March! Probably my favourite month and when writing a column like this it is probably the one month when I will never be short of things to say or do.
Several years ago we made a propagating bench out of two old bunk beds. We put longer legs on, lined the bed bases with thick polythene sheet and covered with a 3’’ mix of sand and fine gravel. Then we laid on a soil warming cable and a further 2’’ of sand and gravel mix. The cable comes with full instructions and a thermostat so I can keep a temperature of 15-20deg C and raise seeds on an even and controllable temperature. It is also superb for bottom heat for cuttings and this month I shall take cuttings of pelargonium and marguerites. A propagator of any size is also useful for starting perennials from seed. Lupins, delphiniums, achillea, pinks and many others sown now may well flower this year.
Seed sowing indoors and out are the very obvious jobs for March and April and so I am going to look at a few jobs that may be overlooked this month in our enthusiasm for the new season.
Split up polyanthus just after they have flowered. Just stick two hand forks into the clump and pull apart. Grow them on in a shady corner of the garden. They dislike hot summer sunshine.
Prune any long shoots on camellias now if you want to tidy the shrub. Leave it too late after they have flowered and you will cut off next years buds.
Split, plant or move snowdrops during their flowering or just after whilst there is still green foliage.
Clip lightly over winter flowering heathers that are past their best. This keeps them compact and strong.
Similarly with hebes, you can cut them back quite hard but I take about a third out each year to keep the size but to encourage new growth. If you want new hebes then take cuttings in August. The traditional varieties have become very difficult to obtain as so many growers up country have had mildew problems and they are now turning to New Zealand ‘wiri’ varieties. It is a shame as in coastal areas we do not have the same problems.
If you have a large shrub to move then autumn is the time to do it. But if you dig a circular trench round it now and cut off the big roots it will form a dense tight root ball over this season making it easier to move in the autumn.
I haven’t stopped mowing the lawn on and off all winter except when it was covered in snow or frost. Don’t be tempted to cut it too hard. Keep the cutters up high slowly lowering them each week or two. It may mean cutting more often but the grass will be happier for it.
Be sure to harden off any veg plants before planting. If they are raised in a greenhouse they are still quite tender and need to be put outside during the day and even at night to acclimatise before exposing them to cold winds and cool soil.
March is your very last chance to buy and plant bear rooted hedging or trees which are much cheaper than pot grown. The may need staking and will certainly need water whilst they establish.
If you are unsure about seed sowing in the next few months, what to sow or plant and when, then just take time to go and look at the seeds on sale. The majority of veg and annuals that you want will have to be sown from now to June, even if they are winter veg. Read the packet front and see the sowing, planting out and harvest time and all will become clear!!
With seed potatoes chitting and ready to go a recent customer started a great debate with me about blight in potatoes and tomatoes. The weather conditions have been perfect over the last three summers for this airborne nasty to proliferate. It really does appear overnight and it is devastating. I suggested planting new potatoes earlier in March so that one can harvest a bit earlier and even if blight does strike you still have a mature crop. (For tomatoes, shut your greenhouse at night and grow your potatoes as far away from the greenhouse as possible). The main question that arose from that was what about main crop? Well the answer is not so simple. The only choice is to buy ‘blight resistant’ varieties which are not always reliably so, or to spray against it which I would rather not do. The fact is that I do not grow main crop potatoes. They take up too much room and we have a great grower in Veryan at Churchtown farm and I go and buy a bag from him!!
Another question this month came from a lady who has discovered that the leaves on her citrus plants in the conservatory have rolled up and others have stuck together and the same has happened to plants in the greenhouse. This is the work of the tortrix moth. If you unfurl the leaves or pull them apart you may either find great holes or a bright green caterpillar about half an inch long and a fine silk that has bound the leaves together. Squish it! They do form brown pupae that may be apparent on the soil or in the leaf. They often choose the new leaves on a plant and so can seriously harm the growth. The moth hides in corners and is quite small so difficult to find. I have been known to venture out to my tunnels with a torch at night to find it flying and now have a blue light positioned to catch it during the winter when the beneficial insects are less prolific. The tortrix moth seems to survive all weather conditions and can be seen outside doing its damage as the weather gets warmer.
What is the yellow mottling on my camellias?
This always looks a bit like a chlorotic problem which makes leaves, sometimes whole branches turn yellow or almost white. If a camellia is chlorotic and needing an acidic feed i.e. there is too much lime reaching it, then the whole bush will be affected. If it is odd leaves then it is more likely to be camellia yellow mottle and the plant loses vigour. The mottle is virus like and systemic within the plant. Do not use the plant for propagation and cut out all affected stems. It will recover.
Talking of recovery, the garden is emerging from this horrific winter and although many things are later than normal that should herald a colourful Easter.