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You may be forgiven for not believing that that March is the first month of Spring in 2018 as the UK is locked in one of the worst cold scenarios for many years as on the eve of the first day of March there is no sign of any respite from the snow & extreme cold. Hopefully however in a week or two after the long wet & grey early winter months & then the cold that we have endured there may be the possibility of some alternate warm sunny & then cold days. Last week in Cornwall in contrast there were several Magnolia trees flowering earlier than usual. There are subtle signs of Spring with blossom on some sheltered shrubs and trees,many daffodils are out and camellias are in full flower.There will be good and bad gardening weather days but if you take time and care an orderly start to the gardening season is in prospect.
This is a great month to re-stock the garden with any container-grown plants – including fruit and all hardy ornamentals. Make sure the soil is well prepared with plenty of organic matter – such as well-rotted manure, compost, composted bark or tree and shrub planting compost. Mix in more organic matter with the soil dug out from the planting hole. Always plant at the same depth that the plant was originally growing and firm the soil around the roots. Trees will need to be staked with a good tree stake and secured with two tree ties.
After planting, water in well, feed and mulch the soil with a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick layer of organic matter to help keep weeds down and maintain soil moisture levels in summer.
If you’re planning to plant new beds and borders and your soil is less than perfect – whether it be heavy clay, sandy or chalky – then it pays to get it into good condition first. You can easily do this by applying copious amounts of composted bark or other soil improvers. Heavy clay can be further improved by adding grit or sharp sand.
Look over all plants growing in tubs, window boxes and hanging baskets and pick off dead leaves and flowers. Topdress with fresh compost and feed with a slow-release or controlled-release fertiliser to ensure brilliant spring and summer displays.
Making your own garden compost is a great way of producing your own humus-rich material for use as a soil improver and mulching material. Any plant material can be used, as long as it isn’t diseased, and don’t include the roots of perennial weeds. You’ll need a compost bin to keep all the material together and provide the correct conditions for speedy rotting. Make sure there’s a good mix of plant material, and that any stems or large leaves have been cut into smaller pieces, otherwise they’ll take ages to rot down. You can speed up the rotting process by adding a compost accelerator.
Weeds will start appearing in earnest this month. Hoe regularly on dry and windy days to keep them in check. Or you can apply a thick mulch (5-7.5cm/2-3in deep) of bark chips or composted bark to prevent annual weed growth in the first place. Perennial weeds with long taproots, such as dandelions, are best dug up using a hand fork or trowel or sprayed with a weedkiller containing glyphosate, which will kill the roots as well as the top growth.
Now’s a good time to install water butts and water-collection systems in the garden to make the most of any rain that falls. If you already have water butts installed, then give them a good cleaning out to help keep the water fresh.
When gardening on wet clay soils, work from a plank of wood or board, rather than treading on the bed, to avoid compacting the soil.
Grow Your Own - Fruit
Apply a general-purpose balanced fertiliser to all tree, bush and cane fruit. Fertiliser should be applied over the whole root area – roughly equivalent to the spread of the branches. A potassium-rich feed can be beneficial in addition to the balanced feed, especially for heavy-cropping fruits and those that didn’t crop too well last year.
Mulch all fruit crops with a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick layer of well-rotted manure or garden compost after feeding.
Protect the blossom of early-flowering apricots, peaches and nectarines from frost damage by covering plants with fleece when frost is forecast.
Hand-pollinate flowers of apricots, peaches and nectarines if insects are scarce, especially those growing under cover. A small, soft paintbrush or a rabbit’s tail, are the best tools for transferring the pollen from flower to flower.
Place cloches or fleece over outdoor strawberry plants for an earlier crop. Make sure to lift the covers during the warmest part of the day, to allow pollinating insects to enter. A high potassium feeds (such as tomato or rose fertiliser) will also help encourage flowers and fruit.
Grow Your Own - Veg
A huge range of vegetable crops can be sown this month. In mild areas with light soil this can begin at the start of the month. In other areas, or where frost and cold weather are forecast, delay sowing until later in the month, or even April.
Crops that can be sown now include: broad beans, carrots, beetroot, bulb onions, lettuce, radish, peas, spinach, summer cabbage, salad leaves, leeks, Swiss chard, kohl rabi, parsnip, turnip and summer cauliflower. Be guided by the weather, and sow only if conditions are suitable; full details will be on the seed packet.
Fleece, cloches and polythene can be used to protect early outdoor sowings. Many vegetables can bolt (go to seed prematurely) if sown outside too early without protection (beetroot being a good example).
If you have a greenhouse, conservatory or warm windowsill you can sow seeds indoors to ensure earlier crops, as long as you can provide adequate warmth and light. Most types will need to be sown with heat, so you’ll need a heated propagator. After germination, you’ll also need a temperature of about 7-10C (45-50F) for the young plants to grow on unchecked.
Peas can be sown in the greenhouse in guttering with drainage holes drilled in the bottom. Starting them under cover gives them a head start. When the seedlings are ready for planting out, the whole row can be gently pushed out of the guttering, into a ready prepared drill in the vegetable garden.
