Time to get started in the garden

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March is here – and it’s finally time to get started on the outdoor jobs, says gardener Pete Harcom. But keep an eye on the forecast!

A bullfinch enjoying the winter berries of the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)

The clocks may go forward on 26th March and spring might be in the air, but March can be a cold month. It can be late April or even May before night-time frosts are reliably over.

Jobs for March

  • If the weather allows and the soil is not frozen, annual flowers can be sown from March onwards – just rake the soil to a fine tilth on a dry day. Once you’ve planted, watch the weather forecasts for frosty nights and protect the seeds if necessary with cloches or horticultural fleece – or even some net curtaining.
  • Be careful on your shopping trips; the garden centres will have beautiful displays of annuals and bedding plants to woo you at this time of year. But it may be best to wait until late March before you purchase too many tender plants (fuchsias and pelargoniums, for example), unless you have good frost protection like cloches or even a cold greenhouse.
  • Keep an eye on weeds as they begin to emerge, taking them out with a hoe or similar.
  • Cover any bare soil patches and all around your shrubs with a good thick layer of mulch or garden compost. Also, top up potted plants with a similar layer of mulch or compost.
  • March is your last chance to plant bare-rooted trees and shrubs. Now the soil is warming up, shrubs will soon begin to grow and get established (container-grown shrubs can be planted at any time of year other than during very hot weather).
  • Prune bush and climbing roses quite hard back to strong stems, with a sloping cut, no more than 5mm away from a bud. Ensure your secateurs are sharp and clean!

Winter berries
During the winter months the garden can look decidedly devoid of colour – winter berries can add quite significant colour to a garden and will have the benefit of helping birds through the harsh winter months.
There are lots of native berry-bearing species including rowan, holly, whitebeam, spindle, dog rose, guelder rose (Vibernum), elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy. But you could also consider attractive shrubs like cotoneaster, pyracantha and berberis, all of which are especially good for a wide variety of birds.
But it’s not just our avian pals – berry and fruit-bearing trees provide food for insects and animals too. Hedgehogs, badgers, mice, squirrels and even foxes will all happily feed on them. All sorts of fruit are attractive to insects, and fallen fruit or spare fruit from the home will attract those insects to your garden, which will in turn attract a variety of birds.

Sponsored by Thorngrove Garden Centre

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