Soon we will have blossom, early bulbs and nesting birds, all welcome signs that spring has arrived.
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UK Weather in March.
In March 2018 and the Beast from the East arrived bringing strong wind, snow and freezing temperatures both day and night. This year we have similar but not quite as extreme weather. It may be too cold and wet to do anything much in the garden but if you are lucky enough to have the protection of a greenhouse, a poly tunnel or some light space in the house then you can get on with some seed sowing. I am focusing on hardy annuals now as we don’t know how long this cold, windy spell will last. Hardy Annuals are very hardy and can cope with much cooler weather than Half Hardy Annuals. If you are not sure which plants belong in which group just take a quick look in the shop where they are neatly divided to make it easy for you.
This cold snap won’t last forever and soon temperatures will rise and we will see more sunshine each day. We can expect up to 100 hours of sun in the north and more than 120 hours sunshine this month in the south of the UK. But March weather is changeable and it can be a cold month too. Lovely bright sunny days with clear skies often mean that we’ll have a frost the following morning. Usually the frost doesn’t last long but it does mean that the ground can’t be worked when it’s frozen and tender seedlings can’t cope with freezing weather, keep them indoors!
Rainfall is usually over 200mm in the mountainous regions of North West England and West Scotland in March. Flatter southern counties have much less rain with just 40mm or even less falling in South East England. For most of the UK it’s unlikely that snow will fall this month… we may just have one day with snow but it doesn’t usually stick at this time of year. Spring is arriving across the UK but winter lingers in parts of Scotland. In North East Scotland there will probably be more than snowy 10 days this month.
March in the Garden.
March is a busy month is the garden. From the spring equinox onwards (20th March) there are twelve or more hours of daylight each day. It’s a great time to sow seeds. The soil is warming up and our gardens are not waterlogged so it’s time to finish off tidying up and start planting. You can plant summer flowering bulbs, trees and shrubs, perennials and grasses now. Some of the star plants this month include spring flowering bulbs and shrubs and early flowering Cherry trees. Bees, ladybirds and other beneficial insects rely on these early flowers for food. If your garden is looking a little bare now it’s a good time to visit your local nursery or garden centre to see what’s looking good this month. Adding a nice tall deciduous shrub and under-planting it with some spring bulbs will make all the difference to the way your garden looks now and it will look even better this time next year. Bright bedding plants will improve a dreary corner or spice up your empty pots.
Plant Summer Bulbs.Choose your favourite summer flowering bulbs and plant them either in the borders or in pots ready to move to your chosen site later on. Alliums, Crocosmia, Lilies, Gladioli, Dahlias and Iris are all available now.
Plant new trees and shrubs. If you are lucky enough to have a garden that is not frozen or waterlogged this is a good time to plant new trees, shrubs, climbers and fruit. You can still buy inexpensive bare root plants which are much quicker and easier to plant than huge container grown trees and shrubs.
Prune late flowering deciduous shrubs. Woody plants that flower on new wood (stems that will be produced this year) such as Buddleja davidii, can be pruned hard now, as long as there is no danger of frost. Get them off to a good start now with organic fertiliser.
Prune or transplant hardy evergreen trees and shrubs. Yew hedges and any other hardy evergreen shrubs can be pruned now before the birds establish their nests. This is also the best time of the year to move any evergreen shrubs that are in the wrong place.
Divide Perennials. Remove stems, seed heads and tatty leaves. Divide clumps now if you didn’t do that in autumn. Keep the strong new growth discarding the older less vigorous parts of each clump. Feed with organic fertiliser and mulch with garden compost to give them the best possible start now.
Lift and Divide Snowdrops. Once flowering has finished at the end of March dig up well established clumps and divide them. Replant the bulbs elsewhere in your garden either individually or in small groups, firm well and water in.
Add organic fertiliser to the soil. Use diluted seaweed in solution, add blood fish and bone or scatter pelleted chicken manure. Nutrients are released slowly so these are great for producing strong plants. Fruit trees need extra potash so if you have a log fire you can sprinkle wood ash around.
Prepare seedbeds for vegetables or flowers. If this is the year you plan to grow vegetables, fruit or flowers then NOW is the time to prepare the ground. You can either dig a bed to break up large clumps of earth or go down the no dig route and make a new bed with compost on top of a layer of cardboard. Add slow release organic fertilser and cover with a sheet of polythene or a cloche to keep further rain off the ground and help the soil warm up.
AND THIS IS MY FAVOURITE BIT…
Sow seeds under cover. In the greenhouse hardy annuals, salad, herbs and early vegetables can be started off in plastic modules. (Use the best quality plastic you can find… it will last for years) It’s a good idea to save some seed to sow direct next month too. Flower seeds to sow in March include perennials such as Aquilegia, Achillea and Eryngium plus Hardy Annual Cornflowers, Poppies and Eschscholzia (Californian Poppies)
Feed your garden wildlife. The cold weather means that their natural food is in short supply so please carry on feeding your garden birds. They love seeds, peanuts, fat and kitchen scraps such as bread and cheese. If it’s frosty they will need fresh clean water every day too.
Put up garden bird boxes. Remove last years nesting material from the boxes and sterilise each box by pouring boiling water inside. Allow to dry in a warm place then rehang them.
Grow early flowering plants. Don’t forget that Bees and other beneficial insects are active now and need to find food too. Plants like Primroses, Anemones, Muscari, Pulmonaria, Crocus and Pussy Willow are beautiful, easy to grow and essential for hungry insects.