What to do in February

Jerusalem artichokes do surprisingly well in container

With spring just round the corner, it’s easy to get itchy sowing fingers in February. Some things, like chillies and Jerusalem artichokes, can be sown this month, but generally it’s best to try to resist the sowing urge until a bit later in the year.  Most plants grow stronger from later sowings. This is a also good month to get everything you need ready for the growing season – and it’s another good month to buy and plant fruit trees and bushes. Below you’ll find tips on what to so and do in February.

This month

  1. What to sow inside
  2. What to sow outside
  3. Other jobs this month
  4. What to harvest

The advice here is good for growing in most of the Northern hemisphere, including the UK. The best sowing dates will vary slightly from region to region – try to get a seed sowing calendar for your area and use it conjunction with the information below.

1. Sow inside

Light levels are low outside in February due to a combination of short days and a low sun. Seeds need plenty of light to grow healthily so it can be tricky to raise healthy seedlings inside (where light levels are invariably even lower than outside). Put them in the brightest window sill you can find. If you find you struggle to raise strong sturdy plants from February sowings, try them later in the year. Or invest in a good quality grow LED light. Another option is simply buy your chillies and aubergines as plants later in the year 🙂

  • Aubergines, chillies and peppers – need to grow for about 20 weeks before they fruit. Starting them in mid February improves the chances that they will be fruiting in the hottest months of the year. However, it’s often possible to get a good harvest from later sowings (depending on the variety – look for early fruiting ones) until the end of March.
  • Tomatoes – can be sown until mid April. They grow fast and big inside – and if you sow too many, too early, they will quickly take over your home! However, sowing one or two plants towards the end of February can be a good way to get a few early tomatoes. But wait until late March or early April to sow the bulk of your tomato seeds.

Chilli, aubergine and tomato seeds germinate more reliably in the warmth (25 – 30°C  / 77-86°F is best, 16°C / 60°F is the minimum). A heated propagator (a container with a perspex lid and a heat source underneath) helps but is not essential.  Any warm place – above a radiator or above the back of the fridge – will help. Move them into the light as soon as they germinate.

Growing chilli seedlings in coir jiffy plugs
Chilli seedlings – growing in coir jiffy plugs.

2. Sow or plant outside

Although it is still cold in many parts, a few seeds and plants can be started outside now. If the soil in your pots is frozen, wait until it has thawed before planting.

  • Fruit Trees and Bushes:  Now, while they are dormant and just before spring, is one of the best times of year to plant fruit in containers.  The best value way to buy fruit trees is ‘bare rooted’ and these are usually still available from some suppliers this month.  I always recommend buying fruits from a professional fruit nursery. They can advise on a variety suitable for your climate and to grow in a container. The variety and the root stock does make a big difference to success.
  • Broad beans – can be sown outside from now until April.  Broad beans do not yield well in containers (they are better choice for allotments). But if you love them (like I do), you may find it hard to resist growing a few.
  • Jerusalem artichokes are a tall (6 foot and more) and bushy crop, with edible tubers. The tubers are delicious and nutritious – and an excellent prebiotic (good for your gut microbes). They grow well in a bucket sized container and bigger.  Grow them from a tuber, just like a potato (the tubers you get from supermarkets / farmers markets work fine). You can plant them now, or wait until March / April.
  • Garlic.  Best planted in the autumn, but if you missed the chance, you can also try it this month. Get the cloves in the ground before the end of the month.
  • Potatoes can, in warmer areas, be sown outside at the end of this month if you can protect the tender shoots from frost with a cloche or a fleece. Wait until March or April if you live in a cooler part of the UK (like I do).
Jerusalem artichokes do surprisingly well in container
Jerusalem artichokes do surprisingly well in containers. Grow them from tubers like this. One tuber in a bucket sized pot is about right.

3. Other jobs for the month

This month is a a great chance to get everything ready for the season, to plan what you want to grow, when you need to sow it and to buy any seeds or fertiliser that you need.

If you’ll need sticks or canes to support your peas or beans, keep an eye out for coppiced sticks. They will give your growing a more natural look.

Back in the day people also used to wash and clean all their pots at this time. But this isn’t necessary – and  was probably mostly used as a way to keep gardeners busy in the winter!

