When you read this, the snowdrops, the first display of Spring, will very largely be dying down. If you want to have an even bigger and better display next year, or you have been inspired by the idea of having your own snowdrops, now is the best time for doing something about it …
Snowdrops will spread naturally but, if you want to give them a helping hand you can dig up good sized clumps, separate the bulbs into smaller clumps and replant. If you want to buy snowdrops you need to do so now when you can buy them ‘in the green’, probably on-line from a nursery. These will arrive bare rooted having flowered this year. You can buy dry bulbs later in the year but they do not establish so well as ones bought in the green.
This is also the best time for getting perennial plants from a nursery or garden centre. Nurseries will probably provide greater variety and may well be cheaper although postage costs can be high with mail order for a small order.
You can increase your number of perennials by digging up existing clumps and splitting them for replanting. Many plants with fairly fine roots are best split by inserting two forks back to back into the clump and prising them apart. Fleshier roots, such as hosta, can be split by cutting with a spade. Dig a hole large enough to spread out the roots and replant at the same level as previously. Water in well and mulch the plant with compost if available. If time is on your side the cheapest way to get a range of perennials is to buy plants singly and then grow them for a year before dividing them.
All borders will benefit from fertiliser now, either Growmore which is a chemical general purpose granular fertiliser or, if you prefer organic fertiliser use chicken manure pellets or fish, blood and bone. Soft fruit bushes or canes will appreciate the same treatment. If you have yet to ‘spring clean’ the flower borders do this before applying fertiliser. Cut back any dead foliage, remove weeds and lightly turn over bare soil.
Fruit tree pruning should have been done by now but there is plenty of other pruning to do. Shrub roses need to be cut back fairly generously by up to two thirds of last year’s growth while also cutting out diseased and damaged wood and branches that are showing their age. Evergreen shrubs don’t have to be pruned but if you want to reduce size or reshape a bush this is the best time to do it.
March is the time when you can really get going if you have a vegetable patch. Root crops like carrots, parsnip and beetroot can be sown directly into the soil once it is dry enough and friable. Rake over the area to be sown to achieve a fine tilth before sowing. Where possible use a plank to tread on to spread your weight rather than treading directly on the soil. Many other vegetables and salad crops are best started under cover in a seed tray or other containers. This includes brassicas, leeks and lettuce. Beans are best left until April. Tomatoes to be grown under cover can be sown in small quantities in separate pots while plants for outdoor growth are best left until the end of the month or early April. Plants left in containers for too long can get leggy.
Garden-grown potatoes, especially early ones, are a lovely crop if you have got the room. They are ideally started off in February but it is not too late now. Seed potatoes should be started by ‘chitting’ them on a windowsill or in a heated greenhouse. This means setting out the potatoes in a container where they can be stood on end. Put the end with the greatest number of eyes pointing upwards. A clean seed tray will do well but particularly good are egg boxes where the potatoes are well supported but separated from each other. Potatoes are grown at least two feet apart so you don’t get many to a row in most gardens.
Lawns will be growing strongly now and, if you haven’t done so already, they will need their first cut. After February’s storms there may well be a good deal of debris on the grass and this will need removing before mowing. Set the mower fairly high for the first couple of cuts and always leave at least an inch or so of grass. A shaved lawn will always look pale and dry out easily.