Check out our latest magazine... Read Online

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

  • Home Style: Pastures New

    The grass really was greener for this family, who left behind their recently remodelled London house for a new life in the country

  • Homes Extra: Let There Be Light

    Read on for the latest in home and garden lighting ideas for a bright and up to date space, says Sara Whatley

  • Blooming Times: Wisteria Hysteria

    With its exquisitely fragrant, show-stopping blooms, wisteria is the queen of spring climbers – yet it can be frustratingly sulky and thuggish. Flo Whitaker offers a quick troubleshooting guide to floral success

  • Home Style: Home on Wheels

    A plot on the family farm with stunning marshland views was the ideal spot for Freddie Pack and Katie McNie to build their new home – a cabin on wheels

  • Home Style: Modern Outlook

    Downsizing couple Pauline and Bill chose practicality over space, but didn’t compromise on their love of mid-century style

  • Blooming Times: Dahlia Mania

    Inexpensive, hardworking plants with blooms in a vast array of colours and shapes - no flower is perfect, but dahlias come pretty close, says Flo Whitaker

  • Home Style: Time to Heal

    After losing her husband, Tracy Nors threw all her energies into renovating a period terrace in the pretty town of Rye

  • Blooming Times: Spring into Summer

    Say the word ‘bulb’ and thoughts of spring immediately come to mind - but there are some bulbus characters to plant now for summer colour. Flo Whitaker selects a few of her favourites

  • Home Style: Farm Stay

    While living in a tiny cabin on the family farm, Freddie and Katie Pack saved up to build their dream house on a plot a few fields away

  • Home Style: Romantic Vision

    Tim and Jenny Backshall rescued a derelict timber-framed hall house, respecting its history while future proofing for generations to come

  • Homes Extra: Dining Style

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

  • 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?”