March is the cusp of the gardening year – the last chance to plant bare-rooted shrubs and feast on chard and Brussels sprouts, just as the signs of new life push their way to the surface of beds and borders. Most gardeners find it hard to sit down this month, even if they have time.
It's such an exciting moment in time. Plans made during long dark evenings start to be put into action to create a beautiful and productive garden. Our efforts now to tend the soil, prune, sow seed, move old plants and import new ones will be repaid.
So to celebrate the beginning of spring, we've planned it all out for you.
What to trim and cut back
- Time to get out the lawnmower and cut the lawn, as long as the ground has dried out a little from winter rains. If you have one that allows you to raise the blades, then do so for these early cuts. Gently does it.
- Colourful cornus bark has served its wintry purpose well and it is time to cut it back. Hard pruning stimulates new, fast, straight growth, and this young growth will be as bright and bold as it can be when this year’s leaves fall away in the autumn.
- This is the time to cut back big, overgrown climbers such as honeysuckle and rambling roses. New shoots show you what is what. Cut back hard, but always to just above new growth.
Prune to shape
- Pruning gooseberries is not the loveliest job on the plot, but a good shape and a thinning of growth will give you a better-quality crop. Prune to upwards-facing buds to encourage growth away from trailing on the ground.
What to sow
- I start leeks in a little nursery bed, for transplanting at better spacing later in spring. My favourite leek trick is to sow much more than I have space to plant out later with the aim of leaving plenty in the nursery bed and harvesting them as tiny tender baby leeks in the summer. These little ones – so much easier to process and use – are often the more eagerly harvested.
- I far prefer annual larkspurs to perennial delphiniums. Larkspur Nursery offers seed of 'Frosted Skies’ and 'Sublime White’. Sow now into modules to plant out late in spring, for flowers this summer.
- This week it is the turn of aubergines to hit my heated propagator. I sow Italian 'Cima Viola’, Indian-style striped aubergine 'Calliope’ and 'White Egg’, all from Simpson’s Seeds.
What to look out for
I sow fast-growing tender plants such as tomatoes six weeks before the last expected frost date. I am gearing up to do so in the next week, but check here for your area: gardenfocused.co.uk/adjust-dates-uk.php
Daffodils in bloom
It is the Falmouth Spring Flower Show on 28th March 2020 in the heart of daffodil country at peak time. Don’t miss local champions, the Scamp family, with their award-winning daffodils.
- After the winter, vine weevil grubs get back to work about now. Tip out some pots to check for grubs or just do a pre-emptive treatment. Try organic Nemasys Natural Vine Weevil Killer from greengardener.co.uk
- Look over your hellebores and trim back the old leaves, particularly those with any spotting. This could be hellebore leaf spot which, left on the plant, could spread and weaken it. Chop off and dispose.
- This is the final week of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, and the last chance to feast your eyes before they are gone for another year. Full details of all of the gardens involved can be found at scotlandsgardens.org.
In need of extra care..
- Solitary bees are incredible pollinators, entirely non aggressive – and in decline. The problem is loss of habitat. Bees will be emerging from their winter homes and looking for new nesting sites soon so you can help by providing a garden bee hotel made of bundled bamboo stems, or with the altogether snazzier Bee Brick, from greenandblue.co.uk. It works as a stand-alone bee hotel, but is also the same size as a standard building brick and so can be built into new garden walls.
- If you planted trees this winter, give them some care now. Check tree stakes and ties, put rabbit guards in place where necessary, and keep them weed free and well watered, particularly through drier period
- Tackle your soupy green pond early. Barley straw (or even Extract of Barley Straw from ecopond.co.uk: far less messy) can help, but only where the pond water is well aerated, so consider installing a pump at the same time.
- As alpines start to flower, it’s a good moment to give them some love. They are martyrs to rot, so remove dead leaves from around the bases and add a handful of gravelly chippings to keep them away from wet soil.
What to harvest
- March can be a sparse time on the vegetable patch but it is the moment that several perennial leaves are looking good. I harvest sorrel every year, collapsing them into butter for a lemony but savoury sauce.
- If you covered your rhubarb at the start of the year, you should have some baby-pink forced stems ready to pull now. Once you have harvested all your forced stems, do not pull any more from this plant for the rest of the year.
What to prepare
- If you don’t have an asparagus bed you can remedy this now. Prepare and weed ground thoroughly, ready to plant next month. Purple varieties such as 'Crimson Pacific’, look beautiful, and contain 25 per cent more sugars than green.
- Plant winter aconites while they are still “in the green”: they establish far better than stored and dried roots. Buy these little golden harbingers of spring from Shipton Bulbs (shiptonbulbs.co.uk).
Poultry manure pellets
- I swore off chemical fertilisers years ago, feeling shamefaced about the massive inputs of oil and water required to make my peonies grow a little better. Poultry manure pellets make me feel more virtuous, and are excellent, but they can be a good deal slower to release their nutrients. Sprinkle them now around permanent plants and onto vegetable patches, and they will be feeding your plants as they come into strong growth later in the spring.
- Willow stems can still be bought for fashioning into near-instant green hedges, edges, tepees and mazes: just push them into the ground, weave them together, water and wait.
Events and courses
- Northern gardeners often feel that all gardening advice is tipped to the South. Stillingfleet Lodge, near York, has a vegetable course for Northern gardeners starting on March 14, £40-£70.
Go to Otter Farm
- Devon’s Otter Farm Kitchen Garden School, led by food writer and gardener Mark Diacono, offers wine, cider, cooking courses, dinner, garden consultation and nights in the shepherd’s hut.
- Prepare deciduous trees or large shrubs you have earmarked for a move next winter. Dig a deep trench around the drip line, severing thick roots as you go. This will encourage new fibrous roots to develop within a “rootball”, which you can transplant next winter.
- I have to avert my eyes from the bins in the front garden. The BinDock from the Front Yard Company (frontyardcompany.co.uk) is a wonderful solution: a raised platform big enough to fit bins beneath and topped by a green roof.
What are your top gardening tips? How will you be prepping your outdoor space for spring? Tell us in the comments below