Read the latest magazine... Download

Blooming Times: Spring Fever

February is often labelled the cruellest month in the horticultural calendar. However, Flo Whitaker suggests there is still plenty of opportunity for growth

Signs of spring are all around, but the bitterest weather may suddenly appear during the month of February. Fortunately, spring-flowering plants are hard-wired to cope with challenging conditions - any damage is usually minimal.

Gardeners can also suffer from a serious February ailment – Cabin Fever. After being cooped up for months, it’s tempting to rush outside on the first warm day and randomly sow seeds of everything. Alas, disappointment is guaranteed – most seedlings will not cope with February’s unpredictable nature. However, if given some protection, a few stalwart vegetables can be sown now.

Pea and broad bean seedlings are surprisingly robust. Sow individually into cells/modules in a cold greenhouse (protect with horticultural fleece or newspaper on frosty nights) and set out into the veg garden when plants are 10-15cms tall. Sow more than you require as hungry mice in search of a nutritious meal may find them. Birds, especially pesky pigeons, enjoy the foliage, so use protective mesh or bird-scaring devices when planting out.

Hardy mixed salad leaves will also survive in an unheated greenhouse, (cover during severe cold). Sow into a large-ish pot or trough, containing approximately 10cms of soil, and treat as a ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop. When the seedlings have made two or three pairs of leaves, snip the lower ones off the stem. The plants will continue to grow and yield several harvests. Perpetual spinach, known as ‘Spinach Beet’, can also be started in the greenhouse. Grow for salad leaves, (as before), or sow in individual modules and plant outdoors in April for a mature crop in June/July.

Given a well-lit, warm spot, (16⁰-18⁰) tomato and pepper seeds can be sown indoors. A heated propagator is ideal. A sunny windowsill or conservatory will also give good results – just remember, windowsills become cold when central heating goes off. Seedlings trapped in the cold zone between chilly glass and drawn curtains will suffer, so bring them into the room at night, replacing them on the sill the following morning. Basil and parsley seeds can also be started indoors. Most gardening books reckon it’s too early for parsley, but I find a February sowing works fine!

Instead of seed trays, sow into small 8cm pots, otherwise you’ll quickly run out of windowsill space. To prevent seedlings growing crooked or spindly, (‘etiolated’) give the pots a quarter turn every day. If you fancy indulging in a nostalgic Blue Peter moment, cut a long strip of card approximately 20cms wide from an old cereal box. Cover one side with aluminium foil. Position pots close to the window. Prop up the card on the room side, with foiled surface facing the window. This simple light-capturing backdrop will assist upright growth.

More from Homes and Gardens

  • Homes Extra: Dining Style

    Sara Whatley is singing the praises of the dining table and looking at different styling options for it

  • Warm Your Home, Not The Planet

    With the cost of living having increased during the last couple of years, it’s energising to learn about a company that can help cut the cost of heating and future proof the home as Robert Veitch discovered when he met David Leviseur from Fornax Energy

  • Home Style: Forest Idyll

    Moving the kitchen became the start of a much bigger project for the Buckinghams, as it created opportunities to change their new home

  • Blooming Times: What's in a Name?

    Botanical Latin may seem daunting, but it’s designed to be helpful and informative, says Flo Whitaker

  • Gardening: The Benefits of Hedges

    Gardeners are a flower-obsessed lot, greedily seeking out the latest, brightest blooms. That’s all very well, but ephemeral flowers need a stage to perform on. Plant a hedge - they add structure, benefit wildlife and look good all year round.

  • Home Style: Treasure Trove

    The interior of a quaint, white-washed cottage in Sussex has been transformed into a colourful home full of character by a couple of keen collectors.

  • Blooming Times: Awesome Alliums

    Easy-going and beloved by bees - now’s the perfect time to plant allium bulbs for a spectacular display next year. Flo Whitaker picks some of her favourites.

  • Homes Extra: Truly, Madly, Deeply

    Fall in love with your soft furnishings again this autumn and make it the season to snuggle up in style, says Sara Whatley

  • Home Style: Clear Vision

    Jacqui Elliott Williams has relished bringing this elegant Victorian house back to life with confident ideas, stylish choices and creative flair.

  • Homes Extra: Parasol Power

    Pretty parasols are enjoying their moment in the sun and making our outside spaces spin with style, says Sara Whatley.

  • Blooming Times Garden Lore - Fact or Fiction?

    The horticultural world abounds with bad advice and old wife’s tales, but some pronouncements are scientifically sound, says Flo Whitaker, as she asks, “True, or false?”

  • Home Style: Beaming with Happiness

    Lisa and Matthew Good wanted a property to add value to, sell and move on – but they ended up so enamoured with their renovation that they decided to stay put.

  • Sussex Homes: Transforming a dark and unloved cottage into a Greek Escape

    Helen Robinson has transformed a dark and unloved cottage from 1837 into a bright and inviting space with a Mediterranean feel in St Leonards-on-Sea.

  • Sussex Homes: Transforming a once unloved oast into a colourful and funky family abode

    Sam Fallon, who works in advertising and husband Nick, who works in publishing have transformed a once unloved oast into a colourful and funky family abode near Tunbridge Wells for themselves and their daughters Tilly and Isobel.

  • 7 Sustainable Design Tips For Hosting A Glorious Summer Garden Party

    ​​​​​​​Trying to take responsibility for our carbon footprint doesn’t mean we have to stop enjoying ourselves, far from it. With a few changes, we can continue to enjoy life as we know it but with a reduced impact on the planet.

  • 5 eco ways to use old kitchen products in your garden

    So many kitchen and cleaning products ending up in landfill at the end of their lives, just think of all those sponges, scourers and rubber gloves that add to our waste problems! Here’s 5 eco ways to use old kitchen products in your garden.

  • 6 of the best shrubs you can buy and plant for your garden

    If your garden’s looking parched and bare, why not invest in a few shrubs to fill the gaps. Flo Whitaker picks six of the best for late summer colour

  • Stylish Home Upgrades To Help You Save Energy

    One of the biggest issues facing everyone across the country is the cost of living crisis. Whether it’s your weekly shop, new appliances or even where you get your electricity from, the costs have spiralled to a level that is forcing us all to feel the pinch. 

  • Design Trends To Inject Life Into A Boring Bathroom

    For many people, the bathroom can be a problem room in their homes. Changing things around can be expensive and time consuming while the need for a plumber or installer is another common barrier – assuming you can even find one in the first place!

  • What The Average UK House Price Could Get You In Sussex (And Beyond)

    In the UK right now the average house price is estimated at just over £245,000 (as of February 2021). But that figure obviously varies from region to region. So if you're a first-time buyer or looking to move to pastures new, which areas should you be looking at to get the best value for your money?