This Month in the Garden – March 2016

TMITG_ds1A cold spell in February has slowed down the exceptionally early  spring and, by March, growth may be closer to normal. Some drier weather, together with a welcome sight of the sun, should also have left the soil in a workable condition. All this means that the garden will be clamouring for attention and the sooner you can get going the better. The early Easter means that those of you who have jobs to go to may find a bit of holiday time to spend in the garden at the end of the month. Retired gardeners have the luxury of choice of how much time to give to gardening …
The first job may be that there is still tidying up to do in the flower borders. Cut down any dead growth from perennials and grasses and start weeding while the weeds are still small. The best tool for weeding if you want to remove the weeds is a small hand fork. Where there is space between plants and in the vegetable garden a hoe is the quickest way of weeding. You may have already been cutting the grass because of continued growth during the winter but it should certainly be done now, starting with the blades set fairly high. If you have grass edges to your borders trimming the edges with a half-moon edger makes a huge difference to the smartness of the garden. Do this after you have cut back with long-handled shears the long grass overhanging the lawn edge. Remove the cuttings before edging the lawn. Generally you will get a sharp edge by cutting away from the edge the loose soil that has built up there and pushing it further back in the border. Unless the edge is getting badly misshaped you won’t need to cut into the turf.

March is a good month for pruning evergreen shrubs and roses. Shrub roses should be cut back to an outwards facing bud with a diagonal cut  sloping away from the bud. Even when cutting at an angle try to keep the secateurs at right angles to the stem so that the blades are not being forced apart. And keep your secateurs and loppers sharp; it makes life a lot easier. The main reason for pruning evergreens is to keep them in their place so that they keep a good shape and don’t take up more than their allotted space.  When I first replanted my garden with new shrubs I hadn’t learned to keep my eye on the ball and things got out of hand quite quickly. As with parenting, some early discipline is a good thing. ( Am I showing my  age ?)

Propagating your own plants is one of the joys of real gardening and, if you don’t have a heated greenhouse, March is likely to be the time to get sowing. Many vegetables can be started now either in seed trays or pots under glass (greenhouse, cold frame or indoor propagator) or sown directly outside if the soil is friable and has warmed up a bit. Parsnips and carrots can be sown outside, as can lettuce and other salad leaves and radishes. You can get an early crop of salad leaves by sowing under glass in a seed tray or pots. Most annual flower seeds can also be sown now. Packets often say they can be sown in situ but I find it best to start them off in pots or small seed trays and then prick out the seedlings into standard size seed trays of general purpose compost . Space the seedlings in rows of three or at most four plants by five or six the other way. Harden off gradually before putting plants in their permanent positions. Avoid danger of exposure to frost for tender varieties. If you have been growing sweet peas from October or January sowings they can be planted out in April.

If you have got a pond the oxygenating plants may need thinning out to ensure that you keep some space for open water. Reflection in clear water is one of the great attractions of a pond. Keep an eye out for blanket weed starting up and remove it as soon as possible.

Jeremy Arthern

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