Fast Facts for February Gardening

February is the coldest month, a bitter bone-chilling time of the year when daylight is in short supply but rain seems to be a constant feature. Yet even when the ground is blanketed with snow or frozen solid, a few hardy plants like witch hazel and hellebores can be relied on to flourish, brightening the garden whatever the weather.

Early flowers bloom because they have a substance similar to antifreeze in their veins and it would be helpful if gardeners had the same, but they don't so working outside can be a chilly affair, yet it's worth putting up with the freezing conditions to catch the first signs of life as they begin to stir.

Work in the garden just now is about clearing away the debris that's been tossed about by winter storms, checking ties on trees and firming down roots that have been lifted by frost.

It's a good time to collect up all the empty pots that are lying around and scrub them out so that they are ready for when you need them.

If the ground is neither frozen nor waterlogged then you can press ahead with planting hedges and bare-root plants and now is a good time to sow sweet peas, raising them on bright windowsills or in a cold greenhouse.

Sow three seeds to a 9" pot and then they are easy to plant out as a clump with a cane for support when they are bigger. Just remember to pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushy growth as this way you'll get lots more flowers.

Meanwhile check on houseplants.

If they are beginning to grow then you may have to start watering them more frequently but err on the side of caution as some, such as pelargoniums, can quickly rot-off if they sit in damp soil.

The one plant guaranteed to grow at this time of the year without any cosseting is the snowdrop. It flourishes through the worst of the weather, spreading over time into large clumps and even carpets of flowers. 

This month the annual Scottish snowdrop festival gets underway and for six weeks gardens, parks and estates where snowdrops grow in abundance will be throwing open their gates to visitors.

Make time to visit at least one and you won't regret it. Even on the coldest, most miserable day the sight of snowdrops carpeting woodlands and pushing their way through leaf litter is profoundly uplifting and will stay with you for  months.

Talks, walks and night time events in lit woodland are all part of the festival and one of the most exciting this year is a collaboration between Craigengillan Estate and the Dark Sky Observatory in Dalmellington who on 21 February will be combining snowdrop spotting with star gazing. I can't think of anything more magical.

At Abriachan Garden Nursery visitors can follow winding pathways through native woodlands dotted with snowdrops, while enjoying stunning views over Loch Ness, while the grounds of 15th century Duntreath Castle in Blanefield will be dusted with snowdrops for six weeks. Meanwhile, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 February to 6 March, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will be offering guided tours of the garden's snowdrop collection. This is a great chance to see some more unusual snowdrops, of the kind usually only grown by real enthusiasts.

Garden Tasks for February

If a mahonia has become too large, then prune it just after flowering cutting it down to 18" high. It will soon recover.

Clear away the old foliage from hostas and spread a mulch of sharp sand or crushed eggshells around the plants to prevent slugs and snails from nibbling this year's young foliage.

Plant potatoes in tubs in February and keep in a frost-free greenhouse until the last frost has passed.

Keep off frosted grass to prevent leaving footprints and causing compaction.

Agnes Stevenson