You can plant out seed potato tubers at the end of the month, although it’s better to wait until April in colder regions or where frosts are still forecast. There are a number of different ways of growing them, the traditional way is to dig a trench and plant them 10cm (4in) deep. Alternatively, plant them shallowly through black plastic sheeting and you can even grow them in large pots or potato planters.
If you grow peas and beans, make a trench and fill it with kitchen vegetable waste, torn-up newspaper, cardboard, compost and anything similar. This will help hold moisture in the summer and so produce bumper crops. The trench can be filled in with soil just before sowing or planting out.
Herbs are not only good to grow for the kitchen – many also have colourful flowers and foliage making them excellent ornamental as well as culinary plants – so plant some today. They can be planted in a herb bed, mixed in with other plants in beds and borders or in the veg garden, or grown in pots on the patio where they’ll be handy to pick and provide excellent colour and scent.
If your beds and borders lacked flower power last year, then put that right by planting new herbaceous perennials now. The sooner you get it done the better, so they’re established before they come into full growth.
Perennials are difficult to beat for their colour, form and interest and there are so many to choose from you can guarantee colour all year round.
To get the best out of them, make sure you dig over the soil, remove any perennial weeds and then dig in plenty of organic matter, such as planting compost. Plant firmly and water in well afterwards, then feed with a granular fertiliser. A 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick mulch of planting compost placed around the plants afterwards will ensure they get off to the best possible start and will help keep weeds down.
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.
Divide hostas before they come into leaf.
Divide hellebores, only if essential, and primulas after flowering. Carefully, dig up the plants and break up their root systems into smaller sections and replant straight away in well-prepared soil. Those that form large clumps, such as asters and phlox, produce new growth around the outside. The inner portion is the oldest, least vigorous and most disease prone, so it is best discarded.
Put supports in place around perennials that start into growth early, like delphiniums and peonies; if they grow too vigorously or fall over before you get the supports in place, they’ll never recover and look natural.
If you missed out on planting spring-flowering bulbs in autumn make up for it by planting potted bulbs now. Try to plant them in bold clumps to ensure the best displays this year – and for years to come.
Deadhead daffodils and other bulbs as the flowers start to fade. It may also be tempting to remove the foliage or tie it into neat knots, but don’t. The bulbs need the leaves to feed them so they produce another wonderful display next year. Instead of removing the foliage, give the plants a feed. Liquid fertilisers are the best choice as they act quickly.
Now’s the time to buy begonias, cannas and dahlia tubers, together with the huge variety of other summer-flowering bulbs. Although it’s too early to plant these in the garden, buy them now to ensure you get the range of varieties you want. They can be potted up indoors in good sized pots of potting compost to bring them into growth and flower earlier.
Towards the end of the month, you can plant gladioli corms for superb summer colour. If your soil is wet, set each corm on a handful of sharp sand placed in the planting hole. Staggered planting over the next few weeks throughout spring will provide flowers for months on end.
For a great summer display plant lily bulbs – either in the ground or, for a fantastic patio feature, in pots. Most lilies will grow in just about any soil – although one or two species won’t tolerate alkaline/chalky soil. If your garden has heavy, clay soil that is prone to waterlogging, it will also pay to plant the bulbs on a 2.5cm (1in) layer of sharp grit.
You can sow sweet peas if you didn’t do it in the autumn. For best results, sow the seeds singly in sweet pea tubes to allow maximum root development then place in a cold frame, cold greenhouse or on the garage or shed windowsill to germinate. Or you can sow six seeds in 12.5-15cm (5-6in) pots for a bolder display.
Buy your bedding and patio plug plants and seedlings now for growing on – and produce your biggest and best summer bedding displays ever. By starting now, and potting them up into suitable-sized pots of good compost, you’ll have well established plants ready to plant out at the end of spring/early summer, that will burst into colour.
Most bedding annuals can be sown this month. But resist sowing too early if you can’t provide the warmth to grow the plants on properly.
Sowing too soon in the wrong conditions can lead to straggly, unhealthy plants that never perform well in the garden. Leaving sowing until the conditions are better usually results in far better plants and these soon catch up and out-perform those sown too early.
Before sowing any plants make sure that the compost has been warmed to room temperature; cold compost will prevent seed germination and lead to rotting.
Buy pansy and primula plants, for instant colour, to fill gaps – including those in containers.
Slugs and snails are our number one garden pest, munching away on seedlings, young plants and the fresh young growth of a wide range of plants. Luckily, there are lots of ways of stopping them in their tracks and now’s the time to use your favourite control methods to protect susceptible plants from attack.
Trees, Shrubs, Roses & Climbers
This month there are many plants that need cutting back, tidying up or pruning to help promote a good shape, strong growth and lots of flowers later on.
After pruning it’s always a good idea to give the plants a good feed with a granular fertiliser – such as Growmore, rose fertiliser or blood, fish and bone – and then mulch around the plants with a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick layer of well-rotted manure, garden compost, composted bark or similar product.
Many summer or late-summer flowering deciduous shrubs can be pruned this month. This includes Buddleja, Caryopteris, Ceratostigma, Hydrangea paniculata (not mophead and lacecap hydrangeas), Leycesteria, lavender, Lavatera, Perovskia, hardy fuchsias, and deciduous Ceanothus species.
