Meteorologically speaking, we’re now into spring and we’ve certainly had a taste of some spring-like weather recently with the bright sunshine lifting our spirits and enticing us outside to begin this year’s gardening. But with wild winds and rain forecast it looks like we’re in for some unsettled weather, so make the most of any sunshine and be ready to retreat back indoors!
March is a lovely month. Daffodils are at their best and fritillaries, hellebores, late crocuses and the first tulips all bring celebrated colour to pots and spring borders. Buds are opening and new growth is pushing up through the ground. When the sun is shining, there’s a real urge to get outside and stuck into garden chores. But do try and avoid any vigorous clearing and tidying for a while longer, especially if you’re in a more northern part of the country, as some wildlife may still be sheltering. Many insects including solitary bees and butterfly pupae overwinter in garden debris, the hollow stems of plants and leaf-litter, so it’s best to wait until temperatures are consistently mild and creatures have emerged before clearing it away.
Seed sowing really gets underway this month and unless the weather is still very cold, sowing outdoors can begin. It’s a good time to prepare seed beds, warming the soil with cloches if necessary and do watch out for any night-time frosts.
There’s plenty to sow and grow in the kitchen garden this month. Sunny window sills are brimming with little green seedlings and the first seeds are sown outdoors. Growth is beginning to take off and some autumn-planted crops including salads, swiss chard and spinach beet will be ready to pick. You might also be able to harvest early-varieties of purple sprouting broccoli, spring cabbages and cauliflowers.
Sow tender crops indoors. Aubergines, chillies, sweet peppers and tomatoes can be grown on sunny windowsills this month. All these plants originate from hot climates and need as long a season as possible to ripen fully, so sow them somewhere warm now.
Sow outside: In most areas, you can start sowing the following seeds outside: beetroot, brassicas, broad beans, cabbage, carrots, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, radishes, spring onions spinach and turnips. Use cloches for protection if the weather is still cold and in cooler areas of the UK wait until the end of March or April before direct sowing outside.
Plant garlic, onion and shallot sets.
Plant early potatoes. If you started chitting a batch of first early potatoes at the beginning of the year then they will be ready to plant this month.
Top-dress overwintered crops. Give autumn-planted crops such as onions and cabbages a boost with some rich garden compost.
Sow salad leaves. Lettuces and cut-and-come-again salad leaves (mizuna, mustard, rocket and salad bowl lettuces) can all be sown undercover.
Sow hardy herbs. Direct sow chervil and chives outside. Sow coriander, dill, fennel and parsley undercover, or outside later in the month when the weather is warmer.
Plant up herbs pots. Plant up pots of mint, rosemary, tarragon and thyme.
Divide chives. Lift large clumps with a fork and divide them into smaller clumps. Replant into soil that has had some organic matter added.
Top-dress perennial herbs. Give herbs outside a top dressing of garden compost to boost growth. For container-grown herbs, remove the top 5-10cm of compost and replace it with a fresh potting mix.
Protect fruit trees and bushes from frost. Spring frosts can damage new buds, shoots and flowers. Keep an eye on the weather and cover blossoms with fleece on cool nights.
Mulch fruit trees and bushes. Remove any weeds and mulch with well-rotted manure, or garden compost.
Plant new strawberry plants.
Plant new hedges. March is a good time to plant a hawthorn or mixed native hedge as plants establish better when the soil is warming up.
Prune roses. Bush and shrub roses can be pruned now (climbers are usually pruned in the autumn). The aim is to create a healthy framework of shoots that will produce a good display of flowers. First, remove any dead or damaged wood. Then, cut out any shoots that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Finally, prune back the flowering wood. The method for this varies depending on the type of rose so look up the detailed pruning advice for specific types. Always prune to an outward-facing bud. Mulch around roses after pruning.
Prune winter stems. Dogwoods and shrubby willows that are grown for their colourful stems can be pruned now. The best stem colour is produced by one-year-old shoots so prune them back to about one or two buds of last year’s growth to leave a stubby framework.
Renovate climbers. If you have any climbers that have got out of hand, now is a good time to tackle them. Honeysuckles, rambling roses and winter jasmines can all be cut back hard.
Plant new climbers.
Feed plants with garden compost. Plants will be coming into growth this month so give them a spring boost with some garden compost.
Lift and divide perennials. March is a good time to lift and divide overgrown clumps of summer-flowering herbaceous perennials.
Take basal cuttings of perennials. Now is the time to take basal cuttings of phlox, delphiniums and other herbaceous perennials.
Lift and divide snowdrops and aconites. Do this when they are ‘in the green’, just after they have finished flowering.
Sow hardy annuals. Calendula, cerinthe, cornflowers, nigella and scabious can all be sown indoors now and outside, towards the end of the month/early April.
Plant summer-flowering bulbs. Crocosmia, freesias, gladioli and lilies.
Plant dahlia tubers in pots undercover.
Deadhead spring bulbs later in the month. Remove spent flower heads from daffodils, grape hyacinths and tulips, leaving the foliage to die down naturally. (The foliage feeds the bulbs for next spring so it’s important not to cut it down.)
Begin Mowing. In most parts of the country, grass will be steadily growing now. Set the blades at their highest setting for the first few cuts and even if you tend to leave the clippings on the lawn in summer, it’s a good idea to leave the box on the mower in spring so that air, rain and fertiliser can get down into the turf.
Continue to aerate. If you haven’t already, aerate your lawn as necessary using a garden fork to spike holes across its surface, every 15cm or so. Immediately after aerating, spread some horticultural sand over the area and work it into the holes with a stiff broom. This prevents the holes from closing up too quickly, improving the drainage.
Repair damaged edges. To repair a broken edge, cut out the damaged portion of the lawn and turn it around - rotating by 180° - before replacing it so that the straight, undamaged edge lines up with the existing lawn edge. Then fill in any hollows with soil and sow new grass seed on top.
Remember to keep off the grass in frosty weather!
Put the chemicals away and grow an organic lawn. An organic lawn can feed birds and insects, host a diversity of flowers, and you can still mow, sit or play on it. Check out these tips from Garden Organic on maintaining a lawn organically.
Don’t be too tidy! It’s tempting to get out there and have a good tidy up of the garden but there may still be creatures overwintering. Stay clear of any known hibernation spots and leave dead vegetation in place until the weather is consistently mild. Don’t turn the compost or dig out finished compost until the warmer weather, when hedgehogs, toads and other animals have emerged from their winter sleep.
Leave ponds alone. Some wildlife may still be hibernating and if you’re lucky enough to have frog spawn, it’s best left undisturbed. Leave any tidying up of the ponds until mid-April when tadpoles have hatched and overwintering wildlife has woken up.
Keep feeding the birds. Many birds are now nesting and some begin laying so keep feeders topped up with calorie-rich food such as sunflower hearts and fat balls.
Put up a bee nesting box. Build or buy a ready-made home for solitary bees.
Grow nectar-rich plants for pollinators.
Daffodils Photo by Mike Cassidy on Unsplash