March in the garden
Two significant events happen for gardeners this month: the first day of spring arrives on 21 March, and the clocks move forward an hour. The lengthening days, emerging blossom and increase in birdsong bring joy to every gardener’s heart and we’ll soon have even longer hours of daylight to get out in our plots. Just as well, for March is a very busy month.
March brings all sorts of seasonal weather to challenge us. March is prime sowing time and while a nice dry, crumbly soil surface is ideal, snowy winter weather can mean that you won't always be able to get all your sowing done this month. The main problem with snowy conditions is waterlogged soil - if your beds are still squelchy and wet, you need to be extra careful when working on them otherwise the soil will become compacted. Ideally, wait until they have dried out a bit before starting work, not always an easy option when there is so much to do out there. If you have to work on wet soil, but some planks across first and walk on these.
Seed sowing, pricking out and planting gather momentum, and spaces in the greenhouse, in cold frames and on window ledges are getting full to bursting point as new plants emerge in seed trays and modules. Outdoors, temperatures are still likely to be low and the soil still cold so when you sow direct in the ground, warm up soil beforehand with old carpet or black polythene, and protect emerging seedlings with a cloche or tunnel.
Fork or rake over your plots to break up any large clods of earth but try not to tread on soil as this will compact it. Make sure your compost heap is ready for the growing season and cover any well rotted compost you are not using straight away with old carpet or black polythene. Watch out for slugs and snails as they adore young seedlings and check brassicas for signs of pigeon damage. The best option is to create a framework over your brassica plot and net this to protect the crop. Hoeing weeds soon starts to be a regular event from now on.
Fruit tree pruning should be completed by early March: feed and mulch trees after pruning. Keep an eye on the weather forecast this month and cover any trees in flower with horticultural fleece or similar when frosts are predicted. Currants, gooseberries and other soft fruit bushes should be pruned by the middle of the month. Train new shoots of blackberries, loganberries and similar plants on to wires. New raspberry canes and strawberries can still be planted but water well and regularly until established. Autumn fruiting raspberries can be pruned now. If you want an early crop of strawberries, put a cloche over them or pot up some plants to grow inside a greenhouse.
Sowing and planting
All these can be sown or planted outdoors but some will need some protection from frosts.
- Artichokes, globe and Jerusalem
- Broad beans: can be sown continuously over the next couple of months for a successional harvest
- Chicory and endive
- Lettuce and salad leaves: sow little and often in between rows of slow maturing crops to maximise space
- Onions sets and small plants, shallots and garlic: plant any remaining sets now
- Salad onions
- Summer turnips
Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay.