Rushlake Green Village Leaf

Gardening Diary March 2011

"As many mists as ye have in March, so many frosts in May"

Signs of new life are quickening all around us making March one of the most important of the twelve divisions of the year in the garden. Spring flowers are becoming increasingly plentiful, daffodils make splashes of gold and blue squills provide a vivid contrast, whilst the forsythia and mahonia may be alive with bees. So, with a worrying sense of being outpaced by gathering spring, what jobs may we be getting on with?

Planting of deciduous trees, shrubs, fruits and roses should be completed as soon as possible to give the roots a chance to get a grip of the soil before heat and drought may punish them. Evergreens such as conifers, hollies, laurels and ericaceous plants may be put out in warm sheltered locations this month and next.

Unlike most bulbous rooted plants, snowdrops can be lifted and divided as soon as the flowers fade, it is worth doing this every few years as, if the bulbs are too closely packed together many may fail to flower.

March is one of those months during which your recently serviced secateurs should be securely holstered in your belt at all times. I lightly prune any shrubs that have been damaged by heavy snow falls and frost, removing dead and damaged wood. Thin out old wood from berberis, hedera and hypericum ( Patulum )  fuschia and lavatera can be cut back to live wood,  lonicera fragrantissima can be lightly pruned back after flowering. Those dog woods and willows grown for their winter colour can be cut right back now. Rose pruning may have been commenced last month and may be carried on (but not during a frosty spell) though be sure to know your type of rose.  Hybrid teas are pruned down to six or so buds and floribundas have their main stems reduced by half, whereas climbers and ramblers having one flush of flowers are pruned in September but repeat flowering climbers pruned now, so know your rose before you go hard at it.  Now is a good time to feed roses, a handful of bonemeal for each plant then spray with fungicide to control blackspot (even before the leaves appear). Newly planted bush roses, hybrid teas and floribundas should be pruned back to four to six buds, ultimate success can depend on this hard pruning.

Keeping an eye on weather and soil conditions is key to any successful gardening, especially at sowing time, so we shouldn't stick rigidly to the sowing guidelines given in the books but watch for a noticeable drying of the soil and persistent westerly weather. The same goes for pruning of roses, elder, buddleia etc, the old books recommended March but it seems these plants wake up earlier nowadays.

Social commentators are predicting a surge of applications to food banks later this year as we all slide into hunger and destitution, so we must more than ever concentrate on the vegetable garden. Now is the time to rake away winter debris and create a fine tilth on the seed bed. Every gardener should take pride in creating a fine tilth and may look back with pleasure at a seed bed that has been well made. Having worked our seed beds down to the fine tilth we can now sow leeks, parsnips, parsley, broad beans, onions, spinach and radishes. If you have limed the veg. garden allow a month before pre-season feeding. Jerusalem artichokes may be planted to windward on exposed locations to make a windbreak. Likewise stand upwind of anybody who has recently indulged. Established asparagus beds can be dressed now with old manure. Where fruit trees have been recently planted in grass it is a good idea to keep a cultivated area of two or three feet around the stems to prevent nitrogen starvation. Now that you have been successfully chitting your potatoes for a month, the last fortnight of March is the time to plant the first earlies and two weeks later the second earlies. Keep a bale of  straw about your person in case a late spring frost threatens the young shoots.

During the second half of the month we can be sowing hardy annuals. I like to mark off irregularly shaped patches with canes, label the areas and sprinkle the seed thinly over its alloted place, and lightly rake it in using the back of the rake. Naturally assuming a fine tilth has first been achieved.

The lawn may be showing signs of waking up. If the turf has been raised by frost and gives underfoot you may try a light rolling. Rake away leaves and other debris with your besom. If the grass has grown, two cuts during the month are sufficient, only removing the top half inch.

I like to see bird boxes cleared out, greenhouse cleaned and essential repairs to fences and paths etc done by the Ides of March as there'll be little time for these jobs later on.

Happy  tilthing.

Content kindly volunteered by Ross Atabey from Green & Great Gardens your local landscaping and garden specialists. For further advice contact Ross on 07941 315214 01435 812 153 or visit