Summer Flowering Bulbs
There are two main times for planting bulbs in the garden. The spring flowering bulbs that are presently forcing their way through (daffodils, crocuses, tulips, etc) are planted in Autumn. Now however (in fact, any time from the beginning of February to the end of April) is the ideal time to plant summer flowering bulbs. Try foxtail lilies, regal lilies, gladioli, dahlias, galontia, freesias, or some of the various summer flowering allium species. In a sheltered, warm location, you might also be able to grow brodiaea, acidanthera, sparaxis, babiana, scadoxus, haemathus and tuberose.
Some bulb planting guidelines:
- Bulbs bought in general stores can be fine but inspect them carefully as they are often stored in less than favourable conditions; make sure they have not dried out or started to sprout.
- Most summer bulbs thrive in direct sun.
- They do best if the soil is fairly rich, so add compost and bonemeal to the planting hole.
- Bulbs will rot if you try to grow them in areas that are prone to water-logging.
- Most do well in tubs provided you don’t let them dry out.
Fruit Bush Feeding
Pretty much all types of fruit bush will benefit from an application of a potassium based fertilizer applied just before they start a new season of growth (potassium promotes good fruiting). A readily available and free source of potassium for the organic gardener is wood ash.
A Cold Frame To Harden Off Plants
If you are starting off seedlings indoors with an aim to planting them out later, then a cold frame is all but essential. It is used for “hardening-off”, the process of gradually acclimatising the plants to outside conditions over a period of two to three weeks.
Birdfeeding – A Change Of Diet
If you have fed the birds through the winter months, you may justifiably decide to stop feeding them from now through to the end of autumn. Supplementary food is less critical outside the winter months as wild food is more readily available. If, however, you do decide to keep feeding then be aware that certain foods can be harmful to the nestlings that will soon be appearing. Loose, whole peanuts should be avoided as these can choke the young birds, as can large chunks of bread. (Peanuts in a purpose made mesh feeder, from which only small pieces can be taken, are fine.) Also, fat is not suitable. Nestlings need a large supply of invertebrates (caterpillars, grubs, flies, etc.) and I find that dried mealworms, now widely available in garden centres, are very popular this time of year.
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There are around 250 different species of bee in Britain, of which 24 are bumblebees. Bumblebees (as opposed to honeybees and solitary bees) live in small colonies that die out at the end of each season; new queens emerge from each colony at the end of the season to hibernate and start a new colony the next year. So, those big fat bees you see this around this time of year are the bumblebee queens that hibernated through the winter and are now looking for nest sites and nectar/pollen rich flowers. You can help and encourage these invaluable garden friends by supplying both of these.
Specially constructed nest boxes are available for purchase, but one doesn’t need to go to that extreme. Bees are looking for a small dry chamber to support a colony that will comprise, at its summer peak, typically a few hundred bees. This chamber might be a disused rodent hole or a gap under a large flat stone, so be on the look-out for such potential sites as you work in the garden and try to preserve them. You might even find a colony in a compost heap; if so don’t, if at all possible, disturb it – the heap will be all yours again by August.
Our native bees don’t necessarily need our native wild flowers – they simply need readily accessible pollen and/or nectar rich flowers. Bees tend to prefer wild flowers and the more traditional “cottage garden” flowers because, unlike most of the more selectively bred flowers, these have a good supply of readily available nectar and/or pollen.
When selecting which bee-friendly flowers to grow you’ll ideally be aiming to provide a continuity of supply from March to August. But don’t be daunted by this ideal – any bee-friendly flowers will help.
Examples of bee-friendly blooms that are easy to grow are:
- Annuals: cornflower, sunflower, corn poppy, corncockle, corn marigold, cosmos, borage, viper’s bugloss (a wild form of borage)
- Perennials: chives, aquilegia, centaurea, dicentra, lavender, echinops, eryngium, Comfrey, lupin, rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, lungwort*, clover, bluebell
- Shrubs/trees: apple*, pear*, cherry*, flowering blackcurrant*, cotoneaster, buddleia, hebe, honeysuckle, pussy willow*
Those marked * are particularly valuable as they flower early in the year, when few other blooms are available.
