Greenbelt

March Gardening With Agnes

Now that March is here the first daffodils are set to open their yellow trumpets and herald the start of spring. The days are beginning to lengthen and soon the garden will begin to stir.

This is the time to start getting ready for the growing season ahead by digging over the vegetable patch and raking the surface to a fine tilth in order to produce a seed bed. It is still too cold to sow seeds directly into the ground, but covering the earth with polythene will keep it dry and help to warm it up.

You can also make good use of a sunny windowsill by starting off sweet peas, and hardy annual flowers in small pots and if you sow a succession of salads then you’ll have an early taste of homegrown produce.

You don’t need a huge garden in order to grow your own food. By being resourceful you can turn even a small patio into a productive plot. Large containers and even old compost sacks, rolled down to make them sturdier, can be used for growing everything from potatoes to carrots and onions. Peas and beans can be trained up a fence and strawberries and cherry tomatoes will thrive in hanging baskets if they are kept in a sunny spot and watered twice a day.

Vegetables grow best when there are plenty of flowers around to attract pollinating insects and deter pests and your garden will look all the prettier for being filled with blooms.

If you do start off your annual flowers indoors or in a greenhouse, then they will flower earlier but you will need to care for them while they grow. Once the seeds have sprouted and have produced several leaves, each seedling should be pricked out and potted on into a larger container. You’ll need to do this several times before the small plants are ready to go into the ground, at which stage you should harden them off by moving them outside during the day and under cover at night for a couple of weeks.

While seedlings are sprouting there are other jobs to get underway in March including setting out your defences against slugs and snails. Hungry molluscs just love young, tender foliage, so surround hostas and other susceptible plants with a ring of something gritty, such as sand or crushed egg shells. At the same time keep your eyes open for where perennials are starting to sprout and put supports in place now.

You can either buy fancy metals ones or make your own from twiggy branches or woven willow, but either way these frameworks will soon disappear under the rush of fresh growth.

March can be very cold which can be frustrating on days when you went to get on with tasks outdoors. One way of keeping cheerful is by digging up primroses and daffodils and potting them up in attractive containers and also by cutting a few branches of flowering currant and pussy willow. Once in the warmth these will open quickly and bring a touch of early spring indoors.

Let's get busy!

Look out for weeds beginning to grow and remove these immediately.

Chit potatoes before planting, lining them up in egg boxes until shoots appear.

Cut back branches of Lavatera and Buddleia almost to ground level. They will soon produce vigorous new growth.

Finish pruning roses, reducing them by a third and cutting just above an outward facing bud.

Scrub moss from paths and patios and wash down outdoor furniture.

Split up and replant congested clumps of snowdrops.

Give daffodils a foliar feed as they come into flower to strengthen the bulbs for next year’s show.

Agnes Stevenson