March’s gardening must do’s!
I’m not the kind of gardener to tend the soil in freezing December, or do some magnificently forward-planning pruning (to be fair, calling me any kind of gardener is taking a liberty really). But when the daffs come out and the stilettos no longer sink into the grass like it’s quicksand, I tip toe out in the garden with my spade, hoe and rake, place them neatly in a row and then *cough*, have a nice long coffee and almond croissant in the sunshine…Oh come on, I can’t be the only one!
Well, maybe you’re a bit more gung-ho in the jardin than me, in which case this is the perfect time to get to perform emergency surgery on your poor neglected plants and flowers.
The tips this month come from garden designer Richard Key, who’s produced award-winning designs at Chelsea and Hampton Court – impressive, no? – and is an author and a Fellow of the Society of Garden Designers. Over to you, Dicky.
- Birds and the bees
Plan your planting for those heady summer days when bees are humming and butterflies are flitting from flower to flower. Plant out lavender and salvias for the bees, and lilac, buddleia and sedums (iceberg plant) for the butterflies. Don’t forget to plant for the birds too! Berried shrubs such as cotoneaster, ilex (holly) and sambucus (elder) will provide welcome winter food.
2. Mulch the beds
Spring’s here, daffodils are out and though we’ve had a ridiculous amount of rain, it’s a good time to spread a layer of organic material over the beds to keep that moisture in for the dry days which will surely come. Make sure the beds are clear of weeds and remove any dead stalks of last year’s perennials. Rough rake the soil with a fork or garden rake before spreading a layer of well rotted farmyard manure, spent mushroom compost or good garden compost to a depth of two inches (5cm). The mulch will also help reduce too much back-breaking weeding.
3. Pruning dogwood for winter colour
Now’s the time to hard cut those shrubs which provide that vibrant stem colour from autumn through to spring. These are mainly the dogwoods such as the bright crimson stems of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (above) but also shrubby willows like Salix alba ‘Chermesina’. The brightest coloured stems are on new wood, so the plants need to be cut to the ground (coppiced) in March to grow up throughout the year and be in full colour in the autumn.
4. The bowling green!
This is the month when the mower comes out, so make sure it’s been serviced and the blades are sharp. Wait till the lawn feels firm enough to walk on and lightly brush or rake off any debris. Set the blades high for the first cut to top the grass and gradually lower them over the coming weeks.
5. In the veg plot
Broad beans, carrots and peas can all be sown outside directly into the ground, as well as early potatoes. The new growth from these and other early plants will still need to be covered for protection from nighttime frost by cloches or fleece, which should be removed during the day.