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With most plants bursting into growth after winter dormancy, March is the ideal time for plant propagation, with a number of techniques at your disposal. (Only a brief overview is given here, but none of the techniques are particularly difficult and any comprehensive gardening manual will give step-by-step details.)
This is the easiest and quickest method of propagation, and suitable for a huge range of herbaceous perennials (plants the tops of which die down each Winter and then re-grow from the over-wintered roots) and also ornamental grasses. The rootball is lifted, cut into two or more segments – each with a healthy root system and some burgeoning shoots – and the segments replanted. Examples of suitable plants to try this on include delphinium, astilbe, hosta, helenium, heuchera, peony, echinops and eryngium.
Even if you have not tried this method before, you will have almost certainly come across it, happening naturally, with plants such as blackcurrant, ivy and bramble. Vigorous shoots come into contact with the soil and, over the course of a season, anchor themselves to the ground with roots that sprout from the stem. You can encourage this process to occur in a wide variety of plants, even those where it rarely happens naturally, by:
- Choosing vigorous, more horizontal, shoots of one or two years in age
- Pinning the stem to the ground and then staking up the shoot tip vertically
- Wounding the stem at the rooting point by cutting a notch or a sliver of bark, or even by twisting the stem enough to lightly damage the bark.
- Preparing the rooting site by digging it over and incorporating some cutting compost
- Keeping the site moist throughout the Summer
A new plant will be ready to cut away from the parent in about a year. Examples include climbing honeysuckle, apple and pear rootstock, hydrangea, hazel, jasmine and daphne.
This method will allow you to produce large numbers of identical plants, although they won’t be ready to plant on for a year. This month, just before the end of winter dormancy, and autumn, just after leaf-fall and at the very start of winter dormancy, are the best times to take hardwood cuttings.
Most fruit trees and some ornamentals comprise a rootstock of one variety onto which the different variety of fruiting/flowering/ornamental wood is grafted, just above ground level. It is probably the least likely of the techniques covered here to be undertaken by the average gardener, but it is not at all difficult to do once you’ve had a little practice.
Just about all apple trees, pear trees and stone fruits are grafted. Examples of grafted ornamentals include corkscrew hazel, most roses and Kilmarnock willow.
If you’ve ever had to do battle with couch grass or ground elder then you’ll know that some plants can reproduce from a small fragment of root. Suitable for a limited range of plants, typically those with thick and fleshy roots, this method will nonetheless allow you to produce large numbers of identical plants relatively quickly, provided you have access to a cold-frame, greenhouse or a suitable window space indoors. Although they are best taken when the plant is dormant – i.e. any time throughout the Winter – March can in practice be a very good time to take root cuttings as the plants are only just coming out of dormancy, and the extra heat/light of early Spring will aid growth.
This method will allow you to produce large numbers of identical plants very quickly. This time of year it is most useful for tender perennials over-wintering indoors, such as pelargonium, fuchsia, chrysanthemum and dahlia. Also, a potted herb such as thyme, from a garden centre, will offer scores of potential cuttings. You’ll need access to a heated greenhouse or a suitable window space indoors.
House plants are all too often miserable looking specimens that have been neglected for years. (At least mine are!) Re-potting with fresh compost now, coupled with regular feeding, occasional cleaning and periodic pest inspection in the months to come, will breathe new life and vigour into such specimens. Where size and weight allow, gently remove the rootball from its container to see if the plant has become root-bound. If it has, pot it on into a slightly larger container using special-purpose, and fresh, house-plant compost.
Clumps of snowdrops, which will have by the end of March flowered, respond well to being lifted, divided and moved whilst ‘in-the-green’.
If you need any further advice about what to grow and how do grow it, or if there’s anything above that needs further explanation, then please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com