Jackie Power’s gardening column

News Desk (02 February, 2017)

"Take any opportunities during dry weather to make an early start in the garden"

735Jackie Power

Wet and mild weather at the beginning of February often signals an end to winter, but if the month starts with easterly winds, winter may persist for several more weeks.

Take any opportunities during dry weather to make an early start in the garden – tidying debris, cutting back dead foliage left on perennials and clearing remaining leaves before the garden begins to wake from its winter slumbers.

Snowdrops are flowering – their delicate blooms quivering in winter winds. The colourful Crocus and winter aconite will soon follow. Shrubs and trees in flower at this time are the cheerful Jasmine nudiflorum, Mahonia, Chimonanthus and Witch hazel. Foliage plants that may not seem interesting at other times of the year provide seasonal colour – climbers such as ivy (Hedera) which come in many shades and leaf shapes. Varieties like ‘Gold Heart’ or H. canariensis ‘Variagata’ and H. colchica ‘Dentata Variagata’ (one of the most colourful ivies and also hardiest). Ivy is often described as invasive but choosing the right variety for the setting (including window boxes) and pruning in spring and summer should keep it in check. Another bonus is that birds often nest in thickly growing ivy stems making it a valuable habitat plant.

Dogwood (Cornus alba) with its luminous red, bare stems is a striking shrub at this time of year. Planted in clumps against a back drop of ivy trained over a wall or fence or left to run along the ground; with the Christmas rose (Hellebores) and a selection of spring and autumn flowering bulbs, makes an attractive seasonal planting scheme.

February is a good time to check houseplants; look for pests such as scale insect – these are small, light brown bumps dotted over leaf and stem surfaces. Scale is not always noticeable and does not look alive; but under their waxy shell they are anchored onto leaves and extract sap weakening the plant which becomes coated in sticky honeydew. Scale needs to be wiped off (squished) firmly with a cloth and warm water. Generally – remove dead leaves from houseplants and any that have accumulated in the pots; give a liquid feed. Central heating dries out plants quickly, mist leaves (except African violets or plants with similar downy leaves). In cool conditions don’t over water or mist as the plants may rot.

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