March’s tasks – Spring is underway!
A great month with everything beginning to grow but it is also when gardens become busy with weeding, mowing, sowing and planting all beginning. One day it can be glorious sunshine and beginning to feel warm and the next we are battling ice and snow which adds to the gardening challenge.
Bush and shrub roses need pruning now. (Of course you got the climbing ones done back in January … ?!!) The aim is to create an open shape, cutting back to an outwards facing bud. Any crossing stems, dead or damaged wood should be removed. After pruning mulch, ideally with some well-rotted manure.
Dogwoods (Cornus) and shrubby willows (Salix)grown for the colour of their stems need pruning now. It is the newer stems that have the colour and they soon regrow. Take them down to about 1 or 2 buds into last year’s growth and remove any crossing stems.
This is the last chance, at the beginning of the month, to divide large clumps of snowdrops before the leaves die back.
After flowering, polyanthus and primulas can also be divided. Small plantlets complete with roots can usually be removed from the sides of the main plant. Once planted on their own they will soon establish.
If you are planting any new bare-root trees or roses they really need to be in the ground in the first couple of weeks to give the roots a chance to settle in before the leaves appear.
Towards the end of the month as the ground begins to warm up summer-flowering bulbs, for example Gladiolus, can be planted and hardy annual seeds can be sown where you want them to grow. If you sow your seeds in rows marked by sand it makes it easier to weed them once they germinate.
Sweet peas can also be sown outside towards the end of the month, or plants started off indoors over the winter can be hardened off and planted out. Whilst still small pinch the top out of young plants to encourage the sideshoots to grow and give bushier plants.
If you have a warm greenhouse tomatoes and courgettes can be sown at the end of the month. If you aren’t able to keep them warm wait until end of April or beginning of May when garden centres will have the young plants available to buy.
For those with a vegetable patch lettuce, radishes, spring onions and broad beans can all be sown. If you sow a few now and then some more in a couple of weeks it should give you a steady supply over the summer rather than suffering a feast and famine. Between sowings store your opened seed packets somewhere cool and dry to keep the seed fresh. The fridge door is perfect.
Plug plants for bedding will soon be appearing in garden centres. If you have somewhere frost-free to pot them on they are good value for money. However, don’t be tempted if they will have to be outside as it is too cold and any frosts will kill them.
Dahlia tubers that have been overwintered indoors can now be potted up, if they aren’t already in one. Give them a small amount of water to start them off but don’t drown them. Beware slugs eating new shoots as they start to appear!
Daffodils are only just coming into flower but deadhead them as they finish and give them a feed to help encourage good flowers next year. Remember to leave the foliage untouched for 6 weeks after the flowers have died.
If you have tall herbaceous perennials get any plant supports in place now before they start into growth. It’s much easier than struggling not to break soft new growth.
Just as everything we do want is bursting into life so are the weeds. Tackling them whilst they are small and before they seed makes life easier in the long run. It also means the new shoots of the plants we want are not having to compete with the weeds for light, food and water.
Spring also sees the re-emergence of pests and diseases. Slugs/snails in particular will be heading straight for your newly emerging herbaceous perennials or newly germinating seeds. If you don’t want to use slug pellets, plants in pots can be protected by a strip of copper foil around the top. A cheaper option is to smear a generous amount of Vaseline around the top. It will need topping up occasionally and don’t forget it’s there when you move the pot or you end up with Vaseline all over your hands (not speaking from experience, obviously!).
Slugs and snails also like the new shoots on herbaceous perennials as they begin to break through the soil. Lupins, hostas and delphiniums are particular favourites so take steps early to prevent them being munched!
If you still have old growth and seedheads on the borders get them cleared away and put a good layer of garden compost on the flower bed. It will help retain moisture as we head into the drier months. It also gets the compost bin empty ready for this summer’s garden rubbish. Over the last couple of weeks I have barrowed a lot of compost around :o)
Once they are not waterlogged or frozen (or currently under a few inches of snow!) it is time to start mowing the lawn. The first couple of cuts should be done with the blades set quite high. It is better to cut more frequently and only take off a small amount rather than one big cut as the grass is put under less stress and will grow more thickly. It is also a good time to scarify the lawn to remove some of the moss and dead thatch from the winter.
Finally don’t forget animals and birds visiting your gardens whilst it is so cold; provide some water and put out bird food. The birds may have started nesting by the end of the month so with young to feed will be very grateful for any extra food.