4. What to harvest this month

If you are growing plants over winter,  you’ll still need to harvest tentatively at first, but you’ll be able to pick the occasional small bowl of leaves (the chard at the top of the page was picked on 1st February). I often grow some shoots and bean sprouts inside to supplement the leaves from outside.  However, as the days warm and lengthen later this month, you’ll notice that established plants will start to put on a growth spurt. Often you’ll be able to start picking a lot more towards the end of the month. As well as leafy veg like chard, kale, rocket and mustards, you may also be able to pick a few herbs like rosemary, sage and bay. It’s also a good time to dig up and eat any Jerusalem artichokes you planted.

Early spring salad
Early spring salad: mustard and rocket leaves, three cornered leek flowers and bean sprouts (home sprouted).




24 thoughts on “What to do in February”

  1. I’ve yet to grow garlic successfully mainly because I usually plant them in March.
    This winter I’ve started growing them outside from the end of November in a cut down 2 litre plastic milk container with drainage holes in a mixture of home compost and seaweed. I have grown them regularly since and dated them so I will know the variety and best time for planting with success for the future. To date all which I have sown are growing well so I’m hopeful that I will have a good crop this year. I will transplant some of them in the Spring and see how they perform in the open ground.

  2. Hi Mark
    I see this morning my garlic are popping their heads out, what about feeding these as the season progresses, should I give them a water based food or some blood fish and bone sprinkled around their base.I’m in the same part of the country as yourself, Blyth.

    1. Hi Brian

      Yes, good idea to feed them something, particularly when the weather starts to warm a bit in March / April. Either of your feed suggestions would work fine – if anything I’d go for the blood fish and bone as this will dissolve slowly feeding the plant over several weeks. If you have worm compost, putting a bit of that round the top would be a nice way to feed them, too.

  3. Hi Mark,
    We have had a very cold and dry winter here in Norman, Oklahoma USA. Some of the soil at the bottom of my planter boxes was frozen solid this year! I have started onions and pototoes and will follow with edible pod peas in a couple of weeks. I am going to starts some seeds in the house using recycled tomatoe containers from the market. They are cone shaped with an open top and slots in the bottom for drainage. They look like little mini green houses. I used some last year and they worked great.
    I would like to make some suggestions for containers for growing in. For my containers I found small wooden crates that were used to ship scientific instruments in, large wooden drawers from dressers and woven wooden bushel baskets all make good containers. Another source of containers is from landscape companies. They usually throw away the plastic pots that small trees, bushes and perennial flowers come in after they are planted. This offers a good selection of sizes for various uses. They will usually give them to you if you ask for them.

    1. Hello Vy, lovely to hear from you in Oklahoma. I really like your ideas for recycled containers – I imagine the wooden drawers and woven bushel baskets must look great, too. And I hadn’t thought of getting pots from landscape gardeners before, that’s a very good idea.
      I hope that spring is warmer for you and very happy growing for 2014! Mark

  4. Here in Charentes Maritime in South West France we’ve had lots of wind and rain since the beginning of the year but virtually no frost – only two nights down to minus 1 in my polytunnel. Having a small polytunnel has allowed me to get on with a few things and in the dry! I supplemented my outdoor sowing of broad beans last November with some more initially sown in a freezer bag filled with compost and when germination had started by a week later transferred them into individual pots for continued growth. They’ve all done well so inspite of the wet and wind I’ve planted them out before they took root in the soil of my cold frame – hope they survive! Onions and leeks all doing well and ready for planting on in newspaper plant pots I’ve made so they wont be disturbed after the first move from seed tray to pot. Planted some early carrot – a variety called Torchon – in toilet roll tubes so again the roots wont be disturbed when I plant them out; I also plant 4 potatoes – Swift – in an old dustbin with holes drilled in for drainage; I did this in mid January and they are already growing and nearly ready for their first ‘earthing up’ – I’ve put the bin in my polytunnel for protection. The wet weather has given me a chance to make a few water réservoirs from old storage boxes following your advice note. Can’t wait to put them to use. Whilst I have plenty of land I want to create a small space garden concept around a Shepherd’s Hut I am building adjacent to my potager. When it’s done we’ll let it out for holidays so people can share my gardening experiences All for now

  5. Hi Mark, thanks for the pea tip!
    As for weather, we had a very strange January here in Vienna: no frost and no snow. Instead of minus temperatures all day, snow and the nasty eastern wind, it was as warm as early March with sunshine and first spring flowers in bloom. At the end of January, temperatures dropped (!) to a normally cold February. Let’s see how it continues. An old weather rule says that if you see mole hills in January, winter may last until May.

