March is a really exciting time in the garden with blossom, bulbs and new shoots emerging and seeming to change almost every hour. There are plenty of jobs to be getting on with too, mainly cutting back and pruning to make room for the spring growth, maintaining healthy and happy plants throughout spring and summer. Here are my tops tips :

1. CUT BACK PERENNIALS AND GRASSES

We always recommend leaving as many perennials and grasses as you can standing throughout winter – for interest in the garden as well as for insects and small mammals to shelter in. However, now is definitely the time to cut them down if you have not already done so! Click here for further information about how to do this (as always there are a few exceptions!).

2. MAKE MORE PLANTS THE EASY WAY

If your grasses and perennials have become congested and didn’t flower as well as usual last year, or if they are well established and you just want to create some new plants for elsewhere in the garden – now is the time to divide/split them. This is not a scary as it seems – although the method we explain here might sound a little brutal I assure you it is not as harsh as it seems, plus you get free plants so why not give it a go!

3. PRUNE ROSES AND SHRUBS

Last call for rose pruning! Your roses will be putting on new growth and shoots now, but it is still worth giving them a good prune if you have not already done so.

  • Start by removing the three D’s – Dead, Damaged and Diseased.
  • Then look for any crossing stems and choose ones to remove based on what will give you the best shape and structure. The aim is to open up the centre of the rose to improve light and air circulation as well as reducing the chances of disease developing.
  • You should also remove at least a third of the older stems completely. This will encourage lovely young healthy stems to emerge from the base of the plant.
  • You should also now feed your roses now, water them well and apply a thick layer of mulch around the base.

Check through your evergreen shrubs for any dead, damaged or diseased growth and remove this. If any of them have been damaged by the winter weather now is the time to remove it to make way for fresh spring growth. With the mild winter we had your shrubs are unlikely to have suffered too much frost damage, but if they have it’s a good time to remove anything looking worse for wear – cutting back to just before the healthy foliage or a new bud. Now is also a good time to prune for shaping and reducing the size of evergreen shrubs if needed – they will be starting to put on new growth now so will recover quickly.

Deciduous shrubs – don’t prune the spring flowering ones yet. Shrubs such as Forsythia, Lilac and weigela will flower on last year’s growth, so should not be pruned until just after they have flowered. Later flowering deciduous shrubs such as Buddleia, Fuchsia and Hydrangeas should be pruned now, although if you live in a colder area you might want to wait until the end of March for your Hydrangeas as they can be prone to frost damage.

It’s also a good time to plant new roses, climbers and shrubs – take a bit of time planning out any new additions and check which plants will suit your soil and sunlight levels. You can read our blog about small plants for pollinators if you want to do your bit to support their declining numbers.

4. SOW OR GROW SOME WILDFLOWERS

Now is also a great time to sow some annual native wildflower seeds. If you have the space you can dedicate an area of your garden to these, but if not they can be grown in large containers too. Annuals such as cornflowers and poppies are great for pollinators and add a lovely burst of colour to your garden. These would work in pots as they tend not to come back year on year, unless they self-sow successfully which can be rather hit and miss. Mixes of seeds can be bought online and in most garden centres. Choose a native and organic seed mix to bring the most benefits for our native wildlife.

Most perennial wildlfowers (including many of our favourites such as Oxeye Daisy, Ragged Robin and Knapweed) need a period of cold before they will germinate and won’t flower until their second year, so they are best sown in the Autumn. If you can’t wait that long (I don’t blame you!) why not order some wildflower plugs now? There are several online retailers – try and find one who uses peat-free compost and no chemicals, for maximum environmental and wildlife benefit. You can either plant your plugs straight into your borders if you have time to keep a close eye on them and make sure they are well watered – they don’t have big root systems yet so are not as able to cope with lack of water or anything else that the elements throw at them. If you have the space, it’s a good idea to plant them on into small pots (using homemade/peat-free compost if you can) and grow them on until their roots fill those pots, then plant them out. They will still need regular watering and care but will be just that little bit more resilient.

If you are looking for more inspiration about what to plant in your garden this spring, check out my article about our top 10 small plants for pollinators.

5. ORDER LATE SUMMER BULBS

There is still time to order Nerines, Crocosmia, Gladioli, Dahlia tubers and more for pops of colour in late summer and Autumn. Our favourite bulb supplier is Peter Nyssen – they have a brilliant range to choose from and are completely checmical and plastic free. Bulbs are sent out in starch or paper bags which can go straight into your compost heap or food waste caddy.

6. DO YOUR BIT FOR WILDLIFE

Use leaves and logs to create wildlife habitats. Don’t be too tidy – leave some piles of leaves/twigs for wildlife to shelter in – they still need protection from the chilly mornings and nights, as well as from predators!

If you have any fallen trees/branches from the recent storms, you could ask your tree surgeon to cut them into manageable sizes and instead of removing them, use them to make a logo pile and/or partially bury them upright in the ground – the rotting wood below ground will make a fantastic beetle habitat.

 

 

If you have a pond, check it regularly for frog spawn and other signs of life. In my pond the spawn appeared last week so there is still time!! You can find more wildlife tips here.

 

7. SOW VEGETABLE AND ANNUAL FLOWER SEEDS

Many fruit and vegetable seeds can start to be sown in March. If you’ve never grown any produce before, why not try some tomatoes this year? There are many varieties to choose from but if you’re short on space, and without a greenhouse, Tumbling Toms are perfect for hanging baskets, window boxes or containers.

If you have a greenhouse, coldframe or a cooler window sill (such as in an unheated porch) you might have already been sowing peas, sweet peas, broad beans and the like. But if you are going to sow indoors with heating, you should hold off until at least mid March. Sowing earlier can be hard to resist as it is really exciting when things start to sprout and grow really quickly due to the warm indoor temperatures, but the seedlings always become leggy and run out of steam, especially when there is still a risk of frost so you cannot plant them outside to slow them down. So in many ways, the longer you can hold off the better (if you have a greenhouse – go ahead and get sow sow sowing if you haven’t already!).

Here are some crops which can be sown now in an unheated greenhouse (we are sticking to easy to grow options as frankly, this is all most of us have time for!) :

  • Tomatoes, peas, broad beans, french and runner beans, beetroot, courgettes, squashes, cucumbers, sweetcorn.
  • Plant out once the risk of frosts has passed.
  • Annual flowers including sweet peas, cosmos and sunflowers.
  • Start or keep sowing salad leaves and herbs to give you a succession of ‘ready’ crops – sowing a small sprinkling of seeds in one pot every few weeks is much better than sowing multiple pots all at once, as they will all be ready around the same time and you might not be able to use it all.

Here are some crops which can be sown indoors from the end March onwards, for planting out in April/May, once the risk of frosts has passed :

  • Peas, broad beans, tomatoes.
  • Hold off on french/runner beans for now.
  • Annual flowers – including sweet peas, cosmos, sunflowers.
  • Start or keep making periodic sowings of salad leaves and herbs as above.
  • Try not to let them have too much warmth and sunshine, so they don’t become leggy above soil level. Slow top growth is better, as this means they can put their energy into developing strong roots.

 

 

So, there you have my top tips for getting your garden ready for the growing season, supporting wildlife and having a go at growing some of your own veg and flowers. Do let me know if you have any questions, and happy gardening!