Optimising your garden's spring awakening

The winter isn't over yet, far from it, but a few encouraging signs show us that the garden isn't completely dormant. Even if some big freezes may still lie ahead, a quick tour of the garden during the thawing periods comfort us with the idea that springtime is coming closer.

For those who had the good idea of planting spring-flowering bulbs last autumn, it's time for their early "rewards". The first tips of snowdrops, crocuses and winter aconites are already poking through and the young shoots of daffodils and grape hyacinths have broken the soil. The hellebores are beginning to flower, as are the first perennials such as bergenias and vincas. So don't forget to get out your gardening journal and make a note of what worked out and what you'll need to do next autumn to improve your end-of-winter display. Don't forget to water your pot-planted bulbs, particularly after a cold spell, which always dries them out. The same applies to potted shrubs. These often suffer to a greater extent from dryness following heavy frosts and can also become damaged from too much water if you don't take care to empty the saucers under the pots. You have to adapt to the climatic excesses!

Outside the periods of frost or heavy rainfall, you can get on with pruning trees, shrubs, roses and fruit trees. Now is the time for a good clear-out to get rid of the dead wood and scrawny branches, as well as a trim to ensure a harmonious appearance of the plants and good distribution of the sap flow, which will result in beautiful flowers and optimal fruit yield later on. Always cut the twigs at an angle so that rainwater drains away from the closest bud; this will reduce the risk of rotting.

February and beginning of March is also the time to work the soil – provided it isn't waterlogged or frozen. You can enrich it by spreading out a layer of compost or decomposed manure, which you can incorporate in March. Take the opportunity to redefine the borders of the beds using a well-sharpened spade or a half-moon edging tool. However, don't dig the beds if you haven't identified your perennials by means of labels: you could easily destroy still invisible stems that are waiting to awaken in a few weeks' time.

And if the weather really isn't conducive to gardening, you can resort to the pleasure of leafing through catalogues, jotting down your new orders... and dreaming of your coming flower beds. Set aside an area for a kitchen garden and plant at least a few herbs (sage, thyme, chives, mint, fennel, etc.), taking into account their growing requirements to avoid mixing those which like their roots to be kept cool, such as mint, with those that can grow in poor and dry soil, such as thyme. Planting the vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, onions, etc.) will come later, once the soil has warmed up sufficiently. So, February is a transitional month which is ideal for making preparations for the spring, but that doesn't rule out some very useful work if the weather is favourable.

Caroline Géneau
VIKING garden expert

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