Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Balcony Garden Year - February

There are times when I think that anyone in Austin Texas should be forbidden to have a blog. Like today, when I go into the blog for Homewood Heights Community Garden and find that they're all out there gardening in sleeveless T-shirts. (The air turns green with envy.) Milan and Austin are supposed to have the same hardiness zone rating for heavens sake, yet I was out there today in my Norwegian fisherman's sweater and padded boots ...

However, even if temperatures aren't quite in the Austin league, the last two weeks of February do mark the official start of the Balcony Garden year. Most of the work to be done is only preparatory, but there are one or two things that count as real gardening. So here goes with a list. If you're a balcony gardener, what should you be doing in February?

It does depend where you are of course. We're having daytime temperatures of about 11°C now, and the plants are starting to show signs of coming back into growth. if you're not that far on, then you may have to wait a few more weeks before getting on with some of the things here.

1. If you have perennials or biennials or bulbs coming through, remember that higher temperatures will mean you need to start watering more often. Check at least once a week - more often if it's sunny. But don't overwater, and remember that the top layer may have dried out while the soil below is still moist. Check first.

2. Plan. What are you going to grow, what combinations are you going to have, and what will you need to do month by month? If you have such restricted space that you can do little else but buy in plants from the local garden centre, then you may prefer to let this develop month by month as things catch your eye. But if you have a little extra space (I have three balconies, each 10m x1m) and want to grow from seed, now's the time to be thinking about it.

2. Pop out to the nearest garden centre and pick up some primulas. No balcony should be without them at this time of the year. Whether you go for classic yellow, a bi-coloured display or just a riotous mixture of all the colours you can get your hands on, they'll cheer you up and remind you that spring is on the way while you do ...

3. ... the boring stuff. Yes, I know you don't want to, but if you don't give the balcony a good spring clean now, you won't be able to. Wash down the railings before you put the containers back up and have plants trailing all over the place. Sweep and wash down the balcony floor before it's covered in heavy pots. And then empty all the old soil out of the containers and give them a good wash too. With disinfectant, to get rid of any fungus or virus infections left over from last year. When you've done all that, you can give yourself a pat on the back and make a cup of tea. Now the fun stuff starts - you can start thinking about your plants.

4. If you're in a zone where temperatures are high enough that there's no longer any risk of frost on the balcony itself, you should be able to take off the fleece from plants which have overwintered, and maybe even move them away from the walls of the house or the more sheltered parts of the balcony. But be careful - if you're not sure the weather will co-operate, then leave them a bit longer. If you do move them out, check them for damage, cut off any dead bits, and clear the containers of dead leaves. Then scrape away as much of the old soil as you can without disturbing the roots and replace with new.

5. Now is the time to prune certain shrubs, like plumbago, which flower off the new growth of the year. Last year I didn't get round to mine and this, together with the fact that I'd put it in a position where it got only limited sun, meant I got a very poor showing of flowers. This year, I've cut it back hard, pruning each stem of last year's growth back to about two leaf buds from the main branch. And I've moved it back on to the balcony railings, where it gets more sun and has always done well. Don't forget though, that some shrubs - like my philadelphus - flower off the previous years growth. Prune them now and you'll have no flowers at all.

6. A few things can already be sown now - some vegetables and flowers which grow from bulbs, corms or tubers can be planted outdoors, while seeds can be started indoors. I'm trying Jerusalem artichokes up the trellis in front of the bedroom this year, and they went in last week, and so did my garlic. And I continued planting my summer bulbs, putting in some liatris and several sorts of allium. Plus some corms which for now are being referred to as Mysterius Whatthehellaretheseus. I have a clear memory of taking them out of their pots last autumn, putting them away and thinking Oh, I'll remember what those are. Yeah yeah. In the house, I've got a mix of herbs, flowers and veg seeds sitting by the bed and waiting to germinate - if they're not too intimidated by my husband's frequent laments of Do those really have to be there?

And that's about it for this month. But there's only a week to go till March - and then the fun really starts.


CanadianGardenJoy said...

Sue .. I'm still sitting in a lot of snow girl .. all I can do is daydream right now .. I love those primulas you have on the window sill ! : ) .. ah ... Spring, where the HECK are YOU !!!!! LOL

Chandramouli S said...

Oh Sue, that's so neatly put, but I dread that step 3 - for me it's not boring stuff but DREADFUL! Since I garden in terrace, you have all sorts of junk along with the dry foliage collecting up, making the place look messy.
BTW, have fun with your gardening year! Good luck!

Kerri said...

You seem to be very well organized, Sue. I'm sure your balcony garden will reward you beautifully for thinking ahead and getting things done.
I must buy some primroses. The blue and yellow look so cheerful together.
Spring won't be long now! We have bright sunshine today, and it's so much appreciated!

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Spring time is such a tease for those of us that get a little warm weather and then another cold snap. How big is your Philedelphus? On the balcony? I love the primroses at the top of the page. Always so bright.

Cathy S. said...

Yeah, all I can do is daydream about
spring right now since it's been
snowing all day......

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,
Thanks for the welcome message - sorry ya had so much trouble getting there.
Your balcony garden is wonderful and you have great pictures here.
You're right about needing a goverment health warning because blogging is so addictive - they also need one because it's so busy and confusing for new people. I've been going in circles trying to get everything done, and joining places and visiting and thanking! Whew - I'm getting worn out all over again just thinking of it!
Thanks again,

Gardeness said...

Whether balcony, backyard or back 40, we all have that work to do! Those primroses are sweet. I just planted several last week. And I know what you mean about Austin, so jealous! Thanks for visiting so I can watch your gardening adventures, too! Cheers.

Sunita said...

Hi Sue,

Have been reading you through my reader for sometime now. Havent had a chance to comment yet but you are great inspiration. I just bought a balsam and a pansy this weekend. I hope it blooms and fills up my pot like yours. My first attempt at gardening so any tips, suggestions are all welcome

VW said...

I followed #2 and bought six primulas for my front porch pot. Unfortunately our south-facing porch traps the heat when the low winter sun shines and the primroses got a little fried. But they'll toughen up, hopefully! - VW

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I'll be interested to see how your artichokes progress, they have such pretty flowers (if you let them get to that stage).

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