26 February 2017

What to do in the vegetable garden in February

February, for me, is the start of the gardening year. The days get longer and the sun stronger. The very first signs of spring appear as the garden starts to shrug off its winter dormancy. February is too early to do much sowing, but is the month to plan and prepare for the gardening year ahead. It is a time to harvest the last of the winter veg, and to start preparing the ground for the first spring sowings. Here's what I am up to in the garden this month.

Preparing beds


February is the perfect time to plan what you want to grow this year. Curl up on the sofa with a mug of tea and some seed catalogues and think about what you want to grow. If you are new to vegetable growing, have a look at my guide to what veg to grow: http://roomforaradish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/what-vegetables-should-i-grow-in-my.html. It is also worth drawing up a rough plan of what you want to grow where so you can make best use of your available ground.

Harvesting winter veg

If you still have winter veg in the ground like swedes, parsnips and celeriac, February is the time to harvest them. If you leave them in the ground into spring, the plants use the energy they have been storing in their roots to put on new growth and flower. As a result their roots get woody and the taste deteriorates. Harvesting the last of the winter veg clears up space for spring planting. Carry on harvesting cavolo nero, cabbages and the first purple sprouting broccoli.

Weeding and pest control

Some weeds continue growing all through winter. While some perennial weeds such as ground elder and lesser celandine start to appear in February. If you keep on top of these as they appear it makes life easier later. Slugs and snails hibernate in colonies under bricks, logs and pots. Have a search for them and dispatch any you find and it should mean you have fewer later in the year. Weed around garlic, onions and over-wintered broad beans. This removes competition from your crops and should improve yields.

Garlic - weeded and mulched

Preparing beds

As beds empty of winter veg, get them ready for spring planting. Remove any stones and weeds. Give them a fork over and break down the clods with a cultivator or a rake. When I have a bed ready, I cover it in mulch or black plastic. This stops nutrients leaching out of the ground in wet weather and (in the case of plastic) starts to warm the ground so you can sow seeds earlier than would otherwise be possible. Many seeds require the soil to be above a certain temperature to germinate, and a degree or two can make all the difference to the success of early sowings.


It is a bit early to sow much in February, unless you have a greenhouse in which to bring things on. If the weather is mild, I have had success sowing radishes at the very end of Feb. Varieties like French Breakfast will germinate in soil temperatures of about 5C and above, and if sown now under a cloche will be ready by late April. Hardy salads can be sown in pots in a cold frame. There are a few crops that require a long growing season which benefit from being sown now inside. I sow celeriac and chillies in Feb. I leave tomatoes until March, as otherwise I find they get too large before they can be moved outside. Seedlings can also get leggy if sown now, as light levels are too low.


Winter is a good time to mulch around perennial vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus and fruit canes and trees. I also mulch around spring brassicas to feed them and to improve the soil for the crops that will follow them. For mulching I use garden compost, seaweed (which is very nutritious and free at the beach at the end of my street), spent potting compost from last year's tomato plants and well-rotted manure. If mulching round existing plants, go easy on manure and other mulches that are rich in nitrogen as these can encourage too much leggy growth which may get damaged in late frosts.

Pruning fruit trees

If you haven't already, prune apple and pear trees, cut back raspberry canes, currants and gooseberries. Plum and gage trees should be pruned in mid summer. If you prune them now they can easily get diseased.

Watch those pigeons...

Wood pigeons can be a nuisance at any time of year, and do seem partial to a good bit of brassica foliage. I find particularly so in late winter and early spring. They can decimate a crop of spring cabbages or purple sprouting broccoli in a matter of days. This is especially depressing with crops that you have nurtured all through winter and which are almost ready to harvest. If you can, put netting over your brassicas. If they are too large to net, I find an array of bamboo canes, string and CDs tends to scare them away.

High tech pigeon deterrent

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