It’s March already, Spring is on the way and it’s time for March’s edition of Tony’s Tips! With the weather improving and more to do in the garden, Tony our Gardener has put together some guidance on what to do. Green fingers at the ready!

Tony’s Tips for March

Well what an end to February!!!! I am sure our gardens have enjoyed a bit of apricity over the last few days as much as ourselves.

And now for March, always an optimistic month for keen gardeners as the days begin to lengthen and become warmer. This month will certainly provide more opportunities to become more active around the garden. But a word of caution to all, remember that old Jack frost is still around. This is why it is good practice to keep flower beds covered with mulch to protect plants from the changes in weather that still create freeze-thaw cycles.

Now is a good time to begin to hoe your borders. This will help prevent weeds and their seedlings emerging at the same time as your plants and prevent them from competing for light, water and nutrients. Some of these weeds are pretty adept at spreading of their seeds, for example Cardamine hirsuta (Hairy Bittercress)  Can propel seeds up to a metre in distance.

Did you know?

Whilst we are on the subject of weeds did you know that some weeds can be used to determine the condition of the soil.

Here are a few examples for you to look out for;

Acidic SoilsAlkaline Soils
1, Plantago SSP (Plantain)1, Euphorbia Maculata (Spotted Spurge)
2, Urtica Dioica (Nettle)2, Anagallis Arvensis (Scarlet Pimpernel)
Dry SoilsWet/ Poorly Drained
1, Veronica Filiforms (Speedwell)1, Trifolium Ssp (Clover)
2, Hypochaeris Radicata (Cats Ears)2, Cardamine Hirsuta (Hairy Bittercress)
Low Fertility SoilsFertile Soils
1, Digitaria Saguinalis (Crab Grass)1, Portulaca Oleracea (Purslane)
2, Ambrosia Artemisiifolia (Ragweed)2, Stellaria Media (Chickweed)

Once the weeding has been done your next job will be to feed your fruit trees before bud break with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Other beds that may need fertilizing are sandy or chalky soil structures. These have larger soil particles that cannot hold water and nutrients, this is known as leaching. This can be solved by adding bulky organic matter to the soil to help it retain moisture and nutrients.

Normally most other soil structures contain plenty of nutrients and will only need correcting to allow plants to gain access to these nutrients.

For example, clay tends to be more nutrient rich than other soils, but because its particles tend to be negatively charged they attract and hold onto positively charged particles. Unfortunately, these positive particles include nutrients such as Magnesium, potassium and calcium that plants need for healthy growth. This problem can be solved by adding bulky organic matter or composted bark to the soil to relieve compaction and allow plants access to these nutrients.

Another job for this month will be to prune back your roses, here are some tips.

Hybrid teas and Floibundas

The first rules are to visually check your roses to see if you have any pest problems and to look for what is known as the 3Ds (Dead, Dying and Diseased material) If you do have any of these problems, then prune these out first and dispose of the pests.

For Hybrid teas the more vigorous shoots can be pruned back to 4-6 buds, preferably on a 45 degrees angle to an outward facing bud. Then shorten any weaker stems to 2-4 buds again to outwards facing bud. This will create well-spaced stems that will help prevent disease through free air flow. The Floribundas are similar to prune, but you can remove less off the vigorous shoots to between 25-30 cm above the base of the rose. Then prune back the weaker shoots slightly lower and remove any crossing branches or the 3D’s.

Modern Shrubs (repeat flowering)

These can be pruned back by 30-50% to an outward facing bud or leave some stems pruned to an inward-facing bud to stimulate the development of upright growth. Then shorten less vigorous shoots to 2-3 buds and once again remove any crossing branches and the 3D’s. Once you have completed the pruning, make sure to destroy any leave debris and diseased materials. Never compost diseased material or you will spread diseases to other areas of the garden and always sterilize any tools to prune before and after use.

Now apply a rose fertilizer to the rose beds at a rate of 100 grams per square meter. This can be followed by an 8 cm layer of well-rotted manure or compost, leaving a gap of 10 cm around the rose stems.

Last but not least, from mid-March you can start planting onion sets, which are small immature bulbs. Gently push the sets into your soft well-prepared soil, so the tip is just showing. Plant the sets at 5-10 cm apart and in rows at 25-30 cm apart in a sunny spot, with fertile drained soil. Improve your soil by adding a bucketful of well-rotted manure for every square meter and 35grams per square meter of a general-purpose fertilizer. Onions are not great at taking up water so keep soil moist and water whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry.

Here are a few choices to try out:

Onion Sets

1: Stuttgarter: Renowned mild and sweet taste.

2: Hercules: Strongly flavoured, bold-resistant, long shelf life.

3: Red Baron: Red skinned, quite strong flavour, good storage.

Well that’s it for this month, good health and happy gardening to you all.