camping stores) over your propagator, or make your own from empty plastic coffee bags stapled together Chit early potato 'seed' on trays in a light, frost free place Start off onion and shallot sets in pots or modules under cover as then they only need planting out once as the rootball can be firmed in and the worms and birds can’t shift them Pack washed sweet potato in gritty sowing compost and keep moist and warm to force shoots to pot on Sow early half hardy bedding plants in small pots in warmth Sow hardy scented annuals such as alyssum and mignonette, thinly, in seed trays full of compost or in big pots especially Night Scented stocks as their evening perfume is a delight, add some Virginian stocks for daytime prettiness Sow early batches of indoor tomatoes, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers and aubergines in individual pots in warmth, and sow basil to go with them Sow rocket and most other saladings in multicelled trays or small pots Pot on just about everything growing in the greenhouse or indoors Lift, pot and bring under cover clumps of chives and mint roots to force for earlier pickings Bring in tub grown grapevines, peaches, cherries and apricots, strawberry and gooseberry plants for forcing under cover Stand pots of fuschias, primulas and other plants prone to vine weevil in saucers sat in bigger saucers with the gap kept full of water as a moat Have a slug, snail and woodlice hunt to thin them before they multiply