Dig it – March

Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener with Fulke Andel

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – the days are getting longer. Both gardeners and plants are keen to get going, but the temperature of the ground is critical and must be right to ensure 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.

hawthorn bush

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 inland, so adjust what you do for where you are and the weather you’re experiencing. One reliable indicator that the soil is ready is the hawthorn bush. Once you see the bright green foliage emerging, then it’s time to don your wellies and get cracking outside.

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 that 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 herb-aceous 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 coronariatubers 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 for the Month of March

Sow/Plant

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 off you’re tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers

Plant Out

Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes

Harvest

Leeks / Parsnips / Spinach beet / Chards

Fruit

Prune apple and pear trees / Prune gooseberries, blackcurrants, red and white currants

General

  • Protect new spring shoots from slugs
  • Plant summer-flowering bulbs
  • Lift and divide over-grown 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

Look out for bargains in your local garden centres. They’ll now be selling off their planted pots of bulbs – once they’ve flowered, at reduced prices. These can be planted in your garden and will flower again next year. LB Townhill

Seasonal Recipe

Here’s a recipe for a delicious side dish to go with your Sunday roast.

Buttered cabbage and leeks SERVES 4

You’ll need:1 leek, cleaned and thinly sliced, half a cabbage – shredded, 2 cloves of garlic chopped and a knob of butter.

Add the leek and cabbage to a large pan of boiling salted water and blanch for 2 to 3 mins. Drain and rinse with cold water, drain again. Melt the butter in a pan, add the garlic and fry over a gentle heat for 1 minute. Add the leek and cabbage and sauté over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, tossing the pan occasionally. Season well and serve – simple!

 

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