Prepare vegetable seed beds and sow some vegetables under cover.
Chit potato tubers.
Protect blossom on apricots, nectarines and peaches.
Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off.
Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering.
Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting in-the-green.
Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges.
Prune conservatory climbers such as bougainvillea.
Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter, remove dead grass from evergreen grasses.
Sowing and planting
Lily bulbs can be planted in pots for flowers this summer. After growing on indoors, or in a cool greenhouse, they can be moved onto the patio when in flower, so that you can enjoy the blooms.
Dahlia tubers stored over winter (or bought this year) can be started into growth. Place them in a light, warm place to sprout before planting. They will need additional misting with a spray-bottle of water, to stop them drying out.
Bulbs coming up in the rock garden or in containers may benefit from overhead protection from the rain and snow. A sheet of glass or Perspex placed on piles of bricks will do the job.
Hardy annuals can be sown in pots or modules to provide colour.
Summer-flowering Dutch iris bulbs can be forced and used as cut flowers.
Place gladioli corms in seed trays or boxes and place in a light, warm spot around 10ºC (50ºF) to encourage them to sprout before planting. This will ensure an earlier display.
Sweet peas can be sown under cloches, in a cold frame, or in a cool room in the house. Any sweet peas that were sown earlier in the autumn can now be potted.
Root cuttings can be taken of Papaver (perennial poppies), Verbascum (mullein), Acanthus (bear’s britches) and Phlox.
Check on tender plants overwintering outdoors to ensure protective coverings are still in place.
Cutting back, pruning and dividing
Cut back deciduous ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus and other perennials left for winter interest.
Continue to deadhead winter pansies and other winter bedding. Pansies will carry on into the spring and even to early summer, if attended to frequently.
Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level (including Helleborus x hybridus and H. niger) to expose the flowers and remove possible foliar diseases such as hellebore leaf spot.
At the end of the month prune back the stems of pot-grown fuchsias, which are overwintering under cover, and place in a well-lit, warm place to encourage new growth.
Divide and/or plant bulbs-in-the-green such as snowdrops (Galanthus) and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis).
Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials that you want to propagate, those that have become too large for their allotted space, and those that are flowering poorly or have lost their shape.
General maintenance - soil
Prepare beds for new roses when conditions allow. Avoid wet days and frozen ground.
Test your soil for pH and nutrient levels; this can help you choose suitable plants for your garden and allow you to rectify any nutrient deficiencies with a spring feed. Simple tests can be done at home (see left), and the RHS also offers a soil analysis service.
Improve the drainage of heavy soils by working in lots of organic matter and coarse gravel (if necessary).
Clear up weedy beds before mulching.
Mulching with a deep layer of organic matter helps to condition the soil, suppress weed growth, insulate plant roots from temperature fluctuations, and conserve soil moisture during the summer. Lighter soils can be mulched now, but heavier soils are best left until March, when the soil is warmer.
Towards the end of the month, you can top dress beds and borders with a balanced fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone, to feed perennials as they start back into growth.
Pest and disease watch
Remove dead leaves from around the basal rosettes of alpine plants such as saxifrages to prevent rotting.
Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent stem rots.
Snowdrops can be vulnerable to botrytis (grey mould).
On winter pansies watch out for downy mildew and black spot. Remove any infected leaves and destroy badly affected plants. To avoid the build-up of diseases, do not plant pansies in the same place every year.
Look out for rots (such as crown rot, sclerotinia, delphinium black blotch, phytophthora root rot and antirrhinum rust) on emerging perennials and shrubs.
Hellebore leaf spot can be a problem on old foliage of hellebores. Cutting back the old leaves should control the problem and allow the flowers and new growth to be better seen.
Protect sweet pea plants from aphids as they can transmit sweet pea viruses; pick off any aphids that you spot. Check autumn-sown sweet peas growing in cold frames and keep watch for mouse and slug damage.
Protect lily, delphinium and hosta shoots from slugs and snails before they appear.
Inspect stored tubers of plants such as dahlia and canna for signs of drying out. Do not let them become bone dry or they will desiccate; but too wet and they may rot.
Trees & Shrubs
Planting and moving
Continue to plant hedging plants, shrubs, trees and climbers. Stakes and rabbit guards should be put in place at the time of planting trees, to prevent damage to the rootball or bark.
Continue to plant roses. Avoid planting roses in areas where roses were previously growing otherwise new introductions may suffer from replant diseases.
Move established deciduous trees and shrubs provided the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.
Tie up splayed out branches on conifers that have become damaged by the weight of snow or by strong winds.
Check tree ties and stakes. Replace, tighten or slacken them where necessary.
Firm back newly planted trees and shrubs if they have been lifted by frost heave or by strong winds.
Remove weeds from around the bases of young trees.
Check protective coverings on newly planted or borderline hardy trees, shrubs and climbers, to ensure they remain secure until the risk of frost has passed.
Pruning and training
Mulch and feed shrubs, trees, hedges and climbers after pruning, to give them energy for the extra growth they will put on after cutting back.
Tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to protect them from wind damage.
Trim winter-flowering heathers as the flowers fade. Shears are the ideal tool. This will prevent the plants from becoming leggy and bare.
Deciduous flowering Prunus species (ornamental cherries, plums and almonds) are vulnerable to silver leaf if pruned before mid-summer, and anyway should not require routine pruning if planted with sufficient space for their eventual size.
When pruning, concentrate on removing overcrowded growth, crossing stems, and dead, damaged, or dying branches. Aim for an open centre, through which air can circulate, as this will reduce the risk of pests and diseases. If your trees are too large for you to manage pruning alone, you may need a tree surgeon. Otherwise take care not to damage the tree when sawing off thicker branches.
Take action to remove algae from paths if they start to become slippery.
Gently remove snow from glasshouses and conservatories to prevent damage to the glass and allow good light penetration.
Go through your shed and remove any old, out-of-date garden chemicals. If in doubt of how to dispose of them, your local authority tip should be able to help. You can check our list of chemicals removed from the market for up-to-date information.
Check and repair pergolas and arches if needed.
Rub down and treat wooden garden furniture when dry. Only use paints and preservatives in a well-ventilated area.
In dry spells, you can treat timber structures with wood preservative and stain. Only do this in a well-ventilated space, to reduce the risks to your lungs and eyes. Make sure you use appropriate products. Creosote, for example, is no longer legal.
Put design ideas for new garden projects on paper and cost them out. This month is your last opportunity to see the bare skeleton of your garden before all the perennials and new leaves emerge. Hard landscaping has less impact on plants when they are still dormant. But do take care not to compact your soil with machinery when it is wet.