Eucalyptus gunnii, dogwoods (Cornus) and shrubby willows grown for their colourful stems, are usually stooled (that is cut back very hard to just above ground level), because this keeps them at a manageable size, as well as deepening the stem colour of those plants grown for their winter stems.
Finish pruning bush and climbing roses that weren’t done last month. The harder you prune the better the regrowth and the display of roses. Start by cutting out any thin, dead, diseased, damaged, rubbing or crossing stems and then prune back the remainder.
Hybrid teas: shorten last year's strong shoots to four to six buds, weaker ones to two to three buds.
Floribundas: shorten strong shoots to leave 25-30cm (10-12in) of growth. Prune back less vigorous ones severely.
Climbers: Cut back main branches by one-third, shortening any sideshoots to two to three buds.
Follow up pruning with a spray of a fungicide and/or pesticide to help protect against pests and diseases.
This is also the time to finish pruning summer- and autumn-flowering clematis; leave spring-flowering clematis until after they’ve finished flowering. Large-flowered clematis that start flowering in May and June should be cut back to around half to two-thirds, just above a bud.
Those that start flowering in July or later need harder pruning – cut them back to a bud 30-45cm (12-18in) above ground level. Or you could cut back half the stems in this way and prune the remaining half less severely; this produces flowers over a greater area and at different times.
Tie in the shoots of vigorous climbers as they grow, spreading them out over the area to be covered. If you don’t do this when the plants are young you’ll end up with a ‘birds-nest of tangled shoots.
Carefully tie in the stems to cover the support using string or similar tying material, taking care not to damage the stems.
Give trees, shrubs and climbers growing in containers a boost by knocking them out of their pot and removing a little of the old compost from the bottom, side and top of the rootball. Put some fresh compost in the bottom of the pot then replace the plant and add fresh compost.
For those plants that are too big to remove from the pot, simply scrape away around 2.5cm (1in) of compost from the top of the rootball and replace with fresh. After repotting or topping up the compost, feed with a suitable slow- or controlled-release fertiliser.
For a lush vibrant lawn major care and attention starts now.
* Mow lawns regularly when necessary – whenever the grass is growing – the aim is to maintain a more or less constant height throughout the year.
* March is the perfect time to start feeding your lawn – use a granular lawn fertiliser at this time of year for best results.
* If weeds are a problem then save yourself time, money and effort by using a granular weed and feed. And if your lawn is plagued by moss, then you’ll need a weed, feed and mosskiller.
* Turf can be laid, as long as the soil isn’t too wet or frosty. Try to work from wooden planks to avoid compacting the soil. Don’t walk on the newly laid turf, but leave it undisturbed for a few weeks to allow it to establish properly.
* You can prepare the soil now for new lawns being grown from seed; again make sure the soil isn’t too wet.
* New lawns can be sown from seed.
* Re-cut lawn edges to give them a crisp and even look.
* Repair damaged lawn edges. Use a spade to cut out a square of turf containing the damaged area Turn the turf around so that the damaged area is on the inside and fill the gap with old potting compost topped with a little grass seed.
* Rake lawns with a wire rake, or better still an electric lawnraker, to remove dead grass, moss and thatch.
* Worm casts can become a problem. Wait until they’re dry and sweep them away with a stiff brush or broom.
* Repair hollows and bumps in the lawn by making an ‘H’ shaped cut in the turf, peeling back the grass, and either filling the hollow with loam, or scraping away the soil from a bump. Then re-lay the turf and press it into place, sealing the edges with soil and sowing seed if necessary.
* Watch your lawn for signs of waterlogging. You can remedy the situation by spiking the lawn with a garden fork or mechanical aerator. Then fill the holes with a mixture of sharp sand and loam, brushed in using a stiff broom.
This is the perfect time to rejuvenate your houseplants.
* Start by re-potting those houseplants that need bigger pots to flourish in. Only repot those that need it; most flowering houseplants perform better when kept slightly potbound. And don’t over-pot them – most houseplants are best moved to the next pot size.
* As most plants will be actively growing from this month they will need more water, so check plants regularly.
* And this is the time to start giving all your houseplants a good feed. If you can’t remember to feed regularly, controlled-release fertilisers are a great way to simply feed and forget.
* Stand foliage houseplants on trays of damp gravel to increase humidity around the leaves.
* You can prune indoor climbers this month. Thin out the stems of plumbago, passion flower and jasmine to produce a neat framework of branches. Then cut back last year’s growth to two or three buds from the main framework.
* You can also cut back leggy coleus, hypoestes (polka dot plant), pilea (aluminium plant), tradescantia and other plants to encourage new growth and a better shape.
* Indoor forced bulbs that were in the house for winter displays, and that have finished flowering, can be put outside in a sheltered spot to finish dying down. They can then be planted in the garden.
* Look out for pests on houseplants as they start to grow and treat accordingly with a pesticide; insecticide pins pushed into the compost are a convenient method of control.
Content copyright Heritage Gardens 2017.