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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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GardeningMarch in the Garden

March in the Garden

Following on from last month, with garden activity at a pretty low ebb, March is when the pace starts to pick up. It’s your last chance to complete all those tasks which should only be done while plants are fully dormant, bare-root planting being a case in point, because lengthening days and, hopefully, rising temperatures will soon encourage the sap to rise and the buds to burst. We’re not completely out of the woods as far as wintery weather goes, March can be bitterly cold, so it’s more a matter of girding one’s loins than rushing headlong into the fray.


When fine weather conditions allow, finishing hedge cutting is a priority because this needs to be completed before nesting birds have started laying eggs. I find that birds, particularly blackbirds, are already scouting out potential nest sites in February, whenever we have a sunny spell, but active egg-laying is unlikely to take place before bud-break because any sooner would mean that they are trying to raise their young before a plentiful food supply is apparent.


I think it’s worthwhile to quote the ‘Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981’ : “it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird, or take or destroy their eggs or nest, or damage a nest, while that nest is in use or being built’. As such, if the hedge you intend to cut definitely does not contain any nesting birds then it can be trimmed at any time of year; a newly planted hedge is unlikely to house any nests because it won’t be thick enough to support nest building activities. The onus is on you, the gardener, to check for nests before performing such activities. Completing any invasive tasks before the nesting season is the simplest way of complying with the law.


I have tackled an ancient box hedge during the summer months, as is customary with box, and only during the process discovered birds nests. Having only trimmed the outer growth, using cordless hedge trimmers, I am happy to report that the nesting birds, a wren in this case, were completely oblivious to the temporary interruption in their chick raising activities : the Law was not broken as the nest was not damaged, the birds were not injured and no harm was done.


I think that garden birds, that habitually nest in gardens where there is constant human activity, are unlikely to be disturbed by hedge trimming where the inner structure of the hedge, and therefore any nest, is left untouched. The Law is most likely to be broken by farmers and local authorities that use mechanical means, especially flails, to completely mangle existing hedges.


While we are on the topic of raising new life, now is the time for sowing all sorts of seed. Some gardeners, with heated greenhouses, may have started this last month but now’s the time that germination will be successful, across a broad spectrum of species, with the minimum amount of additional heat and only basic equipment; seed trays, fresh seed-sowing compost, a propagator lid perhaps.


‘Half-hardy’ annuals include such stalwarts as cosmos, petunias and salvias; these require some additional heat, such as a heated propagator, to get them started but they should be sown around now if they are going to get large enough to be planted outside in late May or June (after the last frosts).


‘Hardy’ annuals are those that can be sown directly outdoors when conditions allow, maybe at the end of this month in sheltered spots, and include such cottage garden favourites as stocks, poppies and cornflowers.


The type of seed you are dealing with and what conditions it requires for germination, including where to sow it, will be provided on the seed packet (or on the website of the seed supplier) so buying what you like and then simply dividing your packets into each category should guarantee success.


Summer flowering bulbs, such as lilies, ranunculus and gladioli, can be bought and planted this month. I’ve heard of people completely giving up on lilies, due to the prevalence of lily beetles these days, but I think they’re practically indispensable in any garden. As long as you are constantly vigilant to remove the, bright red, adult lily beetles and also to squash their excrement encrusted grubs, never a pleasant task, then you should be able to keep this pest under control.


Not strictly a bulb, actually a tuber, dahlias that you’ve been overwintering can be coaxed back into life this month (or you could obtain new ones to start off in the same way). Bring them into the light / warmth to encourage new shoots and then pot them up into fresh, moist but not wet, compost. Don’t overwater them at this stage, which could cause them to rot, and keep them protected until they are planted out after all risk of frost has passed.


While you are in the borders planting your summer bulbs, you could also be lifting and dividing clumps of early flowering bulbs, particularly snowdrops, which are still visible now and which are most easily increased by division, to be spread around the garden or to increase the area that they cover. The same principle can be applied to those herbaceous plants which produce increasingly large crowns; lifting and dividing these before they get too far into growth will invigorate existing clumps and provide more ‘divisions’ to be planted elsewhere, or to swap with like-minded gardeners.


If you haven’t done so already then now’s probably the last chance that you’ll get to ensure that your lawnmower is fit and ready for the season ahead. Grass will have kept growing, in any period when the temperature is above around 7°C, so mowing the lawn, whenever it is dry enough to do so safely, becomes more pressing this month.


The first cut should be at a height a couple of notches above the ‘usual’ summer setting, lowering the cutting height over subsequent mowings. Remember that if you have a mulching mower, which requires the lawn to be cut more frequently to produce shorter clippings, then the first cuts will produce ‘heavier’ than ideal clippings and these will need to be raked up. If you can borrow a collecting lawnmower for the first few cuts then that would be ideal.


And, with the realisation that the tyranny of lawn care is upon us once again, it really feels like summer is just around that corner—enjoy your gardening, however you choose to do it!

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