March is the month when soil temperatures climb back up and with it growth begins in earnest. The old saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb is very true. The end of February and early March has been in marked contrast to the fine mild weather we had previous to this. So we must temper our enthusiasm practically and do only the jobs that are necessary and can be done.
For those of you who ask about transplanting and moving shrubs you have about another two weeks in which to do so, before the plants burst into growth. If you wish to do any bareroot planting, it must be done now, you can plant any of the bareroot trees, conifers and hedging plants, which are always a little cheaper than the potted plants.
Many people ask about feeding plants in the garden. In general this is best left until growth starts and the weather is a little better. You can feed all established trees and shrubs with any tree and shrub fertiliser or with 7:6:17, at a rate of 2 ozs to each plant. Scatter this on the bare soil around the plant.
Lawn mowing usually starts during March, if not earlier. The main factor involved is the state of the ground. If the ground is dry enough to walk on, mowing can begin. Start mowing at a high cut and work your way down during the season. Always have an inch of grass cover. Lawns will be very pale after winter rain due to the lack of nutrients and moss will also need treatment after thriving during the dampness of winter. The grass will recover quickly if it is given some treatment. Something such as the Golden Vale 3:1 Lawn Weed and Feed would be ideal. This has two different weed killers in it to kill any weeds in the lawn, all the general fertilisers needed and sulphate of iron which kills any moss and gives a nice dark green colour. It is put out at a rate of 2 ozs per square yard. Most places will give you a spreader for the duration of putting it out, free of charge.
In the vegetable garden, if soil conditions are right, the seeds of many vegetables can be put in before the end of March. In particular, onions, parsnips, and brussel sprouts benefit from the early sowing. Onion sets and shallots can also be put in now. Seed potatoes are also available and the early varieties such as Homeguard, Sharps Express, Duke of York and British Queens (2nd early’s) can be sprouted now for planting out at the end of this month. Before planting, dig in some organic matter into the soil. Space early varieties 12 inches apart in the row and 2 feet apart between rows and at a depth of 5 inches. Most people can grow early varieties as they will avoid blight mostly. You can get a good return from even a one-stone bag. Worth a try!
In the fruit garden you can plant all the varieties now. A tip for use in the vegetable garden or elsewhere is if you save the ashes from the fire it can be used as an excellent slug repellent. It is also far kinder to birds as it eliminates the danger of using slug pellets.
Tidying up of flower beds can be carried out during this month. It is not strictly necessary though, to remove every bit of dead plant material. Leaving the less messy bits on the ground encourages beneficial insects. Herbaceous border plants can be lifted and divided to rejuvenate old congested clumps. All summer bulbs are available now in most centres such as begonias, gladioli, lilies, dahlias, etc. with lots of different varieties and colours.
A lot of people buy seeds for planting out in the summer with images of beautiful colours as on the front of the packets. Some succeed and some don’t.
The following are seven steps to success with seeds:
- Using a standard seed compost such as the Shamrock seed and potting compost, fill a clean pot or seed tray with the moist compost. Level and firm the surface using a presser board or a piece of wood to 1cm below the rim.
- Water the compost lightly before sowing.
- Sow the seed from the packet or hand as thinly and evenly as possible. Large seed can be placed by hand but seed such as Lobelia, Begonias and Petunias are small and difficult. You can help the broadcast of fine seed by mixing it with a small spoonful of fine sand and broadcasting evenly.
- Lightly cover the seeds to a depth equal to their diameter with sieved compost or fine vermiculite. Do not cover lobelia, begonias, petunias or busy lizzies.
- Label each pot or container with the name and the sowing date.
- Cover the tray with a sheet of clear polythene or glass to maintain even humidity and conserve moisture. This sheet should be turned daily. Some seeds particularly pansy, germinate more rapidly in the dark and so are best covered with black polythene until they germinate.
- Place the container in a heated propagator or in a green house bench or window sill, ideally in a temperature of 16–20 degree centigrade. A few seeds such as begonias and busy lizzy prefer a constant temperature of 21 degrees while others such as primulas are actually inhibited by high temperatures. Shade the container with newspaper if it receives direct sunlight and do not allow the compost to dry out.
Did you know?
There are living stones—a plant that grows in arid regions of southern Africa where they grow amidst gravel. They are disguised as the stones around them push up to the level of surrounding stones but the entire plant rests below the grazing line and funnels the sunlight down. To see them, you could not tell the difference.
That’s it for now, happy gardening,
Bosco McDermott, Glynn’s Garden Centre, Lydican