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The snowdrops are out and the garden is starting to show signs of life. Is it time to get out there

01:00 Fri 01st Feb 2002 |

A.� Although the weather may still be pretty bleak, February is an important month in the garden, not least because if you get cracking now you will reap the benefits later.

The usual provisos apply, as in you shouldn't try working the soil if it is either frozen or waterlogged, but when the weather permits any last minute preparation of beds in the garden and on the vegetable garden should be finished this month.

There is also pruning and the first plantings to be done. And when its is either pouring down or freezing out there then its there is plenty to be done inside, sowing seed for the coming summer in the greenhouse or on the window ledge.

Q.� What about general maintenance jobs

A.� This is a good time to check all your equipment and machinery so its in good working order for the months ahead.

Have a look at the lawn mower for instance and see if blades need sharpening or if a splash of oil is required here and there.

Take advantage of frozen ground to transport compost and manure around the garden in the wheelbarrow when you won't get stuck in the mud and top dress beds and borders. Lawns can be aerated with a fork, especially if they have been compacted by rain and if the grass is full of moss now is the time to apply a moss killer.

Q.� What plants need pruning at this stage

A.� Buddleias are one of our most popular garden plants and much beloved by butterflies but are also very vigorous and can get out of hand without due care and attention. Now is the time to prune them back hard, pruning shoots to around 15cms from their base.

Hydrangeas should have last season's blooms removed and, in mature specimens, about a quarter of the oldest shoots chopped down at ground level.

The popular climber Solanum crispum needs to have any straggly, unwanted growth removed, and late flowering clematis can be cut back to around 10 inches from the ground.

Overgrown deciduous hedges should be pruned drastically, around a foot further back from the eventual spread you want to allow for new growth.

Q.� What about planting outside

A.� If the weather and ground allows bare rooted roses and specimen shrubs can still go in at this stage to give them a chance to take hold before spring.

Overgrown herbaceous perennials can be split up, taking younger growth from the outside and discarding dead material left in the centre. Add some organic material such as compost or manure to the hole when replanting and top-dress them to keep out the frost.

Q.� And inside

A.� February is the month to start getting things active in time for spring. Dahlia and begonia tubers stored over winter can now be potted up in moist compost to half their depth to get them off to an early start or, with Dahlias, to promote growth for cuttings.

Seeds of half-hardy annuals such as begonia, lobelia, Busy Lizzies, antirrhinum and bedding geraniums can be sown in seed compost in a heated greenhouse or frame, taking care to protect the seedlings from strong sunlight or frost.

Q.� Is there much to do in the vegetable garden

A.� Onion sets can be bought now and laid out in a tray and stored in a cool dry place ready for planting next month. Beware sets that are already sprouting or are soft to the touch.

A few early lettuce seeds can be sown indoors ready to be transplanted outside under protection in March.

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By Tom Gard

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