Your Garden This Month: Here Comes Spring!
Spring usually arrives by mid-March and the frequent sunny days provide the opportunity for an increasing range of gardening tasks. It’s time to get busy preparing seed beds, sowing seed, cutting back winter shrubs and generally tidying up around the garden.
What to expect in March…
Widespread showers will feature throughout the month, but the total rainfall is usually lower than earlier in the year. Heavy showers and any melting snow continue to wash nutrients out of the soil, which will benefit from a mid-spring application of fertiliser.
As temperatures rise and rainfall lessens, the soil begins to drain and become more workable.
This is often a good time to cultivate clay-based soils. The drying process can be speeded up in wet areas by covering the ground with plastic and fleece; this increases the number of days of fieldwork possible this month.
The days are now longer and light is beginning to reach adequate levels, even in northern regions. There is an average 30 per cent increase in sunshine levels across the UK in March, with 90-100 hours being an expected broad average across the UK.
South East, South and South West England usually fare better than northern England and eastern Scotland, which in turn fare better than western and northern Scotland. Despite the general increase in sunlight, it is still a good idea to keep glasshouse plants well spaced, and to keep the panes clean, in order to maximise light on dull days.
The sun’s rays are growing stronger, causing temperatures to rise. Bear in mind that towns and cities remain several degrees warmer than the open countryside, which allows some tasks to be done earlier than would otherwise be advised in a northern region, for example.
Continue to check greenhouse and conservatory heaters to make sure they are working properly (a maximum-minimum thermometer is a useful checking device).
North-Westerly winds often bring cold, strong breezes. And, like the saying ‘March winds will blow and we shall have snow’, snow, sleet and hail are also likely.
Winds can reach gale-force, so make sure that tree stakes are securely in place, and that plants are tied firmly to supports.
If large trees are damaged, it is best to prune off the damage. Small branches are manageable for most gardeners, but more major work will require the help of an arborist or tree surgeon.
Fruit and nut trees
- Last chance to plant bare-root fruit trees, and ideally plant container-grown ones too.
- Protect fruit blossom from frost, but make sure insects can access the flowers or else hand pollinate them.
- Carry out formative pruning of newly planted stone fruit if the weather is dry.
- Apply a nitrogen feed to plums, cherries, cooking apples and pears as they’re hungry feeders.
- Switch to a summer feed for all citrus trees.
- Increase the watering of citrus as growth resumes.
- Pollinate strawberry flowers under glass by brushing over them with your hands.
- Plant cold-stored strawberry runners.
- Sow seeds of alpine strawberries.
- Plant cranberries and lingonberries.
- Mulch raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries with well-rotted farmyard manure (not mushroom compost as it is too alkaline).
- Apply a high nitrogen feed to blackcurrants.
- Prune blueberries.
- Apply sulphur chips to beds of blueberries, lingonberries and cranberries if needed.
- Untie canes of blackberries and hybrid berries that have been bundled together for the winter, and train into arches before the buds burst.
- Never prune grape vines after late winter to avoid sap bleeding, otherwise vines can be seriously weakened or even killed.
- Apply a mulch around fruit trees, nuts, and bushes as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
- Repot or top dress container-grown fruit if needed.
Sowing and planting
- Plant onions, shallots and garlic sets.
- Plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers.
- Chit early and maincrop potatoes.
- Plant asparagus crowns.
- Sow seed outdoors in mild areas with light soil, eg: broad beans, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, onions, lettuces, radish, peas, spinach, summer cabbage, salad leaves, leeks, Swiss chard, kohl rabi, turnip and summer cauliflower. Be guided by the weather, and sow only if conditions are suitable.
- Sow seed indoors of sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, celery, salads and globe artichokes.
- Cultivate and prepare seedbeds, covering them with clear polythene or fleece to warm up the soil before sowing.
- Protect early outdoor sowings with fleece and polythene.
- Feed crops that have been standing all winter.
- Continue to force chicory.
- Put supports in place for peas.
- Start preparing runner bean supports and trenches for sowing (in May) or planting out (in June).
- Prepare celery trenches.
- Try to avoid digging in wet weather, but if gardening on wet soil, work from a plank of wood, to avoid treading on the bed and compacting the soil.
How to deal with pests, diseases & other problems
Place mice controls near stored vegetables.
Protect early seed sowings from slugs.
Protect brassicas from pigeons.
Look out for grey mould and brassica downy mildew on brassicas.
Control aphids and other pests on fruit but don’t spray when in blossom.
Get on top of weed control if not done in late winter and continue through to summer.
Top 10 jobs this month
- Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes
- 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
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