Jobs for the Productive garden in March

As the weather improves, it’s time to start sowing seed and really getting hands on in the productive garden.

Prepare seed beds, covering the ground with clear polythene or fleece to warm the soil.  If you have a light soil you’ll be able to make a start on sowing vegetables soon (when the soil temperature reaches a minimum of 6 degrees).

rhubarb

Plant early potatoes towards the end of March, and plant rhubarb and pot-grown strawberry plants.

onion & shallots

Plant onion sets and shallots.  Sow cucumbers, sweet peppers and tomatoes on a windowsill indoors or in a heated propagator in a frost-free greenhouse.

Protect the blossom of apricots, peaches and nectarines from frost and peach leaf curl by covering with horticultural fleece. Hand-pollinate flowers with a fine brush.

borage

Divide clumps of mint and chives, and sow hardy herbs such as borage outside.  In warmer weather cut back shrubby herbs such as thyme, sage and lavender to new growth.

Sow hardy annuals now too.  If you want to know more about filling gaps in your garden or growing annual cut flowers, read about growing annuals for summer colour here.

Photo credits:  Janet Bligh

Jobs for the garden in March

With signs of spring all around this is a great time to get ahead before your plants put on so much growth that it becomes difficult to get into the borders.

As the temperatures start to rise the weeds will start to grow so try to keep on top of them from the start of the season, and start hoeing as they appear.   Mulching after weeding will save you a lot of time later on (as well as conserving moisture and feeding the soil if you use compost).  Keep an eye on the weather and protect any plants that may be susceptible to frost damage.

And don’t forget to keep putting out food and water for the birds.  If you have been feeding them over the winter then they will have come to rely on the ready source of food.

You may also want to think about getting at least one water butt installed just in case we have a dry summer (!).

TREES & HEDGES
There’s just time to take advantage of the bare-root season, and get any last minute tree and hedge planting done.

SHRUBS & CLIMBERS
To maximize flowering, cut back Hydrangea macrophylla and paniculata varieties to a pair of strong buds below the old flower heads.

Hydrangea by Firgrove Photographic

Remove some of the old stems at the base.

Coppice Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) to ensure you have lots of colourful stems next winter.

Cornus Kesselringii

Hard prune Buddleia davidii, Caryopteris, Leycesteria and Lavatera and other shrubs that flower on the current year’s growth.  This will promote flowering and stop the shrubs getting too unruly.

Cut back up to one third of old flowering stems on winter-flowering shrubs such as Jasmine and Forsythia.

Honeysuckle

Overgrown Honeysuckle should be cut back hard now too. This is also a good time to plant or move evergreen shrubs.

Finish planting roses and prune bush roses from the middle of this month.

PERENNIALS, BIENNIALS & ANNUALS
Sow hardy annuals such as Sweet peas, Nasturtium and Nigella, directly in to well-prepared, well-drained soil.

Digitalis

Sow seeds of perennials and biennials such as Digitalis (foxglove) and Alcea (hollyhock).

BULBS
If your snowdrops are getting overcrowded, divide them when flowering is over but before the leaves die down.

Deadhead fading daffodils leaving the foliage to die back naturally.  Bulbs respond to a bit of TLC too, so feed with a liquid fertiliser every 2 weeks or so, until the foliage disappears.

Split or plant Lily bulbs and plant Gladioli this month too.

LAWN CARE
This is a good time to sort out your lawn when the weather permits –  remove dead leaves & moss, deal with worm casts and molehills and re-define lawn edges.  Aerate the soil with a fork or hollow-tine aerator, brush sharp sand into the holes to improve drainage, and begin mowing if the weather is dry enough with the mowing blade set high.  Lay new turf now too.  Prepare ground for sowing seed this month but delay sowing until April to get the best results.

PESTS & DISEASES
Protect young shoots of perennials such as delphiniums and hostas, from slug and snail damage.  If you don’t want to use slug pellets you can use physical barriers such as slug collars or use copper tape for container plants.  Alternatively you could creep around the garden late at night with a torch and bucket and dispose of the little blighters however you see fit!

Photo credits: Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

How to choose the best hedging plants for your garden

Originally posted on janetbligh:

It’s so nice to have the opportunity to plant hedges along garden boundaries rather than building a fence.  But hedges can also be used within gardens to divide areas or create backdrops for planting – or simply for their own sake. 

