Your March Garden
March at last – and it's spring! Well, that’s the idea but forget about what is says it is – what exactly is it doing out there? If the soil is frozen and waterlogged then don't waste your money and time in sowing seeds that will rot in the ground. Either wait until things get warmer, and it surely will as the sun is already sending the temperature in my greenhouse soaring (and then plummeting at night) or think about sowing indoors. Windowsills and greenhouses start to groan at this time of year as the patience of most gardeners breaks and seed packets ripped open. There are thousands of different plants to be grown from seed and the best piece of advice is to read the packet. If it says sow seeds and place in a propagator at 25C then that is best. If you skimp or change on instructions you will not get the results.
Outdoors and plants are looking superb with camellias and magnolias taking centre stage in my own garden. I love magnolias – from large, goblet-shaped blooms to smaller starry white flowers – and they just seem to thrive. As do camellias. The trick to getting a camellia to bloom until the branches bend is to water well – in September! So this year's display is an indication of how well you cared for your shrubs last year. Oh, a quick tip if you have camellias is to drag that brown Christmas tree lurking at the back of your shed, shred it into the smallest pieces you can and use the as a mulch around the base of your camellia (and rhododendrons) They love the acidity and it's a great way to tidy up before the onslaught of spring and all its associate gardening activity.
Key activity for March
Seeds need to be sown. Strange to say as it's pretty obvious, but thousands upon thousands of packets remain in sheds and drawers unopened every year as they are easily missed and sowing dates are forgotten. Play safe and organise your seed packets into chronological sowing order. And then, before sowing, check the weather is suitable. Some plants can be sown indoors on windowsills and greenhouses before planting out. This gives seeds a chance to grow under perfect conditions, develop under your watchful eye and be planted out when everything is ready. Others are best sown directly outside.
Root crops don't transplant well so are best sown directly, either in rows or broadcast to form blocks. Either way, you need to prepare the soil. Remove all the stones and chunkier bits and pieces, rake level, remove anything else you don't like the look of and then either sow in rows or simply scatter the seeds thinly on the soil surface. You can then cover with shop bought multi-purpose compost. This allows developing seedlings to grow easily through this surface and, because the compost is always a different colour to the soil, shows you where you have sown the seeds. A covering with a cloche or two will warm up the environment for better germination.
Indoor sowing of seeds requires fresh seed compost, clean pots, lots of labels (you will forget what is in each pot – honestly you will!) and plenty of empty windowsills or greenhouse benching. But there is nothing like seeing the first green shoots of your seedlings appearing. It means spring has sprung and the lighter, warmer days are almost here. It also shows you know what you are doing!
Hints and tips
- Cut plastic milk cartons into strips and use them as labels.
- If you like boiled eggs for breakfast be careful taking the tops off and use the empty shells as little pots for brassica seeds. Crush the shells when planting the seedlings out (in a few weeks time) for added calcium benefits.
- Plant out onion sets if the soil is warm and dry or plant into pots to get them growing.
- Cover tender blossom on fruit trees to prevent frost damage. Easy on wall-trained fruit – but a billowy job on larger trees.
- Make sure the birds have some fresh water in birdbaths to drink. Shallow water can easily stay frozen on colder mornings.
- Sow seeds indoors and out if the conditions are right.
- Ask garden centres about the hardiness of any plant you buy. I'm thinking especially about bedding plants.
- Get a good supply of labels in stock to label up every pot of seeds you sow. Make them from empty milk containers to save some cash.
- Chronologically order your seeds to avoid missing sowing dates. And read packets before sowing – some seeds need particular temperatures to germinate.
Q: I was bought some daffodils in a pot and they have finished flowering. Can I plant them in the garden?
A: Absolutely. Choose an area where you want them to flower, knock the whole lot, roots and all, out of the pot and plonk in the soil a bit deeper than the depth they were growing in. Let the leaves die down naturally before cutting them off. They will flower next year.
Q: My garden centre has bedding plants on sale now. The plants are small. Are they Ok to plant out?
A: It does bother me that some retailers sell plants without frost warnings. However, it's also good to get in early and get the best choice of plants! Yes, buy them but only if you can keep them warm until planting out in May. I;m going to have a go at panting up my own hanging basket but that will need protection in the greenhouse for a few weeks after planting up.
Q: I cut the lawn when it was dry last week but since then it has been frosty most nights. Will the lawn be OK?
A: You may see some damage to the tips of the blades of grass – red or brown colour– but if the lawn is otherwise healthy and strong it will grow out of any damage. Ideally, the first few cuts of the year should be with the blades set high and when the weather isn't frosty!
The Edible Garden Show (www.theediblegardenshow.co.uk)at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire ( 11-13 March) is a must for all fruit and veg growers, and there are plenty of other smaller plant fairs to get the horticultural juices flowing ( is that sap?!) early in the season.