What to do in the garden in March

March the first month of spring and the garden is coming alive. March is all about the colour of spring bulbs. In flower are  Crocus, Daffodils, scented Narcissus, Fritillaria meleagris  (common name' Snakes Head Fritillary') and the delicate Erythronium. 

Gardening calendars are only a guide because so much depends on the weather in March, sometimes it can be spring like, other times cold and frosty. The weather will affect the degree to which the soil has warmed up ready for planting.

Books and magazines are full of ideas for plants to buy and plant out in March, but in many parts of the country March can be a cold month with frosts, be wary of planting frost tender plants (check out 'frost tender') unless you have time, (and energy)  to cover with fleece and cloches, and remember to do so otherwise one frost can do a lot of damage.

Still there are warmer days and with the increasing light levels means it is a good time to start sowing seeds for later in the year.

Ideas and tips on germinating from seed and also a video with advice on how to sow and germinate from seed successfully. 

Tip of the month: As the soil warms up so do the slugs. Emerging are the delicate shoots of the herbaceous plants, such as Hosta, Delphinium and lupins which are just the tastiest snack for a slug. Start protecting the plants; tips on how to beat the slugs

 

  The greenhouse is a good place to keep containers planted up, such as hanging baskets and containers, with bedding ready for later in the year. Growing them in the greenhouse for a few weeks helps to get the plants more established in the container before exposing them to the weather.

Note: any veg and bedding plants grown in the greenhouse will need to be "hardened off", which means accustomed to the harsher outside weather gradually.

March in the Garden

March and April is a good time to plant summer bulbs such as Dahlia and Lilies. If you have the right growing conditions Dahlias are a great showy garden plant. They do best grown in well-drained soil, and in sheltered warmer conditions which means they tend to thrive best in Southern counties. Dahlias can be grown in more exposed areas but will need to be protected from frost and lifted before the winter.

It can be easier to get Dahlias established from plants, (although more expensive,)  and if you buy tubers, you need to plant about 6 weeks before the last frosts. This is because Dahlias are not frost hardy (explanation of frost hardy) and the new top growth will be damaged by frost.

It takes about 6 weeks for the new growth to come through which is the reason for the time delay. If you get caught out, cloche them.  If your growing conditions are not ideal, such as colder and wetter, it is better to start Dahlias in containers under glass and bring out to harden off in May.

Lilies look fantastic in the summer border, the image is Lilium Regale. They make a great statement, tall and often scented and good companion plants. March is the right time to get the bulbs going in pots which is much cheaper than buying plants later in the year. Pick a good-sized pot and fill with suitable compost, plant 3 bulbs per pot and cover with more compost.

Keep the bulbs in a sheltered spot or in the greenhouse until they are established. The pots are ideal for placing on the patio to enjoy the scent or filling up gaps in the borders. More about growing lilies and images of different types of Lilies.

sedum cut back

Cut back any remaining Perennials

March is a good time to cut back perennials before the new growth gets too advanced which can make it difficult to cut back without damaging the new growth. In the image the Sedum has had all the old growth removed.

If you have left the old growth in place over the winter cut it back now before the spring brings on the new growth. 

Pruning in March

For roses, March is the time prune Bush and Shrub varieties and it is easier than it seems. Look at the plant, remove anything that looks unhealthy. This means removing any branches which are spindly, or don't look good, prune them away. Look at remaining framework, on each major branch look for a bud which faces outwards (away from the plant) cut on a slope just above. Cut to around 40cmc (1ft - 1.5ft) which is around knee high. You are aiming for a goblet shape. It's a good idea if you have time to feed the roses after pruning.

Cut back Cornus, common name Dogwood. If you are growing Cornus for its lovely red winter stems March is time to prune them. Cut down the oldest stems close to ground level which will encourage it to shoot and grow new stems which will provide next winter's colour. You can cut all or most of the stems. If they are not cut down from time to time the colour will lessen over years.

Tip: the cut Cornus stems are useful as pea sticks to support small plants and seedings, such as the sweet peas, bean family when they are growing under-glass before planting out. 

If you haven't already done so March is also the correct time to prune Buddleia cut back to 15cms don't panic as it will look very bare. Buddleia is a vigorous shrub and will quickly re grow. 

You can also hard prune Lavatera, as the new green shoots are emerging cut the old wood right back and the new growth will flourish and carry this years flowers, and coppice Eucalyptus to keep it under control.

Prune Hydrangeas removing the spent flower heads and cut down to a bud, more about growing and pruning Hydrangeas.

Lonicera (Honeysuckle) prune about one third of the oldest growth down to ground level. If the plant is overgrown it can be pruned hard to rejuvenate. 

Pyracantha (firethorn) can be pruned or lightly trimmed back into shape and also Euonymus to keep to size.

Last chance to prune Wisteria which is essential to keep it flowering. Tips and video on how to prune Wisteria.

Plant snow drops for Next Year

If this winter you went for an inspiring snow drop walk, March is the time to plant snowdrops. They are best planted "in the green" which is as small plants not bulbs. It can be harder to get snowdrops established from bulbs so better to buy plants now and plant in clumps. Snowdrops are a woodland plant which means they do not like too much sun and are best planted in an area which gets some shade, close to or under a shrub always looks nice.

You may notice some of the spring bulbs have not flowered this year,  and if so, take a look at why spring bulbs don't flower.

Scented Narcissus

Assess spring bulbs and daffodils

This is a good time to assess the performance of spring bulbs, especially daffodils. If you have a clump of daffodils which are blind, that is to say without flower mark them with a stick for attention. Once the foliage is going over, lift the clump and check them. If they are congested plant back,  having first separated the bulbs and plant further apart.

