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Month by month – gardening in March

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March is the month of real hope for gardeners as we start to see some sunshine (in amongst the rain and possibly even snow)! If you enjoy growing from seed then this is the month to really get sowing.

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Outside in the veg garden your over winter harvest can be both finishing and just starting, for example, if you planted in the late summer and autumn you could be now be eating spring onions, Swiss chard, winter lettuces, spring cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli in addition to any leeks, parsnips, sprouts and kale that you might still have left.

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In the main garden early irises and snowdrops will be in full bloom, tulips will be pushing through, crocus and daffodils are starting to flower. Primulas will be looking good and shops will be stacked full of gardening equipment and plants.

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It’s a great month for sorting and planting as well as sowing. If you’re sowing in a greenhouse some protection against frosts will be required. In the UK we’ve been known to have frosts until June, so although spring is in the air it can be cold.

It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast so you don’t plant out or prune just before a cold spell.

Here’s a list of things I’ll be doing and some ideas for things you can do:

  • My potatoes are chitting and I’ll plant out at Easter. Early varieties can be planted in now.
  • My windowsills are covered in seed trays and I’m sowing indoors. I’ve sown everything from beetroot to tomatoes. If you haven’t yet sown your chilies or peppers do so now because they can take ages to germinate.
  • I’ll be planting my onion sets either next weekend or the one after. Some of my fellow allotmenteers have them in already and they’ve covered them with green mesh. If you haven’t done so already, you can still plant shallots this month.
  • I’ve just bought a lovely new rhubarb plant and I dug it in this weekend. They love fertile soil so if you have any manure, ‘chicken-poo’ pellets or similar, then plant that in with it and water well. Don’t eat the rhubarb for a couple of years. It will be tempting to eat it next year and especially the year after but it will weaken the plant.
  • Plant raspberry canes and cut any dead canes right down to the ground.
  • Plant strawberries
  • Protect new shoots from slugs – I’m trying spent coffee beans from my local café. Fingers crossed it works!
  • Planning my summer borders. I’m stocking up on summer bulbs to plant out on nice days.
  • Looking after perennials by tidying round them, dividing and ensuring they’re in the right place. A bit of a nudge/move at this time of year will be fine.
  • The lawn is growing so if it’s dry it can be mown.
  • The weeds are also growing and I’ve started hoeing them down before they grow too big.
  • On fresh days I open the greenhouse to air it so it stays mould free.
  • If you’ve got winter shrubs such as dogwood (Cornus) and willow (Salix) cut them back this month and you’ll soon see new shoots coming through.
  • Cut old leaves off hellebores. This helps keep them disease free. I would encourage this because this is probably how I lost mine this year. I just didn’t look after them well enough at all.
  • Keep deadheading pansies and they will last through summer.
  • You can deadhead any daffodills that have finished flowering but don’t cut the foliage down, I tie mine in a loop to keep them tidy.
  • Warm up your soil and keep yourself warm too. It’s really easy to get cold outside at this time of year so wrap up and enjoy :)

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The Garden Smallholder and Not Just Green Fingers  have done some excellent to-do guides this month and if you’re thinking about ideas for your summer borders then Garden in a City has posted some inspiration.

What will you be doing this month? Have you got any top tips for gardening in spring?

Month by month – gardening in February

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I always remember back to a job I had years ago when I used to drive up the motorway home every night. I benchmarked February 10th as being light when I hit the slip road. It doesn’t always happen on that date though but in February I basically live in hope of the light! At the end of this month I’ve usually managed to get up to my allotment after work and I start airing and cleaning the BBQ ready for March, when cooking and eating my evening meal up there becomes normal. This month could bring more snow and bad weather though, so we’re not out of the woods yet…

  1. Buy your seed potatoes and start ‘chitting‘ them by standing them up in trays (egg boxes are perfect) on your windowsill or anywhere light so they start sprouting.
  2. Start warming up the ground where you’ll be planting this year. Cover in polythene, mini poly tunnels or net boxes.
  3. Keep protecting pots of bulbs that haven’t come up yet from squirrels and water-logging. Keep them in your greenhouse, cold frame or a sheltered spot.
  4. Divide up any big clumps of bulbs after they have passed their best – snowdrops are the ideal candidates followed by clumps of grape hyacinths and daffodils next month.
  5. Start sowing chilies, peppers and early tomato varieties indoors or in a greenhouse that you can heat if temperatures plummet.
  6. Once they’ve finished flowering, prune winter flowering shrubs.
  7. Carefully prune fruit trees and certain types of clematis – don’t hard prune anything that flowers in spring.
  8. If your ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged you can plant garlic.
  9. As above, sow broad beans and/or plant out any well-established young broad bean plants that you’ve previously sown under cover.
  10. Go shopping for onion and shallot sets ready for next month, if your ground looks good though you could plant shallots in February. I tend to wait. You can also start sowing onion seeds now, although I prefer planting sets.

