Dig it

With Fulke Andel

Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that this winter has been longer than normal. The lack of sunshine and the heavy rain has made it rather miserable as well.

That said, the day’s length is increasing so that plants now want to get going, but the ground temperature must be right for success. March is said to arrive roaring like a lion and leave like a lamb, so patience is a virtue this month, as we wait for the spring lamb to appear. Don’t panic if the weather continues to be bad, as plants will catch up – eventually.

There is no such thing as an absolute set date for a job in gardening, as temperatures vary according to where you are in the area. Temperatures are warmer nearer the coast than they are 10 miles in land, so adjust what you do for where you are and the weather you’re experiencing.

Frosts can still be a hazard, so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is forecast. March winds are also notorious for their ferocity so check exposed plants are well supported.

Now is the time for a thorough spring clean; weed and dig over your borders incorporating as much organic matter as you can – those chilly winds will really help to dry out the soil. Mulch bare soil once you have done the work and remove moss and weeds from paths, terraces and driveways. They may be boring tasks but if you don’t get on top of the garden now (especially the weeds!) it will be a nightmare for the rest of the season.

Clean and repair your garden tools, book the lawn mower in for a service (if it hasn’t had one already) and check garden furniture for any rot. When it is warm enough, treat sheds, fences and trellis with wood preservative; brushes and rollers are fine for most things; however a sprayer is well worth buying for tricky projects such as woven panels!

For those of you planning your first vegetable garden, prepare your soil adding as much organic matter as you can. For a first year’s crop, potatoes are considered a good choice as they help break up the soil. In reality – it’s you digging up the potatoes later in

the year that breaks up the soil! If you’re planting in what used to be a lawn, you can expect to lose a lot of the potatoes in the first year to wireworm and / or keel slugs. Buy good quality seeds as it’s a shame not to get the best rewards for all the hard work put into preparing your vegetable patch.

Remember to take soil condition and weather into account when sowing seeds.

For those more interested in flowers, here are some things to keep you busy…… hardy annuals can be sown in pots or modules to provide colour in the garden. If conditions allow, you can sow directly outside. Marking out irregularly shaped seedbeds and broadcasting drifts of different seed gives a more natural look. Sweet peas can be sown outside this month. Place autumn-sown sweet peas in a sunny position, perhaps on a high shelf in the greenhouse that gets plenty of light. Sow summer bedding plants in a heated propagator or under glass.

Early spring is an ideal time to plant herbaceous perennials, including Geranium, Astrantia and Oriental poppies.

Plant summer-flowering bulbs. Prepare the soil first, to ensure that drainage is sufficient to prevent the bulbs rotting. Anemone coronaria tubers need particularly well-drained soils. Indoor forced bulbs that were in the house for winter displays, but which have now finished flowering, can now be planted into the garden, taking care not to disturb the roots.

Jobs to do in the Garden for March


Beetroot / Broad beans / Early peas / Brussels sprouts / Leeks / Lettuce / Radishes / Parsnips / Shallots / Onion sets / Early Potatoes

Sow under cover Summer cabbages – under cloches / Early cauliflowers– under cloches / Early carrots– under cloches / Your windowsill or a propagator in the greenhouse will come into use now to start your tomatoespeppers, aubergines and cucumbers

Plant Out Plant bare rooted / fruit trees and bushes

Harvest Leeks / Parsnips / Spinach beet / Chards

Fruit Prune apple and peartrees / Prune gooseberriesblackbblackcurrants, red and white currants

General Protect new spring shoots from slugs / Plant summer-flowering bulbs / Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials / Top dress containers with fresh compost / Mow the lawn on dry days (if needed) / Cut back Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) grown for colourful winter stems / Weeds come back in to growth – deal with them before they get out of hand / Start feeding fish and using the pond fountain; remove pond heaters / Open the greenhouse or conservatory doors and vents on warm days

Readers Tips Germinate large seeded veg such as beans, peas etc., prior to ‘sowing’ them by placing in a plastic bag with a small quantity of water. Seal the bag and place in a warm dark place for 2 to 3 days, until they start to sprout. Sow as you would normally. EB Southgate

Seasonal Recipe Here’s a recipe for a Leek and cheese toasty – great as a snack or light supper for two:

You’ll need 2 leeks, a few sprigs of thyme, 3 tbsp of cream, 50g of grated strong cheddar cheese, sour dough bread, butter and seasoning

Melt 15g of butter in a pan

Clean the leaks, slice and add to the pan, turn heat down and sweat for around 10 mins

Chop the thyme and add to the pan along with the cream, heat until cream starts to bubble

Take off the heat and add three quarters of the cheese and season to taste

Toast 2 thick slices of sour dough lightly, spread the mixture over each slice and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Grill until bubbling and golden, serve immediately


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