  6. Hey Mark: Thanks for the tips and planting suggestions. I love the idea with the plastic bottles. I do have trouble with little worms eating my broccoli. 🙂 We’re still in winter here on Maui. Temps range from 70s during the day to 60s at night. We had lots of rain, but the sun is finally with us again.

  7. Gabriele Eickmeier

    Hi love the ideas on this site, just wondered if anyone has tried using upturned wooden pallets as vertical growing space. They take up a small amount of space and last for a very long time. They can be sectioned into growing pockets by using a staple gun and black fabric (weed supressing membrane available at garden centres) then filled with good quality soil. They are great for strawberries and herbs and can be painted or left in their natural state.

    1. Yes, I have! And it was not good. The water didn’t stay put but leaked away or was dried by the wind very quickly. Even with two waterings a day, I couldn’t keep most of the plants alive. It’s difficult, too, to get water to the plants lower down in the pallet. Not enough soil to maintain good healthy plants, imho. Overall, that went into my “fail” column.

  8. Oh no, so you think this is a bad idea? I guess I might have to reconsider, I don’t want my containers to fall into pieces. As cool as you are in wanting to help me out – I don’t think you’ll know where to get containers in Kiel, Germany, do you? 🙂

    I guess I could ask our waste collection company if I can have some old recycling bins. Might ask about compost as well, because I’ve been buying seeds quite obsessively in the last weeks -it seems to be an effective way for me to fight winter blues at the moment.

    I’ve also been collecting some old plastic wraps from when I bought shelves, and I’m cutting the plastic into stripes and trying to crochet a container out of it – it works, I did a small prototype last year, but it’s not really efficient if you need many, fast, I’m doing it more for the fun of it. (Plus it’s really not doing my wrist any good-ouch! So no chance of going into mass production.)

    1. Hi Sarah, they might be OK, I just wanted you to know that, if you have a choice, UV treated ones last longer. Places that I’ve successfully found containers in the past include fish stalls (polystyrene & plastic), backs of restaurants (huge olive oil tins / plastic buckets), veg markets (plastic and wooden trays), mushroom farms (plastic trays) and Pizza Express (large tomato tins), and as you suggest, the local waste company / recycling point.

      Love the sound of your crochet pots – that’s very creative, and the first time I’ve heard that idea.

    2. Sara Paasch Knudsen

      You can also ask at the florist. They have a lot of plastic pots from the shop that just get thrown out. In Denmark you can just ask and you will usually get them for free. Regards Sara

  9. Mark, these tips are really great, especially for beginners like me. Thank you!
    News from my balcony garden project:
    I’ve started my wormery today. I emailed some people involved in urban gardening projects in my town to get some worms to start with, but they couldn’t help me, so I ended up ordering dendrobaena cocoons on the internet. (Fun fact that I learned during my inquiries: Dendrobaena venata, also known as eisenia hortensis, is a variety of worms you can also use for fishing – not like eisenia foetida, which secrete something that smells very bad to fish) I don’t expect them to hatch soon, since it’s still about 0 degrees, but I’m quite curious and must restrain myself from checking them every other hour.

    Another thing that’s on my list for february/march is to collect enough containers, especially bigger ones. You can find smaller pots on cemeteries, because people don’t need them any more after putting plants on the graves. There’s also some at Ikea’s, just not the things they sell as planting pots, which are quite expensive, but the boxes they sell for storing stuff. With a few holes drilled in, I guess they’ll work fine. That’s not ideal from an ecological standpoint, so I’ve also planned to scrounge a bit more, ask around if someone has pots they don’t need anymore, maybe go to flea markets and the like, but really, buying is just faster, so I don’t know what I’ll end up doing.

    1. Sarah: wow, it sounds like you’re doing amazing stuff. Love the worm facts (and I thought I knew everything was to know about worms!). And finding containers in cemeteries is a new idea to me, too. One quick word about using plastic boxes – ideally you want ones that are UV treated, as these will be less prone to go brittle when left outside in the sun. Anything that is designed to be outside – like a recycling bin or a plastic wormery – is usually UV treated. Plastic boxes for indoor storage are usually not. Can you remind me which city country that you live (just that I might have ideas for where you can source containers from).

    2. You can get great help and advice, plus read an encyclopedic background on worm composting at vermicomposters.com. Lovely people, great sharing!

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