As spring approaches and the weather warms up, Richard Orton of Lewis Cottage Garden warns us not to get carried away in the garden.  Milder days can often be followed by sharp frosts, killing off seedlings that have been planted too early. Here he advises us how to avoid disappointment and gives us some jobs to be getting on with this month.

If, like me, you’ve been itching to get outside and have taken every opportunity to do so on bright winter’s days you’ll be glad to see signs of spring everywhere.  But beware! If this year is anything like the last few, and we are blessed with a mild March and the garden begins to blossom early, don’t be fooled, it’s likely to be what us gardeners call ‘a false spring’.

There are signs of spring everywhere

Back in the day, a false spring was a rarity but as climate change has given us the confidence to bring gardening jobs forward, don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security, because as sure as April follows March temperatures are just as likely to plummet and those tender plants that have spent a snug few months overwintering in the greenhouse or conservatory will be devastated. However, not wishing to be the harbinger of doom and gloom, there are lots of ways to prepare for this and it’s not that difficult.

Be patient - Easy to say, I know, but think back to the gardeners of old who wouldn’t dream of putting out tender plants until the end of May, even early June. Put them out now and you’re likely to be visiting the garden centre in a few weeks’ time to buy all those half hardy annuals again. Good for the garden centre, not so great for the pocket!

Delay seed sowing – Easter falls early this year and my advice is to wait until after Easter to start sowing once the temperature is on the rise. Of course, if you’ve a heated greenhouse you can get going but if like me you’re reliant on the weather then wait, just wait. Seed sown a bit later will easily catch up and it gives you time to do more ground work outside or stay inside by the fire and read some seed catalogues.

Move anything you can – If you have plants outside that can be moved, grown in pots, bring them into the greenhouse or even into the garage, somewhere under cover until the cold snap passes. Better for the plants to be kept in the dark for a couple of days than get frosted.

Cover them up – Last year we struggled to get the larger pots in from the terrace. The agapanthus are wonderfully huge but they weigh so much now that lifting them into the trailer needs younger limbs than mine. So this year we’ve chosen to leave them where they are and place a heavy mulch on top.

Keep off the lawn – Once the cry of municipal park keepers, it’s worth noting that walking on frosted grass, as lovely as it sounds, damages your lawn and will ultimately cause it to die back if it has begun to grow during a mild spell.

Be philosophical – Accept that even having done all of the above, ultimately Mother Nature is the boss, she’s in charge and all we can do is learn to adapt, or at least try to.  Remember, a cold snap in spring is unlikely to last long and you know, if plants are lost and seeds fail to germinate, there is still time to grow and sow more. If the advice above isn’t enough here are a few more jobs to be getting on with.…..

Gardening jobs for the coming weeks.

Time to tidy the shed

·  Fertilise flowerbeds, either with a good layer of mulch or dig in some well-rotted compost.

·   Put supports in. Any plants that will need them later on will benefit from having posts and frames put in now before they start to grow.

·   Move deciduous trees and shrubs before they start into growth.

·   Clear paths and walkways of moss and mud.

·   Prune roses to encourage new, healthy growth. Don’t be shy, they’ll take a severe pruning.

·   Cover prepared vegetables beds with black plastic sheets to keep the soil dry and warm ready for sowing.

·   Top dress containers with a couple of inches of new compost.

·   On dry days ventilate greenhouses and polytunnels.

There’s still time to put up nesting boxes

·   Build a compost bin if you don’t already have them, used pallets are an inexpensive way of doing this and are readily available.

·   Cut down autumn fruiting raspberries to encourage new growth.

·   Mulch rhubarb with a thick layer of well-rotted manure, avoid covering the crown.

More information on the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found here

Mar 1, 2024

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