For me, the overriding feeling in March is one of ‘almost there’. The frosty mornings and biting winds are still very much a part of being out in the garden but the longer days and milder spells, allied with the garden as a whole awakening from it’s deep slumber, makes it such an exciting month. Whilst anything that blooms in January and February is generally revered, almost as if it’s a lone beacon of hope, it feels like everything in the garden in March is about to burst and just raring to go.
Hopefully, you’ll be on top of all the loose ends and can now start concentrating on some ‘real’ gardening. I’m pretty much holed up in the potting shed for most of the month – sowing seed, pricking out, potting on, usually with the burr of the radio for company and a mug of tea close to hand. In fact there’s so much to do wherever you look – sowing, planting, as well as lots of pruning to get done.
Enjoy your garden this month. Winter’s pretty much gone, spring is here, and the downhill sprint to summer is stretched out all before us….
March sees windowsills, greenhouses and propagators groaning under the weight of seed trays and pots. Now is the time to sow a whole manner of bedding plants including Tagetes, Allysum, Cosmos, Nicotiana, Impatiens, Verbena and Petunias.
For the less experienced or time-rich, buy plug plants and grow them on at home – you’ll save a great deal over buying trays of bedding in a month or two.
Last chance now to sow sweet peas. Continue to sow perennials and grasses.
Pot up overwintered Dahlia tubers into pots of multipurpose or buy new tubers from garden centres. Keep in a warm spot and take cuttings from new shoots to flower this year. It’s a great way of propagating these now desirable garden plants for free, cuttings taken now will have little impact on the plants performance thereafter.
Take cuttings of Pelargoniums, Fuchsias and Chrysanthemums too.
Lift and divide established perennials
Soil conditions are perfect for this now. Lift, split and replant older clumps before everything in beds and borders really gets going.
Plant up spring containers
Garden centres and nurseries will now be awash with spring bedding and bulbs in flower. Brighten up areas close to the house with pots and troughs – refresh compost, add slow release fertilizer and let your creative instincts run riot! Containers planted up now will provide interest for the next couple of months and can then be given over to summer bedding come early May.
Deadhead all bedding plants to keep them flowering.
Cut back grasses
Ornamental grasses should be cut back asap if you’ve not already done so. Cut to the base, avoiding new shoots where possible.
Pampas grass should also be cut back hard. Old, neglected specimens can be set alight to, clearing out debris and reinvigorating the plant. Be careful though, they go up fast!
Get on top of perennial weeds
Root out perennial weeds such as dandelions, thistles and nettles as you see them. Spray the real nasties (couch, bindweed, ground elder etc) as and when they appear with a glyphosate-based weedkiller.
Sow hardy annuals
Including Calendula, Nigella, Limnathes and Eschscholzia as a cheap and colourful way to fill gaps in beds and borders. Broadcast sow over a fine tilth or sow in rows to thin later on. Water in and net from birds until they germinate.
Feed spring bulbs
As bulbs finish flowering, treat them to a feed to help bulk up for next year. Use a powdered, granular or liquid feed on clumps in pots, beds and borders, as well as those naturalised in grass.
Make a note to lift and divide in the autumn those flowering poorly– they may be overcrowded and coming up ‘blind’. Deadhead spent flowers to conserve the bulbs energy for next year.
Pot up summer bulbs and tender perennials
Including Eucomis, Begonias, Gloxinia, Lilies, Cannas and Agapanthus. Keep frost-free in a well-lit spot to steal a march on spring. All can go outside from early May in milder areas.
Cut back ferns
Ferns can be cut back now to make way for the new fronds. I cut back all the foliage of even the evergreens, freeing up space for healthy new foliage to unfurl.
Plant snowdrops ‘in the green’
As well as winter aconites as per last month. Lift and divide established clumps whilst in full leaf before replanting.
Trees and shrubs
Hard prune dogwoods, willow and ornamental brambles
These fast-growing shrubs are given their annual prune this month to grow on and provide winter interest through their colourful stems next year. ‘Stool’ plants back to 1’, cutting above a pair of buds. Shred and compost stems where possible or use as hardwood cutting material.
