Jo’s Garden Corner – March


March is the month when things really start to begin in the garden. In fact the start of the year used to be the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March until 1752 in Britain, when we adopted the Gregorian calendar and started our year on 1 January. The weather can vary but what really matters is to get your garden shipshape after winter, preparing the soil, sorting out equipment, splitting and dividing perennials as they grow but most importantly to enjoy your garden and everything that it can offer. Any leeks left standing should come up now – if you have a surplus you can freeze them for use in soups and stews.  Parsnips too should come up in early March before they try and re-grow.  And don’t forget to keep checking the purple sprouting!  If the weather permits you can now plant your onion and shallot sets. March is usually the right time to establish an asparagus bed if you are starting from crowns. From mid March you can start planting those early potatoes you’ve had chitting and you can also plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers now.  Vegetable seeds that can be sown this month include beetroot, early peas, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, radish, parsnips, and early turnips.  Parsnips especially can germinate erratically. Parsnips seed fails when it’s cold and wet so ideally use a patch of pre-warmed soil that drains well. Light sandy soil is perfect; heavy clay can be more of a challenge. If you have any horticultural fleece, you can peg that onto the ground a week or so before you plant. The small rise in temperature of the soil can make a big difference to germination success. Of course if you have a polytunnel you may well have already sown many of these varieties to give them a head start.  Your windowsill or a propagator in the greenhouse will come into use now to start off your tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers. Summer cabbages, early cauliflowers, and early carrots will do best under a cloche. If you set your cloche up a week or two beforehand, it will warm up the soil so you will get even better results. Many of the crops you can sow directly will also benefit from cloching, especially if you start off seeds in modules in a cool greenhouse or coldframe and then plant out later.  There is still time to finish planting bare root fruit trees and bushes, especially raspberries and other cane fruits.  Early this month you can prune apple and pear trees while they are still dormant. It’s also time to prune gooseberries and currants. With currants shorten the sideshoots to just one bud and remove old stems from the centre of the bushes.  They’ll benefit from some compost spread around the base as well. March is also the time to divide snowdrops while they are still in the green. They will establish better this way than planted as bulbs in autumn. Loosen the soil around your chosen clump of snowdrops with a handfork and carefully lift it. Pull the clump apart slowly and gently with your hands and divide into smaller groups for replanting. Plant at the same depth as before into a hole with compost forked into the base and water well. Also remove the faded flowers of daffodils by snapping off the flowerhead with your hand to stop the plant producing seed. Leave the foliage as the plants need to be in leaf to take in nutrients to feed the bulb to ensure a good display next year. Old trees and shrubs in pots need a lift to encourage healthy growth. Scrape away the top 5cm of compost from the pot to remove weeds, algae and young seedlings.  Spent compost and annual weeds can be composted so nothing goes to waste. Add some slow release fertiliser granules to the compost and top up the pot with is new compost leaving a 1cm gap below the rim to ensure the compost doesn’t overflow when you water it. To prepare bare patches of soil for planting with bedding in April, simply fork through the soil to remove weeds, debris and to loosen compacted areas. Then fork compost or well rotted manure into the soil to help it retain moisture and nutrients. You can also fork in a general fertiliser such as fish, blood and bone at this stage to make the ground more fertile and give plants a good start.