Jobs For February In Your Wild Space

The Secret Gardener

As tempting as it is to get outside on the first warmer, sunny days of February, we must proceed with caution and tread lightly with our Wild Spaces. Of course, we want to make use of the extra hours of daylight to get stuck into planting and tidying, but before we dive in, we need to turn our minds to what the wildlife is doing. The answer: not much, just slowly beginning to move again.

By now, daffodils and crocuses are pushing their way through, encouraged by a little bit of early spring sunshine. I help them in my garden by raking away dead grass around the plants to let the sunlight get to them. However, I’m always mindful that something could be living in the grass – lots of caterpillars hide out in it for the winter – so I’m careful to just move the grass and dead leaves off the immediate vicinity of the plants or pile it under the hedge.

Many of last year’s herbaceous plant stems have fallen over, but if you want to get your Wild Space looking ready for spring, you can do what I call a ‘chop and drop’. Just cut the dead stems back to the base of the plant (or push them over with a rake, they’re likely to snap) and drop them behind the plant or stack them somewhere nearby. The caterpillars of some moth species spend the winter in stems like this and won’t be active yet, so taking this approach is another way of keeping a space for them – this helps with the ‘shelter’ part of the ‘feed, breed and shelter’ mantra of our Wild Spaces project.

Summer-flowering bulbs are now appearing in shops in abundance. If you live in the south of the UK, you can get away with planting these now, but if you live in the north, it’s best to hold off planting them until the ground has warmed up as they really don’t like to sit in cold, wet soil and may rot if we get a lot of rain. Of course, bulbs are a wonderful butterfly friendly option to plant in any Wild Space; in a garden or in pots on patios or balconies, they are very versatile!

The best bulbs for butterflies and moths are plants like Liatris, Dahlia (open flowered varieties only) and Muscari. Others like Allium, Nerine, Iris and Gladiolus aren’t used much by butterflies and moths, but bumblebees will visit them, so they still earn their space in my garden.

If you are in the north, you can get ahead of the season if you have a cold frame or greenhouse by planting your summer bulbs in pots of slightly damp compost in March, so they get a bit of growth on them before putting them outside in April or May. Where I live, we often get frosts in early May, so measures like this are needed if I want to grow tender plants like Dahlia. If you’re planting on a window ledge, patio or balcony, you can still start bulbs early, just be sure to use coverings to protect them from frost.

Whatever type of growing space you have, you can find the best plants to help butterflies and moths on our info hub. Plus, don’t forget to register your Wild Space if you haven’t already to add to the growing map of Wild Spaces across the UK!