Gardening in February – 1. Weather in February
The Ultimate Guide For February
Gardening in February means gardening when the garden begins to stir from its winter slumber. Winter aconites and the first snowdrops and crocuses are in bloom, and by the end of the month, primroses and early daffodils such as ‘February Gold’ may be making an appearance. The early-flowering shrubs, including Chaenomeles and daphnes, will be flowering freely in temperate areas and, by the end of the month, will be showing color even in the colder parts of the country.
The Weather in February
Although described as late winter, February can be the coldest month of the year. It is also a period of rapid change. The month often starts with bitter cold, and heavy snowfalls and severe frosts are not uncommon. Yet there are usually many bright and sunny days too, and by the end of the month, there may be a mild spell that deludes you into thinking that spring is just around the corner.
Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by these mild spells. Sowing and planting in February can lead to disappointment as the weather turns cold again. Winter nearly always returns for a while in March, and biting cold winds will then set back young plants that have been started too soon.
Temperature in February
Both experience and specific advice in books and magazines can be misleading or inappropriate in an exceptional year. Do not sow or plant just because the instructions tell you that it is a good time unless you see that the ground and the weather are suitable. Even if you have covered the soil in the kitchen garden with cloches or plastic sheeting, you cannot be sure the soil is warm enough for sowing unless you test it with a soil thermometer.
A soil thermometer is not expensive, and if used correctly, can make a considerable difference to the number of seeds you germinate successfully. The soil temperature responds more slowly than the air temperature to changes in the weather. A soil thermometer is the only accurate way to tell if conditions are right to sow seeds in February.
Whether you are sowing vegetables or early hardy annuals, it is a wise precaution not to sow seeds in February anything until the soil temperature has remained above 7°C (45°F) for a week. (Less hardy plants require warmer soil than this, but they should not be sown until later in the year in any case.) In open ground, without the protection of cloches or protective sheets, a suitable soil temperature is unlikely to be reached before the beginning of March.
If you haven’t already done so, order your plants now. Sometimes you can buy the exact plants you want from a garden center, but they rarely have such a wide choice as is available from a mail-order specialist nursery. This is the last chance to order young bedding plants – there is often a cut-off ordering date of the end of February for mail order purchases even though delivery may still be a month or two away. Don’t miss the chance to order the plants you really want.
Take time to plan which summer bedding plants and bulbs you need and how many. This will help you calculate how many seeds to sow and how many plants or bulbs to buy, thus minimizing waste.
If you buy on impulse, you are likely to have too many or too few. Planning will not ensure you get it exactly right, but it is better than buying without a clear idea of how you intend to use the plants. It is also a delightful task for a cold day.
Continue to prepare the ground for planting during the next couple of months. Winter dig the vegetable garden if this has not been done, and prepare the soil if you plan to sow seeds in February or turf a new lawn. This will give the ground time to settle and for you to firm it and weed it again if necessary.
Gardening in February makes an excellent time to test your soil to see whether the pH needs adjusting or if the soil is deficient in any significant nutrients. It is advisable to make any necessary corrections before the primary growing season. However, nitrogen, which is easily washed out of the soil, should be applied during the growing season when plants can best use it.