March in the Garden – 2014

I think there may have been a couple of those classic dry, sunny, warm days since I last sat down to write one of these. The kind of days when it is a pleasure to be in the garden and it really feels like spring might have sprung. It’s worth casting your mind back to this time last year when winter was still firmly in charge and there seemed to be no end to the freezing conditions and biting cold. If global warming is causing greater extremes of weather, and nothing can be concluded from just two years, then I guess ‘swings and roundabouts’ year-on-year variations are something we need to get used to.

When walking the dog in the woods it’s lovely to see that the bluebells already have a couple of inches of growth on them, a sure sign that it’s been an unusually mild winter. It’s a bit of  a worry, if we do have a very cold March, as severe frost can damage newly emerged shoots and buds but native plants can generally cope and just go back into suspended animation until temperatures creep above 6 or 7 degrees centigrade again.

I probably get the majority of rose pruning done this month as it’s when the conditions allow. It also means that any growth, promoted by the pruning process, stands a better chance of surviving undamaged as the worst of the winter weather should have passed (famous last words!).

Lawns may require their first cut this month, especially as the warm, wet, weather has allowed them to continue growing in the winter, so make sure your mower has sharp blades. Set them a notch or two higher than their summer setting and cut the lawn whenever it is dry enough. If the very wet weather has resulted in lots of worm casts, lumps and bumps, then roll these first (assuming you have a garden roller) because rough ground and loose soil will quickly blunt your blades. At some point, early in the growing season, it’s worth spreading a ‘weed and feed’ product but I think I’d hold off on this for a bit to ensure the grass really is in active growth before adding extra nutrients.

What I am keen on feeding right now is all the spring bulbs which are either already in flower or coming up to flowering. The blooms appearing now were actually instigated last year and their quantity and quality rely on the parent bulbs growing strongly the preceding season. They are only able to utilise added nutrients when in leaf, and therefore photosynthesising, so a little ‘fish, blood and bone’ gently forked around them now will pay dividends next year. In containers liquid feeding is beneficial as they are even more likely to run short of plant food when not in open ground.

Last year the prolonged cold meant that hedge cutting and planting of bare-root stock could continue beyond the usual cut-off point of the end of March. This year the relative warmth means that time is running out for these activities. If waterlogged land has prevented you from doing this any sooner then now’s the time to be completing these tasks which rely on the subjects being dormant.

The same goes for shrub pruning; shrubs which flower on this year’s growth (generally later flowering specimens) can have the oldest stems cut right back, even to the ground on established plants, to keep them healthy and vigorous. Early flowering, spring blooming, shrubs flower on growth from last year so these should be left and reduced in size immediately after they have flowered.

I tend not to grow ‘heat hungry’ bedding plants from seed as keeping them happy, at the elevated temperatures required for germination and successful establishment, means that I’d rather buy them as plug or ‘young’ plants, by mail order or from ‘Groves’. As mentioned last week I am planning to grow cut flowers from seed this year and my inspiration for this endeavour, Jane Corbett, sent me an email with a few pearls of hard-won wisdom :-

“I sow them all in seed trays in greenhouse as from last week in March, 1st week in April – (Its grim up North you could get away with couple of weeks before!) This works best for me as can transplant into my garden of Eden without having to thin out and waste a load) Usually takes 4 weeks before I release them into the wild – Then I continue to stagger sowings ‘til as late as August so you will have a continual crop of blooms.“

As for suitable subjects (I asked for idiot-proof examples) she recommended stuff like; ‘Love in a mist’, Larkspur ‘Sublime Mix’, Clary ‘Monarch Mixed’, Cosmos ‘Day Dream’, Cornflower ‘BlueBoy’, Scabiosa ‘Stellata Pingpong’,  Ammi majus ‘Graceland’, Calendula ‘Orange King’ and “for a bit of late colour Zinnias make a much cheaper alternative to Dahlia tubers”.

I may have got my Latin and common names a bit mixed up there, cutting and pasting is a blunt tool, but you get the drift. I’ll also be digging out unopened seed packets from the last couple of years, I get sent random ‘Press Samples’, to see what else might fit the bill. In addition Jane recommended raiding hedgerows and herbaceous perennials like Alchemilla and Astrantia which have a similar look to the hardy annuals grown from seed. I’ll also throw some sweet peas into the mix to add scent to my bouquets! No idea where I’m going to plant them yet but I’ll cross that bridge once I’ve erected some more rabbit proof fencing…

Looks like I’m going to have my work cut out so time to start praying for good weather and NO MORE RAIN. Happy gardening to you all.