If it snows, clear it off tree branches and shrubs (Adam finds this hilarious but just shake the shrubs and use a brush if need be to clear it from tree branches) and if all else fails stay inside and do some sowing! My seed sowing list this month is:

  • Chilies – Anaheim, Jalapeno, Cayenne and ‘Hot Thai Culinary’ from World Kitchen
  • Peppers – Californian Wonder and Ingrid sweet pepper varieties
  • Lobelia – String of Pearls
  • Tomato – Black Russian from Seed Parade
  • Cucumber – Beth Alpha
  • Broad beans – I’ll be sowing straight into the ground outside and planting out the ones I started off in December

The important thing to remember about planting out is that the ground must not be frozen or waterlogged. Don’t do any pruning or planting out just before a period of very cold weather – check the weather forecast for the week ahead first.

The most comprehensive guide I’ve seen this month is on Woolly Green. There’s a video on pruning wisteria if you’ve not done that already and some advice about lawns. I know that some bloggers pruned their wisteria before Christmas. Not Just Green Fingers also has a great guide for the kitchen gardener.

Talking of bloggers, Sue from Green Lane Allotments has listed what she’s sown so far and also done a great post about her new seed delivery. Jo from the Good Life has sown her pepper seeds and onion seeds. My complete seed list for the year is here

Please feel free to add your own February tips and advice. What will you be doing this month?

Month by month – gardening in January

berries_in_snowMy friends and colleagues are always asking me what they should/could be doing each month and January has been no exception. I feel slightly uncomfortable starting this new series since there’s a ton of books out there that give wonderful month by month guides to gardening and there’s some great websites too, including Gardeners World and the RHS and of course plenty of other blogs written by passionate gardeners who have brilliant advice. Please feel free to add your own tips, ideas and advice and hopefully all our friends and colleagues will benefit!

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1. When it’s cold outside and you want to be indoors check out seed catalogues and read books! Now is a good time to start thinking about what you will grow, going through your seed collection and starting to plan your garden. I’ve organised my seeds in zip lock bags, sorted by each month.

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2. Sow indoors. Not everyone has a greenhouse and not everyone can heat their greenhouse so start sowing on your windowsill. January can be really poor for light so if you really don’t have a bright or sunny spot then you don’t have to do this, most folk start in March. I’m a massive fan of starting my seeds indoors though and some things you can try are:

  • Early tomatoes such as Mr. Fothergills Red Cherry. If you have a heated propagator set them off in there now and when they start coming through we should have better light conditions. Be warned, they can be leggy if sown now though but tomatoes are very robust. If you are raring to go, then try it, better still wait until February or March. I will be sowing some end of Jan/start of Feb because I want some early varieties.
  • Autumn Leeks like the Mammoth Variety I’m growing right now.
  • Broadbeans – again, start them indoors and you will have some really strong and healthy plants to plant out in March. They will start to grow big though so be prepared to pot them on. If you haven’t got the time or space then wait and sow them direct in March.
  • You can also check out what I’ve got ‘growing on‘.

3. You can plant garlic outside but only when the ground is frost free and not waterlogged. Digging frozen or wet ground can damage your soil structure. With this current cold snap it’s probably best to wait now until March unless you’re in a blessed part of the country or the world where mildness prevails!

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4. Potter and clean things. On a crisp but frosty day take your flask of coffee (or if you’re like me your flask of Baileys Hot Chocolate or a nice tea) and potter around. Any bulbs you have in pots should be in cold frames or sheltered from bad weather, including rain, some bulbs don’t like to be waterlogged. Clean your greenhouse with hot soapy water – that’ll warm your hands! Fungus can grow in your greenhouse so it’s important to ventilate it in this weather too. Shake snow off branches and when everything is bare in the garden it’s a great time to tidy around and visualise where you will plant things and what changes you might make over the coming months.

5. Certain bits of pruning can be done now. I only know about Apples and Pairs but I never do them when it’s frosty, snowing or completely frozen like now as that can be harmful to them. So wait for the next mild spell and that would be a good time. I expect that rule applies to other trees and woody shrubs. Best to check that one!

6. Plant trees, hedging and roses. Never plant a rose where another one once was. It can lead to disease. Dogwood seems to be flavour of the month this year and it does look utterly brilliant. Again, avoid digging barerooted plants in when it’s really very cold weather. Wait for it to thaw out somewhat first. This is to protect the soil and give the plant a good start for it’s roots.

7. Feed the birds. They will be very grateful.

8. Plan your crop rotation. This is what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks.

9. Order your seed potatoes for chitting next month.

10. If all else fails and snow continues to fall, then go for a nice walk and take photos :)

rotten_snowy_cabbagesThis is why I don’t grow much over winter, rotten cabbages don’t look great even when covered in snow

Can you think of anything else? Please feel free to link up to your posts if you have any winter / January advice. Happy gardening!

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