What to do in March
Gardening in March
By the time March is here, spring has really arrived in almost every garden in the country. There may still be frosts, so care must still be taken to protect any very delicate shoots which are beginning to show, but for most gardeners March is the month when they can really start to get out in the garden and so something a bit more than damage limitation.
Of course, with the spring comes the weeds and so it is essential that every gardener keeps a sharp eye out as the weed seeds germinate and make sure that they are dealt with while they are small. While the beds are empty, plans can be made for summer colour and March is the perfect month to sow hardy annuals where they are to flower if you live in a mild area of the country. If you are further north or your garden in very exposed, you may want to start them off planted thinly in seed trays, pots or fibre modules which you can then plant out directly later. To get a natural look, mark out an area on the flower bed and broadcast the seed over. You can either sow each variety one by one, or mix all of the seeds in a container and sow them together. This needs a little experience, as the plants need to be chosen so that one does not dominate. If you are new to herbaceous border gardening, there are many mixtures you can buy where the choice has been made for you. A good combination would include clarkia, linanthus, flax, sea pink and viola. You may have to transplant the seedlings later to make the mix look more even, but a natural look would also work well.
Wild flowers look wonderful if you can get the mix right and sowing broadcast from a mixture of seeds is the best way – it is what nature does, after all! Buying a mixture in separate packets is a good way of tailoring the mix to what you like; everyone loves poppies and they are an excellent choice because although they self-seed freely, they only germinate in disturbed soil, so you won’t find them springing up all over the place in established beds. Cornflowers are a welcome splash of blue in summer, when the cooler shades are not so common and of course no wildflower garden would be complete without foxgloves. If you have an area of the garden which is a little difficult to look after, being very sloping or perhaps just out of the way, sowing a wildflower garden is a good plan. It will attract a lot of butterflies and some varieties, such as ornamental thistle, will even attract birds like finches – getting rare in gardens because of the lack of food. A note here to all those who have been feeding the birds through the winter – when the birds have nested and fledglings are beginning to appear (which will be soon) you should stop feeding them large seeds and nuts, as the fledglings can easily die if fed this large food.
No summer garden is complete without the glorious scent of sweet pea and you can plant sweet pea seeds where they are to flower from mid-March. If you started sweet peas in the autumn and the plants are well grown, they can go out now as well. Planting summer bulbs in March will ensure a good display but because the ground can still be a little cold and wet, improving drainage under the bulb is a good plan, to prevent rotting in the ground. Anemone corms are easy to scatter and then plant where they fall for a natural look, with lilies and allium further back in the border. If you have plants going in which need support, it is best to erect the canes, obelisks or trellis first and then plant the seeds or plants. It may seem a good idea to wait until the plants need support before providing it, but pushing the wires or sticks into the ground afterwards can disrupt the roots and you could lose a lot of plants. You may not like seeing bare supports in your garden, but look on them as a promise of things to come and they look rather more cheerful.
Perennials on parade
Assuming the weather isn’t too wet, March is an ideal month for planting out perennials, either those you have overwintered or grown from cuttings. If you have an urge to go plant shopping, you will have a great choice in March as the plants in the garden centres are putting out new shoots and you will be able to see which of the plants are healthy and growing well. Beware of plants bought from the kind of outlet that puts plants out and then brings them in when the centre is closed. The plants will not have been hardened off properly and often prove to be a disappointment. In March you still have time to get seeds started and because your plants grown from seed will not be subject to the shock of replanting, they will be just as large as plugs or seedlings which are bought in ready grown in a month or so. If you have a greenhouse, March is a great month to start airing it through by opening the door when the weather is nice enough. When looking at the weather forecast, take note of wind strength and direction; if the wind blows hard on plants near the door, they can get quite burned and certainly seriously knocked back for a while.
Depending on the weather being dry enough, lawns will almost certainly need a mow in March. The grass will probably be feeling a little sorry for itself after the winter, so a good dose of a high nitrogen (sometimes labelled spring feed) fertiliser will replace what has been used and leached out of the soil. If your lawn has bald patches, they can be fixed with lawn seed in March, but waiting until the end of the month is probably wise. If the ground is not wet or – in the worst case scenario – frozen, you can level and rake now so that the soil can settle and level itself off before sowing the lawn seed. Make sure you get the right kind for the location and type of lawn – you can get special seed for almost any repair now, for example hard-wearing, shady, wet etc. Although all-purpose grass seed is fine if you already have some in the shed, better results will be achieved more quickly if you buy the right kind. If you have problems with cats, you should protect the newly seeded area with strings and cat scarers. Cats can be the gardener’s worst nightmare, but they can be kept in check with some unusual things such as orange peel, which they hate and also some gardeners find tea bags soaked in Jeyes Fluid keeps them away. If you don’t have cats of your own an ultrasonic scarer has 100% success and doesn’t smell!
On the vegetable plot
Vegetable gardening really gathers momentum in March, with many early varieties being ready for sowing now. Early varieties can be sown where they are to grow, such as broad beans and peas if the weather is reasonably mild and not too wet. Onion sets, shallots and early potatoes can be planted. If you are using potato bags or patio planters, you can stagger the planting through the month, to give a small amount of lovely tiny new potatoes before they are in the shops. If the only vegetable you have room for is a few bags of potatoes, then go for it. The difference between shop bought and home grown is probably post noticeable with potatoes than any other crop. If you don’t have a vegetable plot, many can be grown in large containers. Although large crops are less likely this way, it does make it easier to sow in batches, so you always have lovely young vegetables coming along. If you have a greenhouse or conservatory or even a cool windowsill, runner beans can be started off indoors.
If you have fish in your pond, you can start to feed them again in March. Toads, newts and frogs may have started spawning in February, but they are in full spate in March. They will lay their spawn amongst the plants, so make sure that any tidying up is done before they begin because you should try and avoid disturbing them until the tadpoles have hatched. Even then, doing too much work dividing or reducing marginal plants will be quite a disruption to fish and spawn as the rubbish inevitably stirred up from the bottom can affect them quite badly. If your pond is new, you may have an algae problem. This will be reduced when the plants get going or you might want to invest in some barley straw ‘bales’ which help to clear the water. It is tempting to use some of the chemicals on the market, but having a little patience and letting your pond balance itself is much better.
Hoping for fine weather!
Summers have been very wet and disappointing for a couple of years now. Look on the bright side and set aside some areas in the garden for sitting in in the cool of the evening after a scorching summer day. Look for seeds or plants which will suit the spot, with the emphasis on scent, especially in the evening. Mock orange (philadelphus), tobacco plant or the fabulous Miracle of Peru (mirabilis jalapa) which not only opens in the afternoon ready to wow you with scent but also has different colour flowers on one plant, will make your evenings a fragrant delight.