Although we have passed the first meteorological day of Spring the recent icy blast brought by the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ might have temporarily fooled us into thinking otherwise. Yet the snow and sub-zero temperatures have provided only a brief reprieve to the gardener. The list of gardening jobs will lengthen as the days stretch out and it is important to get on top of them.
It is time to order or buy your seed potatoes right away as they will need time to chit before they are planted out. It doesn’t really matter how you do this and I prefer to put them in egg boxes on a window ledge. It is important to keep the frost away from earlies which can be planted out by the end of the month, so cover any shoots with fleece or straw. Onions and shallots can also be planted out in a sunny well drained spot. Again, this should be done towards the back end of the month when temperatures are potentially going to have risen more evenly. The young sets should be buried up to their necks and protected from marauding birds especially pigeons which like to pull them up.
Finish your pruning now if you haven’t done it already. As temperatures rise so does the sap and any shrubs or climbers such as roses, Buddleja, and summer flowering clematis will waste valuable energy putting out new growth only for you to snip it off later.
It is also getting to the end of the time when deciduous or evergreen hedges should be cut as birds will be thinking of nesting. More delicate evergreens like box can be held over until April as they can struggle to recover from pruning if the weather is too cold.
Shrubs which flower in winter or early spring and summer (i.e. before June) such as winter Jasmine, Deutzia or Forsythia should have the old growth thinned by a third. This is because they flower on wood grown the previous season. Leave on enough older growth to provide flowers for this year whilst allowing new growth to take the place of the old and give flowers for next year.
Slugs and snails will be waiting to take advantage of the new growth so don’t delay in using control measures though apply them judiciously in order to avoid harming wildlife and especially bird life. Many will also have been looking covetously at the lawn as a fresh cut can do so much to tidy up a garden. It is important not to do more harm than good so choose a dry day and set your blades high to make the first cut. You are aiming to gently encourage the sward to thicken up rather than beating it into submission. Never remove more than a quarter of the total length of the grass blades. For anybody wishing to start a new lawn the ground should be prepared now by digging and forking over to reduce the soil to a fine tilth. Hold off laying turf if you can or sowing seed as germination will be better once the soil temperature has risen more consistently above 6 degrees centigrade.
All in all there is plenty to get on with, though March should be welcomed by all.