Professional Gardener - February weather, slugs and pruning

Keeping an eye on the weather will be key to planning your work this month, says Sally Drury.

Variable weather

February weather can vary tremendously across the UK so much of this month's work will depend on ground conditions, temperatures and weather forecasts.

Pests

In some parts of the country, and particularly in the South West, slugs are already proving to be a nuisance, eating their way through volumes of herbaceous leaves and alpine plants.

Where they are problematic, some control, trap or barrier-type deterrent around susceptible plants may be necessary. Slug killers based on the nematode Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita work best when soil temperatures are at least 5 degsC.

Trees and shrubs

Prune late-flowering shrubs and trim winter-flowering heathers.

Kitchen garden

Take another look at plans for this year's cropping. Continue sowing early crops - broad beans, lettuces, culinary peas and cauliflowers under glass. Dig a few roots of mint and pot-up to provide new sprigs to go with the early crops of peas and potatoes.

In well-heated greenhouses, cucumbers can also be sown for an early crop. Cover ground outside with cloches or fleece to warm soil for early planting out. Plant Jerusalem artichokes at the earliest opportunity. Prepare runner bean trenches and asparagus beds as conditions allow. Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries.

There are new varieties to consider for the kitchen garden this year. Added to the DT Brown catalogue for 2012 is the Fig 'Panachee'. Suitable for growing in large pots, the flavour of this red-fleshed and striking fig is said by some to resemble that of a strawberry. Even more intriguing is the green and yellow striped skin of the fruits, which earns it the name "tiger fig".

This is not a modern novelty - 'Panachee' was first introduced in the late 17th century and would make an excellent choice for those interested in historic varieties.

Three garlics also make a first appearance in the 2012 DT Brown grow your own catalogue. With a sweet and subtle flavour, 'Edenrose' is known in France as garlic Rose de Lautrec. That name has protected status - garlic cannot be sold under the name outside of the region of origin, the clay/chalky hillsides of the Tarn.

Legend tells of this garlic first appearing in the region in the Middle Ages, when a travelling merchant stopped to eat but had no money and paid instead with its pink cloves.

The second garlic is 'Avignon Wight' - yielding big, juicy fat bulbs up to 80mm in size. Potentially, this is the highest-yielding garlic. It responds well to heavy watering for three months before harvest and stores well - reportedly up to February following harvest.

The third garlic, Bella Italiano, is a hard-neck type, British-grown on the Isle of Wight but originating from the Sulmona region south of Rome. Strong-flavoured and having pinky-white cloves, Bella Italiano can be kept up to March in the year after harvest.

Machinery and tools

Check that all kit has been serviced and is ready for use - you do not want delays when conditions dictate certain jobs needs doing. Make sure that all machinery records are current and update or revise rolling replacement programmes as necessary.


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