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Three of the best things you can do for your garden in February

It's been wonderful to be enjoying slightly longer days. Through winter there is still plenty to do in the garden but with less time to do it in! As a year-round gardener I savour each and every season and at this time it's all about winter structure, raking light, peeling bark, clean lines and twinklings of frost. Tending is ongoing as I sweep paths, cut back perennals, plant shrubs and bare root roses, weed (brambles for instance are far easier to spot and dig out), clean pots and greenhouses, protect tender plants, dig new borders and veg patches, spread mulch, train roses, not to mention pruning shrubs and fruit trees.

For February, if I were to pick my three key jobs for a garden in the month ahead, they would be...

1. Prune late flowering woody plants that flower on new season growth - like the butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii. They will shoot back up this year to provide a glorious summer display with plenty of nectar for the butterflies. If they have got too big you can cut them right back, leaving one or two shoots on each stem. Finish off with some pelleted organic fertiliser and mulch to give them lots of love. If you haven’t got a Buddleja - get one!! Soil conditions in the Chichester area are generally really well suited to grow them and they are fantastically pretty with their grey green leaves, drought tolerant once established, and nature friendly too of course.

2. On a rainy day a good job would be to start off some lettuce, radish, and beetroot seeds in modules in a light warm place inside, to plant out in your veg patch, raised beds or containers in March. Make a note to prepare the area for planting by weeding and forking over or adding some organic mulch or granular organic feed if you need to. Cover the soil with a sheet of polythene or a cloche to warm it up ready for when your seedlings can be planted out.

3. Plant bare root shrubs. Is there a part of your garden that looks a bit uninspiring? What about planting dogwood with colourful winter stems? They are available right now from nurseries supplied as ‘bare root’ plants for a fraction of the price of potted plants and there is a wider choice of varieties to choose from. They will arrive bundled together with short stems and lots of bare roots, without the usual pot and soil, so it's much more environmentally friendly. Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' has bright green stems and looks great against a darker background of evergreens. Cornus alba Sibirica is very vigorous and has striking bright red bark. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Variegata’ has similar bright red stems but with creamy margined variegated leaves which have pretty autumn colour too. All look great underplanted with Lamium, Hellebores, snowdrops and daffodils. Just soak the roots for an hour before planting (when the ground is not frozen!), then sprinkle with mycorrhizal fungi to build up a good relationship between your soil and the roots and help them to establish more quickly as well as be more drought tolerant and take up nutrients more easily. A fascinating read on the symbiotic relationship of fungi, shrubs and trees is Suzanne Simard’s book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. I received a copy for Christmas from one of my lovely customers which I have been glued to.

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