Late winter gardening tasks

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spring is just around the corner here in the UK Mid February 2020 and the way the flowers and trees are slowly – and some quite a bit earlier than usual – are beginning to come to life it is not going to be far off.

It may still be too early to actually put down any seeds into the ground, whether you garden directly in the ground or in containers, as there is still the chance for frost and some plants and even seeds certainly will object to getting frozen, even if but mildly.

But do you have all the seeds you want and need? If not then now is definitely the time to get those orders in if you get them by mail order. If you get them from physical stores on the high street or the garden centers then there still is a little time.

Plan your vegetable garden if you haven't done so yet and I would suggest you do that before you order your seeds.

One of the most important tasks, aside from pruning your fruit trees – we come to that in a minute – is to inspect and maintain all your garden tools, whether trowels, spades, or pruners, and everything in between.

Get cutting and digging tools sharpened now. For sharpening jobs that you can't handle, take tools to a local hardware store that advertises blade sharpening. Make sure power tools are in good working order, too, if you use any.

Digging tools, and that includes trowels, as well as hoes, should be cleaned (in fact they should have been cleaned and oiled before they were put away for the winter but, erm, I didn't do that either) and then their cutting edges sharpened. This can be fairly easily with a mill bastard file. Pruners, loppers and such should be thoroughly cleaned, sharpened and oiled so they are ready to use when you start pruning. A little reminder: Wipe them after every use with a wipe that will remove the sap. It does not have the special wipe you can buy with Sapex but can just be a baby wipe or a cloth with WD40 or 3-in1.

Review your garden supplies. Besides seeds and plants, think about items needed to prepare your garden for the growing season: potting soil, weed cloth, mulch, plant markers, frost blankets, or other supplies. Refresh supplies that are low.

Pruning your fruit trees: Now is the time, in fact it is high time, to prune your fruit trees (bar those of the prunus variety; they should be pruned, I know it sounds totally against all rules but, after flowering as, apparently, the fact that the sap is rising strongly then any infections will be flooded out) and for apple trees you only have a little window of a few weeks from mid-February to mid-March.

Start seeds indoors (or in the greenhouse)

Sow seeds now or early-season vegetables that can go in the ground a couple of weeks before the last average frost date. This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leeks. Aim to start these seeds five to seven weeks before you want to transplant them outdoors.

Consider sowing early lettuce crops in cell packs. When it's warm enough, you'll have clumps of greens ready to transplant into pots or the garden.

Sow plants such as tomatoes or peppers six to eight weeks before the last average frost date. This means you may have to wait until the end of the month or even a little later before planting the seeds.

Pruning ornamentals

Choose a warmish day to prune landscape plants. Remove any dead or damaged branches. Thin plants with heavily branched interiors.

Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs or trees until after they bloom. If you prune now, you'll be cutting off blossoms.

Do not prune oaks and walnuts until July to avoid wilt disease.

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