March can never be described as predictable. After Spring seemed to be rapidly unfolding; winter had more surprises up its sleeve; covering some parts of the country with snow and others battered by high winds and floods with Storm Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, reminding us to be cautious with our gardening practises...if we can get out there to do any gardening!
Even with weather challenges, many plants are looking spectacular at the moment. Magnolia buds have burst into flower, Camellia's put in a breathtaking colourful show and bulbs have gone ballistic!
Narcissus, muscari, and hyacinths are in full swing with tulips fast on the way. Green foliage is finally littered with colour.
So many shrubs and perennials are looking fabulous now. From Daphne to Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’ Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Skimmia japonica and Clematis armandii, flowers, foliage and scent flood the garden with many buds breaking leaf as with Acers.
Time for a satisfying Spring clean in the garden. Rake up fallen leaves to prevent fungal spores spreading but try and resist disturbing the soil too much if you do not need too. I discovered some incredible mycorrhizal fungi happily spreading its network of veins under years and years of leaf litter and some stunning gall covered leafs. Little miracles of nature hiding just below the surface.
Cut back the last of the herbaceous perennial old stems such as Hylotelephium spectabile
(formerly called Sedum spectabile) and dead head old seed heads such as hydrangeas
They have done a great job over winter protecting the stems and providing fabulous architectural shapes when covered in frost but the big buds are back and beginning to bloom so cut off the dead heads, back to a pair of fat healthy buds.
Finally cut back any last Miscanthus grasses you have been hanging on to. They do provide wonderful winter interest but it is important to cut back the grasses before all the new growth reappears.
Plant summer flowering bulbs, tubers, corms and rhizomes for a colourful display this year. Try gladioli, crocosmia, lilies, dahlias, cannas and bergonias.
Check overwintered dahlia tubers. Remove any material that has rotted. By mid March they will be ready to pot on.
Find a suitable sized pot with plenty of space for shoots to develop and cover the tuber in multi-purpose compost. Again store in a frost-free area such as a garage or greenhouse until the dahlia tubers are ready to plant outside early June in their final summer sanctuary.
Plant out any forced bulbs; hyacinths, daffodils. allow foliage to die back.
Lift and divide over grown perennials clumps and snowdrop bulbs.
March is a perfect time for mulching, as long as the soil is not frozen or covered in snow. I use homemade compost on most of the gardens I work in but a word of caution...
Last year I emptied a compost heap, applied all the contents to flower beds and was just about to clear up when I decided one clod had not broken down well so moved it, only to find, hiding underneath a fabulous juvenile female slow worm - playing dead! What a surprise. I returned her safe and sound to her former warm home. Thankfully she was completely unharmed just perhaps a little grumpy at being disturbed.
Enriching your soil before commencing planting this season by adding organic matter like garden compost, leaf mould or well-rotted manure boosts the soil's nutrient content, improves its structure and helps retain moisture. I am very lucky to have a local supplier of superb well-rotted horse manure, teaming with worms.
Top dress containers. If plants have been in the same container for a long period of time then it is a good idea to renew the soil completely, your plant will not perform if the soil is exhausted!
Seed sowing for edibles is well and truly underway. If you have a greenhouse you can start off tomatoes, beetroot, peas, courgettes, salad and herbs. There's nothing more rewarding than eating your own produce. You can start to pull early varieties of rhubarb such as 'Timperley Early.' Yum!
I planted broad beans back in October and they are now huge. Great to see them grow.
Sow annuals indoors: dahlia 'Bishop's Children is a good choice and will produce flowers this year and tubers to lift, also try marigolds, zinnia, pansies, asters and verbena.
Many hardy annuals can be direct sown such as poppies, cosmos, cornflowers, calendula, antirrhinum and wildflower mixes.
See my article regarding direct sowing annuals at: Richard Jackson's Garden website 'Which annuals should I grow?'
Now is the perfect time to tackle annual and perennial weeds. As borders will be fairly clear you can truly see the structure of your garden and where problem areas lie. Great opportunity for digging up the roots of perennial weeds before they take hold; just take care to avoid all the spring bulbs and seedlings making an appearance now.
Many trees and shrubs can be pruned this month once they have finished flowering: Jasminum nudiflorum (winter flowering Jasmine), Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle), Cotinus (smoke tree/bush), Eucalyptus, hardy Fuchsia, Hebe, Hypericum, Mahonia, Perovskia, Sambucus nigra (hard prune to encourage good foliage), Vinca and buddleja.
Coppice Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) to ensure vivid winter stems next year.
Still time to plant bare root roses but hurry! This is a cost effective way to buy roses and you will often find there are more varieties of bare root roses available than potted, it is a good way to increase your collection. This year I have three new additions to my garden, old English scented roses: ‘Munstead Wood,’ ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ and ‘Spirit of Freedom’ and I cannot wait to see and smell the blooms.
Finish pruning roses. You can really rejuvenate a plant with a good prune as this stimulates new growth. Cut out all dead, diseased or cross stems as these rub and will cause damage. With sharp secateurs cut approximately 5mm above, slanting away from a strong outward facing bud so rainwater runs straight off the stem.
I always think of pruning as sculpting as you are orchestrating the plant to grow in the direction you want. Rather than a paint brush the artist is armed with secateurs. The art of pruning. Creating a good solid shape and the new stems should produce lots of wonderful flowers.
Start watering indoor plants more regularly, they will also benefit now from a feed. Just be aware that most houseplants suffer from problems with over watering rather than under watering.
Check overwintering pelargoniums. Cut out any dead material. Pot up in fresh compost and water.
Ensure birds have access to water and food. Crack surface of frozen bird baths if necessary.
Keep an eye on ponds. Believe it or not pond weed can already start to build up and starve the water of light and oxygen; if so grab a stick and gently remove excess amounts. Remember to leave the weed on the side of the pond so wildlife caught in the weed can return to the water.
Check under and around pots for slugs and snails. The new generation are beginning to emerge. You can 're-home' them to your bug hotel rather than letting them run a mock on your new shoots.
Tidy up the greenhouse. Wash pots. Service and sharpen tools.
If you need any tips on servicing tools, check out my diary post: Renovating Secateurs
Mend any broken garden structures. Restock plant food. Be prepared!
Hellebores are still going strong. They truly are a fabulous hardy evergreen perennial plant to have in the garden. Great value for money as they flower for such a long period of time exactly when you need a bit of colour in your life to survive winter.
They are ideal for dappled shade and under planting or if you really want those intricate flower heads to be showed off to their full glory and you have the space then plant on a shady terraced garden or raised bed so you looking up towards their droopy heads.
Mulch with organic matter or bark if not already done so.
The days are finally getting longer and with that extra light and warmth every day brings new blooms and treasures emerging from the soil. Enjoy all the new discoveries nature has to offer.
All photos taken by Debi Holland © 2020