February divides the UK into potential Spring in the south, and yet it remains deep winter in the North. For southerners, it's tempting to get a head start on the season as the days lengthen and the sun feels a little warmer. But a warm spell can be followed by freezing weather or flood, which will wreck early sowings and plantings. Be patient! Spend time finishing off any trimming of dead growth, clipping back and general preparation for the new growing season. Enjoy choosing seeds from the The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Soil and composting 🔗
- Your soil is the beating heart of your organic garden. Make sure it is in tip top condition for the season ahead.
- Bare soil needs to be covered at all times to protect its structure and its micro-organisms. Mulch with leaves or home made compost until plants start to grow again.
- Keep off wet soils to avoid compaction. Use long boards as walkways, to spread your weight.
- Adding grit to heavy clay soils will help with drainage, and improve growing conditions for many plants. Herbs in particular need good drainage.
- Give your compost heap a 'spring turn' this month. Turning will aerate and stimulate the heap. If it's too dry, continue adding wet kitchen waste, and water it occasionally. If too wet, add more carbon-rich stuff such as twigs, scrumpled cardboard and paper waste, to open up and aerate the heap. See Home Composting.
- If you stored last year’s autumn leaves in bags, turn them out and add water to help decomposition into leafmould.
- Make sure worm bins are well wrapped up in case of icy conditions this month. Feed only occasionally as the worms will be hardly eating at all in the chilly weather. Don't let food putrefy in a bin.
- Enjoy planning what to grow and where, using our helpful Crop Rotation guide in Planning your Planting.
- If the soil isn't too wet, start to dig in overwintered green manures such as grazing rye and winter tares, the frost should have killed them back. See Green Manures.
- The earliest vegetable crops - such as parsnips and broad beans - can be sown this month, but only if the soil is warm enough (5°C or more). If your soil is heavy clay and slow to warm, wait a few weeks, as seeds sown in cold/wet soils are unlikely to thrive.
- Starting a new organic veg patch or allotment? See Preparing your growing area.
- Download Garden Organic’s free Fruit Growing Manual; it gives a clear, basic guide to effective management and pruning of fruit trees and bushes.
- Check that newly planted fruit bushes and trees have not been lifted by frost, exposing roots. Re-firm them after the ground has thawed.
- Protect early fruit blossom from overnight frost. Use hessian, double-thickness netting or fleece to drape small trees and wall-trained fruit. Remember that even early-flowering blackcurrants, such as Ben Gairn, can suffer frost damage which will reduce the crop.
- If your soil is heavy clay or silt, dig in plenty of grit now. Many herbs, in particular varieties that come from hot climates, prefer well-drained soil.
- Container-grown herbs need feeding as conditions warm up towards the end of the month. Remove the top 5-10cm (2-4in) of compost. Top up with a 50/50 mixture of well-rotted garden compost (or worm compost) and leafmould or green waste compost. Finish off with a layer of horticultural grit, to improve appearance and retain moisture in dry spells. If you have none of the above material, then use a commercial soil-conditioner mixed 50/50 with fresh organic potting compost.
- Improve fertility round leafy herbaceous herbs, such as chives, with a top dressing of garden compost.
- Buy new potting compost (peat free and organic) for this year’s sowing and growing. Last year’s product shouldn’t be used as it deteriorates over winter. Spread the old stuff over the garden, or use it as top dressing on the lawn.
- Start sowing hardy annual flower seeds in cleaned pots/trays under cover. Choose plants that will attract beneficial insects into your organic garden. Seed trays and pots should be clean; potting compost should be fresh; watering should be from below, and be clean tap water; keep watering to a minimum; seedlings must have plenty of light and ventilation, and not be too sown too thickly
- If a frost is forecast, be sure to protect any tender plants. See Frost in the Garden.
Keeping the growing area healthy 🔗
- Continue to remove dead or dying leaves from plants indoors and out. Put them on the compost heap. Good hygiene is an essential part of keeping the garden healthy. Botrytis (grey mould) will attack any dead plant material. Once established, it will quickly move onto living plants and cause extensive damage, sometimes even plant death.
- Remove old mulches (compost them) to get rid of overwintering pest-pupae. Then hoe around the base of fruit trees and bushes to expose overwintering insects to hungry birds.
- In warm spells, early aphid colonies can build up on new buds. Squish them off with your fingers to prevent a build up.
- Bury stems and stumps of overwintered brassicas - in a compost heap, or a trench in the ground - as soon as they have finished cropping. This will help reduce the population of mealy aphids and whitefly which otherwise would simply move on to your spring-planted crops.
- Check plums, damsons and gages for signs of the plum leaf-curling aphid. This tiny green aphid can hatch as early as mid-January. If seen, you can combat using biological controls such as ladybird larvae or as a last resort, spray with a certified organic insecticidal soap.
- Encourage birds (especially blue tits) into your garden by putting up nest boxes. A hungry brood in the spring will be fed many hundreds of caterpillars and other pests every day by the parent birds.
In the greenhouse
- Clean pots and trays thoroughly before starting to sow new seeds. Pests and diseases can overwinter in old potting compost, surviving to damage newly emerging seedlings. Scrub well in hot soapy water.
- Clean the glass of any algae that has developed during the past few months.
- Sweep out the whole place to get rid of as many overwintering pests as possible.
- An organic lawn is not hard to achieve. It just needs some basic care, not chemicals.
- In frosty or snowy weather, keep off the grass. It can cause significant damage and lead to disease later in the year.
- If areas of the lawn tend to hold puddles, spike with a garden fork to the total depth of the tines.
- Use an organic lawn fertilizer to give the grass a good start to the season. There is a number of options available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- Now is an excellent time to create a pond. It will be ready for the frogs when they start looking for water next month for their spawn. See How to create a garden pond. You can use a pre-formed liner, or create your own size and shape by using flexible butyl liner. The deepest area should be at least 60cm (2 ft).
- If plants start to put out new leaves at the end of the month, you can start feeding again. Fertiliser sticks, or Chase Organic SM3 Seaweed Extract are ideal and flowering house plants can also be fed with Organic Tomato Feed. All these products are available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.