Prune other shrubs and trees
The likes of Buddleja davidii, Sambucus nigra, Eucalyptus gunnii, Lavatera, Cotinus, Paulownia, and Catalpa can be coppiced now back to a regular framework. All are fast growing and such hard pruning will enhance their foliage over the coming season.
Prune the likes of Spiraea japonica, Santolina, Caryopteris, Perovskia, Ceratostigma and Hardy Fuchsias back to breaking buds 1’ – 18” from the ground.
Towards the end of the month, completely remove old, tired stems of bush Hydrangeas, cutting back newer stems to the first pair of healthy buds.
Finish rose pruning
All roses should be pruned by the end of the month before buds begin to break. As always, prune out dead, diseased or damaged growth first, look to create an open framework and cut above an outward-facing bud. Invest in a pruning book if you’re unsure as to any spring pruning – it’ll be a handy reference guide for years to come.
Start spraying roses for pests and diseases as soon as leaves emerge. Spraying is essential early in the season.
As per last month. Only prune those in groups 2 and 3. Early flowering (group 1) clematis such as C.armandii, cirrhosa and montana var’s are pruned after flowering – see next month.
Trim winter heathers
Take the shears to winter flowering heathers as the flowers fade, trimming all over. Avoid cutting into old wood as it usually fails to recover.
Move evergreens and conifers
March is an ideal time to move evergreens. Move with as big a root ball as possible, water in well and mulch generously. Some evergreens might be cut back to reduce moisture loss, be careful doing so with conifers though. Install a windbreak on exposed sites.
Start sowing outdoors
March is an extremely busy time in the kitchen garden. A whole manner of crops can be directly sown now, including parsnips, cabbages, chard, spinach, beetroot, carrots, broad beans and peas. Use cloches in colder areas or keep fleece on hand for draping over rows of emerging seedlings on colder nights.
Continue sowing indoors
Tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, aubergines, salad leaves, sweetcorn, leeks, sweet peppers and brassicas can all be sown under glass. Keep in a bright, warmish spot, looking to move into a coldframe or unheated greenhouse as the weather improves. I raise the majority of my veg in modules these days – it takes a little planning but higher success rates and fewer losses to pests makes it all worthwhile.
Continue with compost trenches
For the hungry and thirsty legumes ready for sowing next month.
Work manure into the soil where the likes of celery, squashes and pumpkins are to grow. Avoid adding manure now where root crops are to grow – it’s likely to cause roots to fork and impact on yields.
Clear away old crops
Clear and compost any plant debris still lying about, remove the roots and stems of brassicas. Harvest the remaining parsnips, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli.
Mild spells will see a rash of annual weeds crop up all over the place. Hoe off the likes of chickweed, cleavers, speedwell, forget-me-nots and spurge on a dry day, composting them if rain’s due. I prefer a draw hoe. With so much bare soil around, a quick whiz around with it once a week keeps on top of things.
Plant first early potatoes
First earlies can be planted now in milder areas, approximately 12-18” apart, in rows 18-24” apart. Add a sprinkling of blood, fish and bone to trenches to get them off on the right footing. Alternatively, try growing potatoes in containers.
Shallots, Jeruslaem artichokes and asparagus may also be planted now, second earlies from the back end of the month.
Sow green manures
Over ground earmarked for tender crops not to be planted out until May/June. Plump for fast-growing mustard or clover, which can be dug into the soil in a couple of months time.
Cover other vacant ground with plastic sheeting or fleece to warm it up until required.
Tend to summer raspberries
Tip prune any showing signs of frost damage. Space canes evenly and tie onto supports. Any overly long shoots can be bent down and tied in. All autumn fruiting canes should be cut to the base by now to be replaced by fresh canes this year.
Look to net all soft fruit by the end of the month to stop the likes of bullfinches pecking at fruit buds.
Remove up to a fifth of the oldest, most unproductive wood. Mulch with ericaceous compost, pine needles or composted stable manure, or add sulphur chips so as maintain a low pH (acidic).
