March (and spring in general) is my favourite time of the year. There is so much promise of things to come and new life is bursting into the garden on every level. From the swelling of the buds on the trees, to the flowering of so many perfect bulbs, to the germination of so many seeds, there is plenty to keep our creative minds ticking and our physical bodies itching to get back into the garden after a long winter hibernation spell.
Hopefully by now you will have made a rough plan for the year ahead and have a bit of an idea about what seeds you might sow this year, what plants you might like add to your collection, or what jobs you might like to get done in the garden. It’s almost like the calm before the storm; a time when we can enjoy watching new growth emerge and marvel at the cycle of nature which never lets us down, and then before we know it, we will be bombarded with jobs to do in the garden and summer will be in full swing!
If you haven’t already, now is the best time for spring cleaning your glasshouse or cold frame if you have one. This is a great time of year to do it as you shouldn’t have too many plants in there yet, but you will be itching to get your seedlings going, and the longer you leave it the more fiddly the job will become! If you have a power washer that could be really useful for cleaning right into the corners.
The main aim is to clean any dirty glass or plastic which may block light for the next season’s plants and to get rid of any pests which may be hiding in little crevices. It’s also a great opportunity to have a really good look at the structure and see if any repairs need doing. While you’re in spring cleaning mode, and if you have any paved or concrete paths or wooden decking, it’s a good idea to give that a really good power wash to remove any winter slime which may make it slippery.
If you have ornamental grasses (which look so amazing over the winter with their architectural structure), now is the time to keep an eye out at the base to see if the new growth has started to emerge. As soon as you see signs of new growth you need to cut the old growth back, otherwise it can be difficult not to damage the new growth if you cut back later.
Some of your well-established herbaceous plants may be getting a little bit too big for their boots or you might want to share them with friends or family; dividing them is very easy. Spring is the perfect time to do this (or to move things around in your garden) before they start growing again.
First you will need to dig the plant up and then you can divide it by putting two forks through the middle, back to back, and using the leverage prise them apart. If you are trying to divide something which has really fibrous matted roots, then I find an old bread knife or old saw is very useful for cutting through. Just don’t use anything you want to keep sharp as cutting through the soily mass will blunt the blade. Once you have the desired size piece of the plant you can replant it or pot it up, or if you have somebody who is going to plant it into their garden straight away just keep it cool and moist until they pick it up.
Now is a good time to check all of your container plants and top-dress with some fresh compost or leafmould to replace some of the lost nutrients from last year. This will instantly make them look much smarter too! It’s always good to add some summer flowering bulbs into your containers or garden beds as it’s much easier to get them in now and it’s a lovely surprise later! These include lilies, alliums, gladiolus and many other beauties. Why not try something you’ve never grown before?
Seed sowing is really ramping up for us in Horatio’s Garden at the moment, where we have already been sowing tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, sweet peas, marigolds and other annual summer flowers for the cuttings border, including cosmos and chrysanthemums. We have been sowing some of our seeds directly into coir plugs which are peat-free and made from waste coconut fibre, and some of the patients have been making their own pots out of newspaper to pot the seedlings on into.
I would also recommend a little bit of meadow maintenance at this time of year, if you have one. Remember that wildflowers don’t like to be outcompeted by grasses, and although it may look like there’s not much going on out there at this time of year, there is almost always going to be grasses trying to establish themselves amongst the wildflowers when you look closely. Don’t be overwhelmed if you have a lot of fine grasses, but it’s a good idea to pull out any larger clumps at this time of year before they get any more established. Remember not to add any feed or nutrients to meadows as that will encourage grasses rather than wildflowers.
Finally – enjoy the spring; the freshness of the new green growth, the swelling of the buds, the sound of birdsong and the outrageously bright colours of the daffodils and other bulbs which suddenly appear week after week from now on!