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March Gardening – Ready, Steady, Go .. Spring has Sprung!

As I write there is a fabulous change in the weather so mild and I am free from hospital having spent nine days in the RSCH Guildford, after slipping on York Stone flags and breaking my lower right leg.

Eight pins and a plate means three months off work or more, with potentially another op to remove the plate, hey ho, I would like to say a big ‘Thank you’ to all the staff at the hospital.

So now what…….? Enforced incarseration, crutches and a total revaluation of my life, impact on work, family, earnings especially for the coming months. Having spent some time thinking after the initial shock, talking to family and friends I was listening to Radio 2 ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’, Astrology would be worth a try so I phoned and managed to make live airtime with Steve, Tim and Debbie Frank and it transpires as an Aries, Neptune has fallen on my Jupiter, oh er………. Debbie did confirm that I should continue with the writing, I explained my role with Silversurfers.com as Gardening Editor and Steve did ask where the interest of writing comes from? In fact my father Mervyn Mills was an author and playright, writing his own novels and theatre scripts with stars such as Diana Doors and Victor Mature , and also a Senior Air Historian at the Ministry of Defence after the Second World War. Dad passed away fourteen years ago now at the age of 94, and I can only thank him again and again for encouraging me in all aspects of Natural History, Bio-diversity, Bird-Watching, Nature, Gardening, Horticulture and of course being a fantastic father.

March Gardening – Ready, Steady, Go … Spring has Sprung!

So back to the gardening in March, the big change in ten days for me has been quite dramatic with the real signs of Spring, Catkins showing on the Hazel, Pussy Willow on the Willow, the sap is rising and not just in the trees! Snowdrops resplendent, Primroses, hellebores, flowering currants Ribes ‘White Icicle’, Daphnes, Daffodils and buds on Roses………

Lawns

Mowing Grass

Time to start mowing

Grass is starting to grow. If the lawn isn’t too wet, yes you can fire up the mower to the get the grass down and create some stripes back in the lawn, word of caution do not cut the grass too short, keep the cutter at least 30mm of the ground. Some lawns are looking pretty bad after prolonged rain, flooding etc. Moss is seriously bad and can be treated, if you can walk on the lawn and don’t hear the ground squelch underfoot, moss-killers can be applied such as lawn sand, or Evergreen lawn treatment with moss-killer, Scott’s lawn builder plus moss control, and lastly Westland lawn feed weed moss-killer. Please follow the instructions carefully, most will say allow up to two weeks for the treatment to work, and when ready rake the moss out by scarifying, this is best achieved using a springtine rake or hiring a scarifying machine that rips the moss and dead grass or thatch out of the lawn. Be prepared it can look abit of a mess once this is done?

Seed Sowing

Wildflowers in any size garden can offer a beautiful and natural sight during the summer months and offers a wonderful haven for the bumble bees and butterflies, and now is the perfect time to sow. Find an open sunny position preferably, if you wish to sow an existing lawned area, remove the top inch of the turf (grass), and fork over the surface of the soil so you end up with a crumbly texture, and level off with a rake. Next is the ‘Ministry of funny walks’ all over the area, shuffling feet close together forwards and backwards over the whole area to firm the surface well. Lightly rake again to level off, now you can sow the seed, one handful to the square yard/metre. Some seeds are like dust such as red field poppies and can be mixed with dry sand to make the seed go further. Wildflower seeds are available from many companies including – Kings Seeds, Suttons, Thompson & Morgan, Mr Fothergills and Unwins to name a few….. New, Adam Henson’s (countryfile presenter) Conservation Mixtures are available from Johnsons, and Westlands product is ‘Natures Haven Easy Wildflowers’. Lightly rake the seed into the soil. Let nature do the rest. Keep soil surface moist to help germination.

Fruit Trees

Apply fruit tree grease around the stem of Apples and Pears to prevent Codling Moth/Winter Moth, alternatively Greasebands are another way of control, available from any garden centre.

Winter Tree Wash

Do this on all fruit trees only if leaves have not started to show. A good product to use is Vitax Winter Tree Wash.

Peach/Nectarine Leaf Curl

Spray with Copper Fungicide or Bordeaux mixture to prevent blistering of leaves and a reduced crop. Apply now on a dry still day, thoroughly all over the tree and buds, and continue to protect flowers against frost using fleece at night.

Slugs and snails

Slug and snail

Slug and snail

If you apply controls now you will kill off more of the adults before they breed, use sparingly and read all pesticide instructions before use. Organic Controls include, Slug Gone Wool pellets, Slug Rid (contains ferric phosphate), Nemaslug Slug Killer. Non-Organic, Eraza Slug & Snail Killer from Westland.

Other Jobs to do

Winter stem colour, cut-back Willows and Dogwoods (Cornus Alba, Midwinter Fire, Midwinter Beauty, Elegantissima, Kesselringii, Sirbirica etc). If overgrown cut back almost to the ground, they will re-grow with much improved stem colour for next winter, also mulch and feed now.

