February has long felt like a turning point in the garden. Snowdrops, crocus and hellebores promise the arrival of spring proper and the longer days are welcome after winter dark. The temptation to start sowing seeds is almost overwhelming.
While it’s still too early to do much for the new season – especially in the colder parts of the country – there are things that can be started, especially if you can offer the protection of a greenhouse or sunny windowsill.
Mention bulbs and many people will think of the spring stars such as tulips or daffodils yet there are many summer-flowering bulbs that can be planted now.
These are best done in pots so that they can be sheltered from any bad weather. Alternatively, wait until the weather and ground warm up before planting directly into borders.
Eucomis: also known as the pineapple lily, these South African natives are quite straightforward despite their exotic appearance with flowers of white or shades of pink. They are perfect for starting in pots now although are frost-tender so will need to be protected until late May or early June. Add grit to the compost to give them the free-draining conditions they love and plant them 15cm deep. If you put them directly into your borders, plant them deep so that they do not emerge above ground until after the last frost.
Lilies: these are one of the stars of the summer garden and another that is ideal for pots. Do check which soil type they require – Oriental Lilies prefer acidic and Asiatic alkaline – and choose the appropriate compost. Plant them at least 15cm deep and keep them moist but not waterlogged. Taller varieties may need staking.
Dahlias: overwintered tubers can now be started into growth and it’s time to think about planting up new varieties. These should be put in pots of good compost and kept in a light, frost-free place. Keep them moist and plant out when the risk of frost has passed.
Don’t be in a rush to sow seeds – anything that will eventually be planted outside can wait until March. There are some things that need a longer growing season and they can be started now.
Chillies: the range is wide from those that deliver a blast of heat to others that have a subtle fruity flavour. Sow in good quality seed compost in small pots and put somewhere warm, ideally a heated propagator. Germination can be slow and erratic. Pot on into bigger pots and give them warmth and good light.
Sweet peas: if you didn’t sow these summer favourites in the autumn, there’s still time to do it now. They like a deep pot, or something like RootTrainers. Put them in a warm place and keep the compost moist. Once the plants have germinated, put them in a frost-free but cool spot, such as a cold frame. Pinching out the growing tips when they have a few pairs of true leaves will encourage bushy plants.
Aubergines: these need a long growing season so seed has to be started early. Sow in pots and germinate in a heated propagator or warm spot. Pot them on into bigger individual pots and keep frost-free. They can be grown outside but are better under glass in a cold frame or greenhouse.