February in your Wildlife-Friendly Garden

It's time to get off the couch, already six weeks have passed since the shortest day and in the garden there are signs of the approaching spring. Snowdrops are out and bulbs are shooting up amongst the winter wreckage with increasing rapidity. The birds and wildlife are also more active as light levels and temperatures increase. So, it's time to move on from indoor thinking, planning and biscuit eating and get outside as the garden is coming to life again

Don't get too taken in by that bright sunny day as freezing spells could well return. Don't risk any half-hardy or tender plants until you are sure the conditions are right. You might be surprised how the weather this month, or the preceding winter months, may have made ground water unavailable to plant roots. You should particularly check pots and any new hedging you planted in the autumn. It is important to only water (luke warm) when necessary as you do not want waterlogged plants at this time of year.

There's a lot of pruning and cutting to be done in February, so oil and clean your secateurs and sharpen your pruning knife.


Top 10 gardening jobs in February



    1. Prepare vegetable seed beds, and sow some vegetables under cover. This is a good way to give your broad beans a good start. Try the broad bean variety masterpiece green longpod.


    1. Chit early potato tubers (ie. get them to sprout) and take the opportunity to get some varieties that you haven't tried before. There are loads of heritage British potato varieties that taste delicious and look lovely, so hunt them out. Keep them in the cool and light. You don't want to rush them as it will be a while before you plant them out.


    1. Net fruit and vegetables if you don't want to share them with the birds. Protect blossom on apricots, nectarines and peaches.


    1. Clear the weeds as they start to show. Now's a good time to get at bindweed roots, but be careful not to disturb roots of other plants. Burn any white rooted bindweed as it will simply re-grow if composted.


    1. Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering. Cut as close to the base as possible. Doing it now before the crowns have started to grow means that you can get nice and close and avoid leaving last year's stems as jagged obstacles.


    1. Once flowering has finished, divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting 'in the green'.


    1. Get that tidying done. Waste material from the beds should be gathered up and added to the compost heap rather than burned, as many of the stems may still be a winter home to insects. You can now rake clean in readiness for spring mulching and to make way for the bulbs.


    1. Start mulching once the ground starts to warm. A 5cm layer of weed-free organic matter will feed your shooting bulbs. Make sure you have already cleared the weeds or you will simply be creating a better environment for them to grow.


    1. Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges, wisteria and conservatory climbers. Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter.


    1. Plant your native or edible hedge before the sap starts to rise. Buy good quality British grown 1-2 year old 'whips'. You'll see good growth even in the first year.




February Birdlife


On an early morning in the garden you will notice the birdsong increasing as the days get longer. The first signs of a spring dawn chorus will be starting as birds start to attract a mate and stake out their territories. In this early part of the year you will hear slightly different songs as birds try out their singing possibly for the first time, but they will soon master their true voice.

Natural food supplies may be in short supply, especially when it's cold, so keep your feeders well topped-up and your birdbaths ice-free. If there is snow, then clear a patch to put out food for ground feeding species.

Nesting boxes should now be in place ready for their new residents later in the year. Lots of species will prospect for nesting sites well before they actually move in. Human behaviour seems to mimic this quite closely. Oh, don't we just love estate agents!

By the end of the month many of our winter visiting birds will be starting to move north, so keep an eye on the skies for skeins of geese or flocks of thrushes or lapwings.



Hedgehogs, amphibians and insects


Hibernation for bats, hedgehogs and badgers will be coming to an end providing the weather is not too cold. You might see evidence of paths newly used by badgers or hedgehogs.

In ponds you may well see the first masses of frog spawn. Sometimes frogs will choose the smallest amount of water to lay their spawn. Even a puddle that is soon to dry out may be used. Newts will also be more active and you should be careful not to injure any that might still be under leaves or twigs.

Insects are few and far between, but there can be a few surprises. Gnats may hatch into a cloud over the lawn, and an early Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock butterfly can often be found to have come out of hibernation, particularly in a shed or greenhouse.

One downside of this slow progress towards spring is that you may have to cut the lawn (if you haven't converted it to a wildflower meadow‚ now there's a thought!). Happy gardening!

 David Pitman.

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