Feeding & Mulching

The vast majority of plants will benefit from this after the wettest winter. Rain leaches out nutrients, especially on sandy soils, so any organic mulch is like putting the jam or icing on a cake! It also makes the gardens look better and taste better, for the plants I mean! Don’t be too heavy handed if other plants are coming through!

Feeds, Vitax Q4 fertilisers, Scotts Miracle Grow, Westland All Purpose Soluble Plant Food, Bayer Phostrogen All Purpose Plant Food….

Organic feeds such as Vitax Liquid Seaweed, Maxicrop Original Seaweed.

Composts and Mulches

Use your own compost if you make it. Loads of different types available from your local garden centre /nursery. Please ask them for advice too.

Tubs & Containers

Check that the drainage holes are not blocked up and the plant isn’t sitting in water. Gently tip pot onto side and poke a stick or screwdriver up through the drainage holes and pull back upright. Suitable feeds for tubs and hanging baskets are Vitax Tub & Hanging Basket Feed and Miracle Gro All-purpose Continuous Release Plant Food.

Trees & Shrubs

Prune any berried shrubs and shape such as Pyracantha, Hollies and cut back Buddleias, Elaeagnus,winter flowered shrubs but don’t prune daphnes.

Hedges

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Cut back hedges which need it

Cut back now if you didn’t manage it last autumn. Feed with Growmore, hedges always get forgotten and will benefit hugely thickening up in the process. Please avoid cutting back hedges between April and the end of August, as birds maybe nesting!

Vegetables

Masses of seeds can be sown now, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers, Aubergines in the greenhouse with a propagator.

Outside seed sowing and when

The old gardeners use to drop their trousers and pants and sit on the soil, if it felt too cold – it was too early to sow!! These days the back of the hand is considered more practical, hygienic and more accepting by the neighbours!! The last option is to use a soil thermometer, once the soil temperature reaches above 10°c most vegetables will germinate. Cover the vegetable area with fleece or black plastic to warm up the soil, cloches or plastic tunnels also accelerate germination.

Broadbeans, Carrots, Beetroot, Broccoli (sprouting), Calabrese, Brussel Sprouts, Spring Cabbage, Summer & Autumn Cabbage, Celery, Celeriac, Cauliflowers, Kale, KohlRabi, Leeks, Lettuces, Spring Onions, Parsnips, Peas, Rocket, Spinach, Turnips and First Early Potatoes, can all be sown now or planted out.

Onion sets, Shallots and Garlic plant out now. Mice and Pigeons can steal them.  Cover with netting to deter!

Some vegetables such as potatoes, broad beans, runner/climbing beans really need enriched soil. Its worth adding extra fertiliser, compost or manure to feed these hungry vegetables and help retain moisture during the summer months to come. Trenches can be dug for runner/climbing beans, and then filled with layers of newspaper, manure, compost and soil, does make for an amazing crop.

Training & Tying-in Plants

Before the leaf growth comes an ideal opportunity to tidy climbers such as Roses, Clematis, Honeysuckle, and Jasmines etc. Tie into fence panels, trellis or arches and cut out thin and weedy stems leaving pencil thick branches or stems. I generally use string or soft-tie to help with this.

Wildlife

Brown frog and frogspawn

Brown frog and frogspawn

First Queen bumble bees waking up from hibernation. Only the queen survives the winter, she now will look for a suitable hole – mouse hole or even a nest box to set up home and start her brood. She is carrying eggs which were fertilised last autumn so no mating this spring!

Frogs, toads and newts returning to ponds to breed, birds singing and pairing up and the start of the dawn chorus. First emerging butterflies too. These are adults that have emerged also from hibernation that have hatched from their chrysalis at the end of last summer. Butterflies such as Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Brimstone will hide in log piles in a garage or shed or a loft/barn, somewhere dry and cool, and wake up on warmer days, returning to sleep if the weather turns cold. Many butterflies tend to hibernate as a chrysalis and hatch out when the weather is milder at 12-14°C.

Now if you like what I am writing about please say so and leave comments, and for further information about wildlife and gardening, and the first signs of spring, do have a look at the Woodland Trust website and Natures Calendar, which is in fact Phenology – the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, especially in relation to climatic conditions!

Have you seen your own sightings of Spring, first House Martin or Swallow? Frogs, Toads, Newts in your pond? Any hedgehogs seen, these have had a rough winter due to flooding? ……. Let us Know.

 

Happy Gardening and best regards

Peter Mills

Gardening Editor

 

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Peter has spent his life gardening, working in garden centres and advising in all aspects of gardening, wildlife, and bio-diversity in horticulture.He managed Clandon Park Garden Centre in Surrey at the age of 23 and was a gardening radio presenter with the BBC. This continued for 15 years, running live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows.Now self-employed, Peter works on a wide variety of gardens from private to large estates and also concentrating on consultancy and advisory work to fellow gardeners. He works with the RHS Gardening Advice team at Chelsea, Hampton Court, Wisley Flower shows and is an RHS External Gardening Advisor

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