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Monday, July 15, 2024
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GardeningMarch in the Garden

March in the Garden

Officially spring starts this month which is something worth celebrating. Maybe treat yourself to a trip to the garden centre to invest in some instant horticultural cheer in the form of spring bedding, little bulbs in pots or a heavenly scented flowering shrub—maybe something from the daphne tribe? The weather will play a large part in what you can be doing this month because, despite the calendar suggesting that winter is over, extreme cold, with overnight frosts, is a constant threat to burgeoning new growth.
If it does remain cold, with plants still in winter dormancy, then there is a little time left to plant bare-rooted plants, such as trees or hedging. Leaving it this late means that you will have to keep a better eye on them, as the year progresses, as they won’t have had as much time to establish themselves and are more susceptible to death by drought if they are not kept watered. The same is true of established plants which you may have dug up and moved around the garden, even more so in the case of evergreens.
In February, I mentioned that soon it would be necessary to feed beds and borders, as plants start back into growth, and this month may be the last time that it’s possible to access some beds before herbaceous plants are fully emerged and the soil inaccessible. Forking in a little organic fertiliser and topping off with a mulch of soil conditioner really sets off the emerging new growth.
It’s a slightly contentious point, as they’re not organic, but I still like to use a prophylactic sprinkling of slug pellets, in order to try and reduce the number of plants that are chewed to nothing at the point of emergence. It’s a shame that some very slug prone plants, delphiniums being a prime candidate, are now practically impossible to get established in the garden due to the lack of any effective slug control.
One area of the garden which is not affected by slugs is the lawn. In a mild spring there is a good chance that the grass will need cutting at some point this month. Only mow lawns when they are dry and frost free—not always easy at this time of the year. Your lawnmower should be adjusted to cut at a higher setting than it was in the summer as the grass will not be growing at full speed this early in the year. After mowing, to remove the long grass that’s accumulated since it was last cut, it may benefit from being ‘scarified’. This is the process, using either a wire rake or a powered scarifying machine, whereby dead grass stems, ‘thatch’, and any build up of moss is mechanically removed from the sward. This allows more air and light to reach the lawn surface which helps to promote healthy new grass growth.
Towards the end of the month, assuming the weather is warming up and growth is more active, it’s a good idea to use a proprietary ‘weed and feed’ preparation on the lawn. If the lawn is compacted, the soil very solid and lacking in aeration, then it may be worth hiring a lawn spiking machine, which removes little plugs of soil, to open up the lawn surface. These little holes will need to have dry, sieved, topsoil brushed into them to get the full benefit out of this mechanical operation. In really poor lawns the added topsoil, ‘top dressing’, could be pre-sown with lawn seed, a general hard wearing mix should suffice, in order to augment the existing grass.
Back in the borders; shrubs grown for their winter stems should be stooled (cut almost to the ground) and given a feed with something like ‘fish, blood and bone’ to encourage strong new growth this summer which will provide the brightest winter colour. Chief amongst these are members of the Cornus genus, the dogwoods, of which varieties such as ‘Midwinter Fire’ and ‘Baton Rouge’ are especially vibrant. The various willows, Salix, which have winter stems in a spectrum of hues, can also be stooled now if they are well established.
Willows have the added benefit that they can be cut down at a height, once they’ve grown a decent trunk, so that they grow a shock of bright new stems maybe six feet off the ground. This ‘pollarding’ is really useful if they are being grown in an area where grazing animals, especially out of control wild deer, would otherwise chew off any new growth within reach (this is not likely to be a problem in a suburban setting!). I always remember that, years ago, when I gardened at ‘Parnham House’ there were pollarded willows with bright orange stems, probably Salix alba subsp. vitellina ‘Britzensis’, along the riverbank towards the old ice house.
It may be a little too soon to direct sow outdoors, unless you can provide a degree of frost protection, but sowing half-hardy annuals indoors, into plug trays or small pots, will give them a head start when it comes to flowering outside in early summer. Having a few pots of annuals to plant out into any gaps in the border, as the season gets going, is always a good idea. I rely on the taller growing genera, Cosmos and Cleome in particular, to add height without mass in mixed planting schemes. Shorter genera, nasturtiums and marigolds spring to mind, are invaluable to cover up areas where spring bulbs may be dying down and leaving a gap to be filled; ‘nature abhors a vacuum’.
Scattering hardy annual seed in a fairly random manner can add an informal, cottage garden-like, twist to an established garden; poppies, nigella (‘Love-in-a-Mist’) and Limnanthes douglasii (‘Poached Egg Plant’) are amongst the easiest to establish. Their seed is cheap and you get lots in a packet, a function of just how generous they are to set seed in the first place, so broadcasting them into border edges, broken paving or loose gravel should reward you with summer colour with very little effort. Once established they should set seed each year, if left alone, and produce a self-sustaining population for future years. You’ll need to be prepared to weed them out if, they self-sow into areas where they are unwelcome, but that’s a small price to pay for the easy joy they bring.

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