Thinking ahead to spring and summer

Although we are still in the gloomiest part of the year there is a lot for the gardener to be getting on with, says The Moment magazine online's garden expert ANNE SMITH. On a cold, dull day what could be nicer than sitting in your warm house leafing through seed catalogues and planning for the warmer seasons? Write yourself a cropping plan for the year – and if you feel brave enough to venture outside, here are a few jobs to be getting on with…

Check recent plants for sign of frost heave – heavy frost causes the soil to lift, leaving air pockets around the roots, which makes them susceptible to drying out and increases the risk of further frost damage. Also check for wind damage. Secure climbers if necessary and stake trees, shrubs and tall vegetables. Towards the end of February, cut back seed heads of perennials and ornamental grasses that are looking tatty, to make room for new growth.

Check stored vegetables regularly and make sure they are kept cool. Rub off any shoots from potatoes to keep them edible. Cover the ground – where you plan to sow early peas, beetroot and broad beans – with a cloche, cold frame or a double layer of fleece, to help warm up the soil. Sow once weed seeds start to germinate, or when the cloche has been in place for a fortnight, and replace the cover after sowing to speed up germination. Aim to finish digging beds by the end of February and fork over raised beds to aerate the soil. Don’t be tempted to get digging if the soil is too wet or when the surface is frozen.

Start garlic and shallots in pots and grow on until March

You can sow broad beans, lettuce and peas in February in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame for planting out in spring. You might like to consider growing some very early potatoes in the greenhouse, but check for botrytis (grey mould) and if present treat with a fungal preparation as soon as possible. Start garlic and shallots in pots and grow on until March. Don’t forget to clean the glass of your greenhouse or cold frame, to allow in as much light as possible.

Flower garden
Plan your summer bedding schemes. Sow sweet peas and lupins and other hardy annuals if you did not do so in autumn. Also sow half-hardy annual and perennial seeds (see packets for dates, usually January to May at 55 degrees). Remember to protect your tender plants against frost. Prune Group 3 clematis to knee height in early March as they only flower on new growth. Cut privet hedges and if possible feed hedges with a good layer of mulch.

Plant rhubarb crowns in February in well-cultivated soil and mulch with strawy manure

Plant new fruit trees, bushes and canes as soon as possible, but if conditions are unfavourable, pot them up or store with the dampened root-ball well wrapped, in a cold but frost-free shed. Mulch newly planted trees and bushes when the soil is moist but not frozen. Plant rhubarb crowns in February in well-cultivated soil and mulch with strawy manure. Force established rhubarb plants by covering with an upturned pot or dustbin stuffed with straw or similar material and divide congested clumps before replanting in soil enriched with well-rotted manure.

Try and keep off the lawn when it is wet or frosty because your feet can damage the turf.

… and finally

Compost heaps
Kick-start your compost heap by adding a bucketful of active compost. You can also add an activator such as poultry manure or seaweed.

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