February gardening tips
Fruit trees and bushes
Cover strawberry plants with garden fleece to encourage them to fruit earlier than they normally would.
Plant and prune autumn fruiting raspberries; simply cut them down to 1" above ground level and the job's done! Prune gooseberries, blueberries and red & white currants by the end of the month.
If you haven't done so already, prune standard or bush apple and pear trees; keep the centre of the tree or shrub fairly open to allow air to circulate freely. Cut out crossing and rubbing branches to avoid open wounds which encourage disease. Do not prune espalier/cordon trained apples and pears.
Plant bare-rooted fruit trees and summer fruiting raspberries.
Protect fruit trees and gooseberries with netting; birds love developing fruit buds and your entire crop can disappear with astonishing speed unless protected!
Check all ties and stakes to ensure they are not broken or too tight.
Check stored fruit and throw out any showing signs of disease.
Add organic fertiliser (for example fish, blood and bone) to your fruit trees and shrubs. Remove any mulch, feed around the roots, water and renew the mulch. Use organic rather than inorganic or chemical fertilisers to provide a slow release of nutrients; a sudden burst of growth too early in the season puts the plant at risk from disease and pests.
Force rhubarb - clear away all dead foliage and cover the crown with a forcer if you have one or a large pot if you don't. To encourage faster growth, cover the forcer with horse manure to begin with; the heat will produce even more dramatic results as it rots down! Rhubarb should be split every 5 years or so to keep it productive - either cut it into chunks whilst in the ground, or lift the whole clump and cut it up on the surface. You should land up with a bud and a piece of root with each split, which should be planted with the bud at soil level 30 – 36" apart. Remember to dig in lots of well rotted manure before you go planting. The old, tired central chunk can be discarded - no room for sentiment in a kitchen garden.
Harvest leeks, Brussels sprouts and sprouting broccoli.
Sow early vegetable and salad crops in seed trays, modules, in the greenhouse or inside - keep them on a windowsill in light and airy conditions. Radishes need thinning out to 1" apart when large enough to handle. Spinach doesn't need thinning if sown thinly, and the thinning's from salad crops can be used as baby leaves - delicious.
If you haven't done so already, chit your potatoes - put them in a light, cool place with the end showing the most 'buds' uppermost - an old egg box is ideal. They should be ready for planting outside in March when the sprouts are 1-1/2" long.
Plant Jerusalem artichokes - bury them 1" deep and 12-18" apart - but remember they spread like wildfire unless you dig up every last one at harvest time.