If you are planning to plant a traditional hedge this winter (be it formal or informal), time is fast running out as it should be done between November and March while the plants are dormant.  Depending on what type of hedge is wanted, plants are available in a variety of forms.

Mixed native hedging which is deciduous (ie the foliage dies back in winter) is planted as bare-root ‘whips’ – these are basically single stems usually available in a variety of sizes ranging from 60cm in height up to about 1.5m, and planted in staggered rows.  Native planting is used where a more traditional hedge is required (especially appropriate in rural…

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Fabulous plants for February

Colour and flowers are at a premium at this time of year, but there are many plants offering just that in February.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Acer griseum AGM

Acer griseum

Commonly known as the ‘Paperbark Maple’ (for obvious reasons!) Acer griseum is a slow-growing small, spreading tree with very attractive chestnut-brown peeling bark. It is a great ornamental tree for the winter garden ultimately reaching about 5-10 metres in height.  Its leaves start out orange in spring and gradually change colour through pinkish-brown, yellow and dark green until they change in autumn to orange and scarlet.  Acer griseum grows well in full sun or partial shade and is suitable for most soil types but best in a moist but well-drained soil, so it won’t enjoy drought conditions.  It’s fine in acid, alkaline or neutral soils too, and makes a great focal point for a small garden.

Eranthis hyemalis AGM

Eranthis hyemalis

If you yearn for some colour in late winter, then Eranthis hyemalis, commonly known as winter aconites, could be the just the thing for you.  For maximum effect grow them en masse where they will spread around by self-seeding to create a carpet of bright yellow in January and February.  They are very low growing (about 10cm in height) and have very pretty buttercup-like flowers above rich green leaves.  Winter aconites like a fairly rich moist soil (one that doesn’t dry out), and prefer alkaline soils in full sun or part shade.  They’re quite vigorous so probably best grown in groups under deciduous trees and shrubs rather than in a mixed border where they may swamp other more delicate plants.

Helleborus orientalis

Hellebore

I love Hellebores!  They’re such useful plants as, unlike most perennial plants, they have evergreen foliage which makes them invaluable if you’re looking for something small to provide structure in your garden over winter.  What’s more, they are happy in sun or partial shade and they produce really pretty flowers early in the year for a long period – and which fade nicely too.  All in all, a seriously useful plant!   Personally I prefer Helleborus orientalis because the flowers are so lovely.  They come in a variety of colours from white, pinks, and very dark purple-black.  The old leaves should be cut back as they keel over when the flowers and new leaves appear at the base of the plant.

Other easy varieties to grow are Helleborus niger (commonly known as the Christmas rose) with its white winter flowers, and Helleborus argutifolius (the ‘Corsican Hellebore’) which is quite an architectural plant with prickly-edged foliage and pale green flowers which last for months.  Helleborus sternii has very attractive pale green flowers which are tinged with pink (from February to April), and the taller Helleborus foetidus (charmingly known as the ‘stinking Hellebore’!) is better in shade than sun and will reach about 80cm in height.  And of course if you grow a mix of varieties you’ll have flowers from Christmas till May!

Nandina domestica
Evergreen shrubs are invaluable in the depths of winter when there’s not a huge amount going on in most gardens.  But green, green and more green, can get a bit dull!   That’s why I like to grow Nandina domestica because it has very attractive foliage with tints of red in winter.

Nandina domestica

It’s an easy upright and quite elegant shrub, and its common name is ‘Heavenly Bamboo’ which gives a clue about the leaf shape.  New growth in spring is tinted bronzy-red and it has sprays of delicate white flowers in summer, and then bright red berries in autumn, so it’s got a lot to offer.

The dwarf variety Nandina ‘Fire Power’ has quite a different habit in that it’s a compact rounded shrub which makes it a very useful ground cover plant.

Nandina 'Fire Power'

Nandina ‘Fire Power’

In autumn the leaves have tints of brilliant red, and when planted in groups it makes quite a show.

Nandina isn’t too fussy about soil type and does well in sun or some shade – but it can get walloped by very cold weather, so it’s probably best away from very exposed sites.

To read more about other plants which are looking great at this time of year, just click on the links below.
Stachyrus Praecox
Phyllostachys aureocaulis
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Photo credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Stachyrus praecox

Stachyrus praecox