FEBRUARY is a month of planning and preparation. It is a time of hope which is so often frustrated by the quick changes of rain, snow and frost and it is a testing time for the less committed.

Failure to use every suitable opportunity that the weather presents this month will generate enormous pressure upon you for the rest of the spring.

Go to work then on the garden generally and tidy around. Leaf fall was late in 2001 in these parts so there may well be leaves remaining on the lawns and in corners where insect pests will be hiding, waiting for the warmer days.

Disturb those soggy pockets now and the song birds will be so grateful for the food. Mowing the lawn is seldom possible as early in the year as this but to trim the edges with hand side-cutters does an awful lot for the general look of things, while about the lawn note if any patches need re-turfing which can be done now.

If you prefer seed, delay until March or April. Look for moss which can be treated now and plan your lawn maintenance programme for the year.

Remember to keep to a minimum your footsteps on the lawn; use boards if very wet and follow all the safety principles if you are tempted to use electric power tools.

Secateur work should be completed this month on deciduous shrubs and trees. Prune for shape and for removing dead wood. The weather must be favourable and in such circumstances the annual pruning of bush roses could be carried out. Apply a handful of bone-meal around each plant. Wear a glove.

The end of the first week in March is the time when nurseries usually cease their seasonal lift of deciduous trees, shrubs and open ground roses.

You will have had to order these earlier so do not forget if you have plants to collect from your nursery or garden centre.

If you want to move plants within your garden this is your last chance before next autumn. Remove decaying matter from shrub and flower beds and borders. Prick over the surface and throw out winter weeks. Deep digging should not be necessary and could be injurious to the roots of established plants. Beware of spring bulbs, do not damage them, though many varieties should be showing through towards the end of the month.

Herbaceous perennials can be lifted, divided and replanted in a mild February. This is normally done every second or third year if the crowns of the plants have become hard and woody.

Apply about three to four ounces of Growmore per square metre (yard) broadcast over the bed generally.

If there is still digging to do in the vegetable garden keep at it whenever the weather allows.

Where ground is prepared and workable, broad beans, early peas and parsnips can be sown. Towards the end of the month sow early carrots, shallots, and onion sets. Walk on boards between rows on very heavy ground.

Often a small greenhouse is used to provide unheated protection for fuchsias in pots and other half-hardy perennials which are stationed about the garden in the better months of the year.

To raise healthy seedlings however proper hygiene must be maintained and these two ideas of greenhouse usage do not mix. Pests and disease will take over.

If you prefer to propagate your own plants from seed, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, marrows and melons can go in and much of the summer bedding plant range can be started.

Where herbs are planted in the open ground maintenance is the same as for herbaceous perennials and the most important action is to keep the crowns of the plants free from decaying leaves and vegetation.

This is vital also for rockery plants and true alpines. Alpines plants can resist frost provided they are well drained at the roots and this might be a time for applying some grit or chippings around the crown and underneath the spreading dormant foliage.

Slippery algae can develop during the winter months on paved patios and paths, especially if made of natural stone and can become quite perilous. There are cleaning fluids available at garden centres, but a dilution of Jeyes Fluid in water applied through a watering can rose, scrubbed down with a yard broom and washed off, usually prevents the return of moss and algae for several months.

If you have still not had time to service the lawn mower, clean equipment, check canes, stakes and strings, seize the next really nasty day that comes along.