This Month in the Garden – March 2017

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Some people use the opportunity of extra time at the Easter break to get their gardens into shape but Easter is still six weeks ahead  and that will be six  weeks of valuable gardening time lost. For the serious gardener March is the time to get going; the big busy month …
The foundation of all gardening is the soil and, especially if you are a vegetable gardener, that is the best place to start. If you got the winter digging done, this year’s plentiful frosts will have improved your efforts and you won’t need much raking to produce a fine, even, tilth good for sowing.  If there has been  a lot of rain wait until the soil is reasonably dry before working on it and if you have got a couple of planks use them as walk ways ,both for raking and sowing to avoid compacting the soil with your feet. One of the big arguments for raised beds with a timber edging is that you can reach the whole area without treading on the earth. Manure and compost needs to be added at digging time but feeding with chicken pellets or a fertiliser like growmore can be done by spreading after raking.

If you have haven’t yet cut back dead growth in the flower borders that needs to be done urgently and the ground weeded and bare earth lightly turned over. A hand fork is good for this unless you have fairly extensive bare areas. Spring bulbs will be fairly well through so be careful not to tread on them. Here again, feeding with chicken pellets  or growmore will give plants a boost.

Pruning fruit trees and deciduous trees and shrubs should have been done already but now it is the turn for roses and evergreen shrubs. Climbing roses generally only need the thinner top growth cut back while shrub roses benefit from being cut back fairly hard. Don’t cut back shrubs that flower in the first half of the year, such as forsythia, until they have flowered.  Ornamental grasses will also need some attention. With deciduous grasses all last year’s growth will be dead and should be cut back. Its best if you can do this before new growth gets going so you are not cutting this back as well but it will grow again where you can’t avoid doing this. Evergreen grasses need the dead strong flowering stems cut out and as much dead foliage as possible cleared out. The best way of doing this is to ‘comb’ the grass with a hand fork. Large grasses like pampas or stipa gigantea may have quite a bit of the bottom of old stems that are beginning to rot that can be cleared out. The old advice of setting fire to pampas grass is generally not  a good idea, especially if the plant is near your neighbour’s fence.

Lawns will be growing again now and will need some attention. Before starting to mow, check for twigs and other debris blown down during the winter and it may be worth raking over with a wire rake.  Start mowing with a fairly high setting. Trim the edges of lawns with long-handled shears and sharpen up the edges with a half-moon cutter, pushing the loose soil away from the vertical edges and spreading it out on the border. Repeat treatment will be necessary now and again during the year as soil washes down the border to the lawn edge.

Sowing seeds is always a very satisfying activity and March offers plenty of opportunity. Instructions on seed packets often offer the choice of indoor sowing or outdoors straight into the soil but I find it is generally best to sow indoors in seed trays or pots for later planting out. Seeds germinate better because of greater warmth , there is less risk of slug damage and no competition from weeds. It is, of course, best if you have got a greenhouse for this, but a conservatory or windowsill offer alternatives.  Root vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, and beetroot do have to be sown directly into the soil but most  ‘green’ vegetables and annual flowers can be started under glass.

Let’s hope that the weather will soon be offering the chance of sitting  in the garden as well as working in it so check over your garden furniture. Whether it has been indoors or stayed out wood furniture will probably benefit from brushing with a wire brush. Some people like to preserve the original finish by treating timber to restore the colour and then oiling with teak oil but this can be a lot of work and the grey of older wood can also be attractive.

Jeremy Arthern

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