Finish pruning currants and gooseberries right away as buds will be breaking anytime now.
Keep a watchful eye out for fungal diseases attacking fruit trees and bushes. Use a fungicide to treat the likes of scab and powdery mildew in order to protect new shoots and flower buds. Check labels – some are fine for organic control.
Feed fruit trees and bushes
As per last month. Use wood ash from bonfires or wood burners or sprinkle sulphate of potash around the base of plants/along rows of cane fruits. Water in if dry and mulch all fruit if you’re yet to do so.
Prune fan trained figs
Prune main shoots to fit their allotted space. Tie in new growth and cut back surplus wood to one or two buds.
As per last month - cloches or fleece will bring forward harvest times (leave partly open to allow pollinators in). Consider planting different varieties to stagger harvests over the summer rather than having them all fruit at once. Plant up strawberry planters if you’re short of room.
Lay/sow new lawns
See September’s advice. March and April are ideal months for creating new lawns as it’s typically damp and mild. As with all new lawns, preparation is key so don’t be tempted to skimp on it!
Look to repair worn out patches by sowing seed.
Treat lawns to a spring feed this month or next. They’re high in nitrogen, giving grass an instant boost.
Areas of lawn prone to compaction and/or waterlogging will benefit greatly from a little TLC. Use a garden fork for smaller areas or hire an aerator. Brush a mixture of sharp sand and top soil into the holes to get the lawn off to a great start for the year ahead.
Apply a selective weedkiller
Late March is the ideal time to apply a powdered or granular selective weedkiller. Weed out perennials such as dandelions by hand, removing all traces of root to stop it regrowing.
Start regular mowing
Although I’m a great believer in mowing the lawn year-round (weather permitting), milder spells will see lawns in need of more regular mowing. Raise the blades to their highest settings and compost the clippings – mulch mowers are great but clippings will break down too slowly just now, and look unsightly.
Clear our the pond
Cut back any dead/decaying foliage. Reposition planting baskets having split and replanted any overgrown ones.
Clean out pumps and filters before plugging in and starting up.
Restock the pond from this month. Always use aquatic compost when planting, incorporate a controlled-release fertilizer and top with grit. Look to create a healthy balance of oxygenating plants along with water lilies, deep water aquatics and marginals.
Herbs such as coriander, parsley, basil, chives, rocket, marjoram and lemongrass might be sown now - provide bottom heat where possible. For herbs prone to bolting, look to sow little and often for regular supplies right through to autumn. In my mind, fresh herbs are ridiculously overpriced in supermarkets, easy to grow yourself and extremely rewarding.
Dill, coriander, rocket and chervil may be direct-sown outdoors in milder areas.
Divide large clumps
Of perennial herbs such as catnip, chives, thyme, marjoram and lovage. Pot up spare divisions for cropping on windowsills or give away to family and friends.
Gear up the greenhouse
Remove bubble wrap previously put up, clean glazing both inside and out, wash down frames and staging. Open up doors and vents on warm days and keep an eye out for pests and diseases – warmer weather always results in pests becoming more prevalent.
Clean decking, paths and patios
Damp, cold weather and a lack of strong sunlight leaves hard standing areas looking a little grubby at this time of year. Use a stiff brush and detergent, or, better still, a pressure washer, to get your paths and patios looking good for the year ahead. As well as looking all the better for it, they’ll be less slippery with all that moss and algae blasted away.
Keep paths and patios weed free
As the weather warms up, both annual and perennial weeds will begin to colonise ‘utility’ areas. Apply a residual weedkiller (one which stays active in the soil) now to stop them taking hold. Use a knapsack sprayer for larger areas, being careful if spraying near desirable plants. Repeat every 10 weeks or so until mid autumn to keep such areas weed free.
Check plant supports
Walk both ornamental areas and the veg plot on a mild day and do a rough count as to plant supports needed for the growing season. Order in new supports – recent wet summers have flattened herbaceous perennials and annuals - supports should go in place this month/next.