Welcome to Lee’s gardening advice for February 2021 written by local resident and keen gardener, Lee Stevenson (aka An English Gardener in Çalış).

Featured photograph: Strawberries growing in Ovacık by Nicola Chapman (April 2020).

Strawberry Fields Forever

Most of us who have lived in the UK, associate strawberries with English summer or Wimbledon, but there are several varieties that fruit at different times of the year, especially in the warm climate of Turkey.

If you’re looking for a variety that fruits in the cooler months as well as the summer months, choose plants at the markets that are already with flowers – or look like they are about to produce flowers.

There are a wide variety of shapes and sizes of strawberries – even white ones – pineberries/alpine strawberries, also known as Fraises Des Bois, regarded by many as wild strawberries. White strawberries have a slight pineapple taste (hence their name) with a punchy flavour. They are easy-going plants that do well in some shade. They are a smaller variety and don’t produce as much fruit as other varieties, which is why they’re not very often sold commercially.

Strawberry plants (if well looked after) will produce runners (long stems) with baby strawberry plants attached with a small root base – a bit like spider plants. The easiest way to turn these runners into plants is to weigh them down (hair clips are handy for this but don’t tell the wife) so that the roots touch wet soil, either on the ground or in a small pot if you prefer. Once the baby plant has started to grow more roots, simply cut the runner from the parent plant and hey presto, you have a new plant. Strawberry plants stop producing as many fruits of a decent sized after three to four years and so using the runners for new plants is a great way to keep plants producing without having to buy new ones.

It’s possible to grow strawberries from the seeds that appear on the outside of the fruits so by all means, give it a try if you’ve tasted a variety you enjoy. Extract the seeds by pressing a soft fruit onto a kitchen towel and dry out.

Once dry, place the kitchen towel with seeds attached onto moist soil and very lightly cover with soil. Place a clear plastic bag over the top to help keep the seeds warm and protected from the elements. When growing strawberries from seed, germination can take anything from one to six weeks so you need to be patient if you’re growing them this way. Pineberries, on the other hand, do not produce runners so the only way to get more plants is to either carefully split large plants or through the seed method.

A good thing about strawberries is that they grow well in pots and can look great in hanging baskets with their fruits hanging down – and they are away from ground pests like slugs and snails.

Red strawberries require a sunny, sheltered spot. A little shade during the day is acceptable, especially in high season. If growing them in the ground, the spot should not have previously been used to grow potatoes, tomatoes or chrysanthemums for several years, unless you have improved or replaced the soil. Also, try to keep any fruit that is on the ground from resting on the soil. A bed of straw or hay is good for this or even a plastic sheet, but preferably not black as this will probably cook the fruit in the sun here.

Good drainage is essential, so if growing in pots, use fertile and loose soil that will drain away excess water. Make sure the roots are not sitting in water. You can feed your plants with any tomato feed as well as considering companion planting.

Companion planting

Lettuce, marigolds, onions, asparagus, sage or spinach will help increase your yield, quality, and health of your strawberry crop.

Plants to not plant near strawberries include mint, okra, roses, chrysanthemums and melons as these can cause verticillium, a disease that is deadly to strawberries.

Asparagus and more

Asparagus is another plant that can be sown now if you’re lucky enough to find young plants ( they look like small ferns) at the markets.

If you’re growing asparagus from seed, you wont be able to harvest for at least a year, possibly two, without harming the plant. Growing from seed requires several weeks for the plants to reach two inches in height, which is when they can be transplanted into their permanent growing position – it’s worth mentioning that asparagus plants do not like being moved. Once in their growing site, fertilize the soil well with manure and other growing mediums. Once the plants reach maturity, they will reward you with harvests that last four to six weeks. Companion plants for asparagus are nasturtiums and marigolds as they help to repel aphids and whiteflies.

How does your garden grow? Lee’s gardening advice – a bugs life

Other vegetables to think about sowing now include Brussel sprouts (long growing season), cauliflower, celeriac and leeks (can be bought as small plants at the local markets).

A splash of colour

Flowers that can be grown in February include cosmos which is an incredibly easy flower to grow and can bloom from April right through to November if the conditions are right. I have managed to grow orange cosmos up to seven feet or more, towering above the white and pink varieties.

Sweet peas (seeds available on n11.com and probably other online sites) will provide you with summer scent and are great as cut flowers for vases. They can be sown in a homemade cardboard pot or cardboard tubes. Once they’ve outgrown the pot, just plant the cardboard pot where you want the sweet peas to grow and the cardboard will break down as the plant grows.

Violas, pansies, marigolds, dahlias, lobelia, and petunias can all be grown from seed now. Most will need to be sown under cover to protect them from the heavy rains and cold spells we sometimes have in February.

Science and gardening

If you are lucky enough to have a hydrangea in your garden that produces pink flowers and you would like blue flowers, you can change the colour – or have mixed blooms on one plant.

Pink flowers are produced when the soil is neutral or alkaline with a PH of 6.5 and higher. For blue flowers, the soil needs to be acidic with a PH of 5.5 or lower.

You can get mixed coloured blooms on the same plant if the PH is between 5.5 and 6.5.

You can test your soil PH using the pool testing kits used to monitor swimming pools.

To do this, add a small amount of the soil around your hydrangea and mix with water. Once settled, carefully remove the water (not soil debris) and pour it into the pool testing liquid (or add a tablet) as you would to test your pool’s PH.

Pool testing kits are available at pool chemical shops. Alternatively, you can use ph testing strips, which are available online. The pool shops may also stock them but I haven’t seen any.

Most garden soils tend to be neutral, which explains why its mostly pink hydrangeas you see growing, so you’ll need to up your soil acidity to go blue.

There are easy to use soil additives available to buy in shops (Homeprof, Tekzen) to change the PH of your soil. There are also home methods including baking soda watered in the soil. This may be expensive but a cheaper solution to lower soil PH and increase acidity is to use vinegar diluted with water – be careful not to get any on the leaves. 

It can take up to a year to affect the colour of your hydrangea – but think of the blue blooms you will have created.

I’ll leave you with this funny…

Why doesn’t Elton John like lettuce? He’s more of a Rocket Man.

Happy Growing!

What do you want to know about gardening?

If you have any questions or suggestions about gardening and there is something in particular you wold like me to cover in future articles, please let me know via an English Gardener in Çalış or Fethiye Times.