Another common cause of blind bulbs is if they are planted too shallow. Ensure when re planting the clump it is a least 3x the depth of the bulb. 

Sow annuals for a summer display

sweet peas

The advantage of sowing annuals from seed is that you can buy a wide range of seeds and grow plants which you rarely see in the garden centre. The specialist seed catalogues have a fantastic range of seeds and its great fun to grow something unusual. An exotic annual to grow is Ipomoea also called morning glory which produces delicate and attractive trumpet shaped flowers. For advice on growing Ipomoea 

March is a good time if you are thinking of growing sweet peas from seed now is the time to sow. Although they are quite a lot of time and effort, I cannot resist sweet peas and grow them every year.  In March you can sow sweet peas under glass, or directly where they are to grow outside. Video how to Plant and grow sweet peas.

March in the Veg plot

Preparing the veg plot

veg plot

March is the month when planting gets under way and before planting itis worth spending time to improve the soil and raise yields. Most vegetables are hungry feeders and it's a good idea to enrich the soil with organic matter such as well rotted manure, chicken pellets, or compost. Digging the soil and mixing in organic material will break up the soil ensuring it is not compacted, and prepare it for the growing season. However, if it is very wet, or has been a wet winter it is more important to keep off the soil so it doesn't get compacted.  Many crops such as salads and carrots like a fine soil and stones are a hindrance. Raking the plot to render the soil finer makes it easier to plant into and creates a better growing medium as in the image.  

The Sunday Gardener's Great Guide to Growing Tomatoes Buy as a paperback or e book

 

 

One of the most popular vegetables to grow are tomatoes, and rightly so. Nothing beats a crop of home-grown, sweet tomatoes. 

"Success with Tomatoes" by the Sunday Gardener is a concise, informative guide containing all you need to know about how to grow tomatoes. It is packed with sound advice, tips and practical suggestions. 'Success with Tomatoes' is available from Amazon in E book and paperback versions and you look inside before you buy.

Each chapter explains the growing process, removing side shoots, the importance of watering and feeding every aspect of tomato growing is covered in 8 chapters combined with 22 illustrations.

 

Cold weather protection

bean emerging

It matters not if you are growing your vegetables from seed or small veg plants, the decision whether to plant out in the veg plot depends on the weather conditions, and your plot. 

The hardiest of the Bean family are Broad beans and they can be planted out first. In March, you can sow outside if the soil is warm enough but you will need to protect new growth from a heavy frost or snow by a fleece or cloche. An alternative if you have a conservatory, greenhouse, or cold frame is to sow seed and under glass so you have sturdy plants to put into the veg plot later in the Spring. 

  The same applies if you are buying small vegetable plants, they will need protection from the worst of the weather. Small plug plants are good value, but they are grown in parts of the garden centre which are protected from the weather and after purchasing you will need to so the same.  All Beans like a long root run are best germinated into root trainers or loo rolls holders. Sow seed nearer the top of the holder so the roots can reach down. The same is true if you are sowing sweet peas. Beans need no attention whilst growing on other than to ensure light levels are good so that plants do not get spindly. Water carefully if in loo rolls holders, only in the centre, try not to water the cardboard holder as it will disintegrate.

Many vegetables can be started in March depending on the position of your plot and either grown on under glass or covered by cloches. Sow lettuces into a drainpipe in the greenhouse/under glass for planting out later on, and rocket into a container for an early crop. 

If your plot is exposed/subject to frosts and cold winds even with cloche available it is best to delay outside sowing of French beans, cucumbers and squashes until later April/May. You can sow these under glass and start off young plants but for outside sowing or planting out it is better to wait for later in the season.  

Chitting potatoes

Chitting potoatoes

 This month you can either carrying on Chitting potatoes, or plant early Potatoes.  Potatoes are an easy, and rewarding crop to grow; for tips and advice.  Potatoes can take up a lot of space in the veg plot. Potatoes are one of the vegetables which are ideally suited to growing in containers.  

 If you have a greenhouse, you can even start potatoes off in containers in the greenhouse and move out once all risk of frost has passed. Frost will damage the new potato shoots, called haulms. The time growing in the greenhouse will get the plants off to a good start.

Germinating herbs in March

thai basil

  Indoors or in a greenhouse, March is an ideal time to germinate herbs, such as Basil, Dill, Parsley, Chives and Coriander. Cooking with herbs is great, but they are expensive and easy to germinate on a window sill or under glass to have a supply ready nearly all year. Tender herbs such as Basil and Coriander will need to be kept warm and frost free until later in the year, and are best not planted out until May.

Parsley  should be seeded where it is to grow. It can be tricky to germinate, and needs some warmth so early seeding can be slow. Parsley needs to be kept moist. 

 If you fancy growing something different, Thai Basil in the image is widely available. It is easy to grow and great in stir fries, and start off under glass the same as Basil. It has a distinct aniseed flavour to the leaves.

Chives  are hardy and will live in the garden all year round. In March you can see the shoots starting to grow again. There is also a variety of garlic chives, allium tuberosum, common name Chinese chives which has a mild garlic flavour. Like all chives it is easy to grow and and flowers white  during the summer.

garlic in the soil

If you have started Garlic growing under glass it can be planted out in March if the conditions are right. Starting Garlic in the green house or under glass is ideal if your growing conditions are exposed, wet or with heavy soil. In these conditions you will need to delay planting for conditions, but you want a decent crop and if planting is delayed too long, the crop has less growing time. One solution is to start the bulbs off under glass and then transferred in March. Tips on how to grow garlic.