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Sunday 1st March

MARCH - First Week

 

The new season starts in earnest this month. Spring pleasures abound. Starry yellow forsythia and gold daffodils delude us into thinking it's sunny even on grey days and tell us that spring is really here. A clamorous dawn chorus brings sleep to an early halt. Trees and shrubs are being clothed with the softest green growth. It's a wonderful time! Don’t be fooled though as we can have a week of mild weather followed by a week or more of cold weather. Spring flowers will survive and sometimes last even longer. How lucky we are to have four seasons. Carol and I were lucky to be able to visit Malaysia a few years ago where we stayed with a teacher friend. She had to teach Malaysian children about the seasons which is difficult in a country where there are no seasons to speak of!

BULBS, SHRUBS and TREES

It is also time to hard-prune late-flowering shrubs, such as caryopteris, buddleia davidii (butterfly bush), leycesteria and lavatera, but delay for another 3-4 weeks in cold areas that are still subject to regular frost.

Lightly prune mophead and lacecap hydrangeas, taking off the old flower heads and cutting just above a strong pair of buds. Remove very spindly twigs. On old, congested bushes, take out some of the oldest stems at ground level. Hard prune Hydrangea paniculata and its cultivars, such as 'Kyushu' and 'Grandiflora', to leave two or three pairs of buds on each branch.

March is a good time to plant or move evergreens, as the weather warms up and root activity commences, but before new shoots have opened.

Prune the butterfly bush Buddleia davidii hard back to a framework of older wood at 60-120cm. Shoots will already be starting to grow. No matter. Cut hard back to the size you require, even if it leaves the plant entirely leafless. Flowers will be on the ends of this year's growth. Buddleia globosa, which has orange spherical flowers, and the delicate weeping Buddleia alternifolia both flower on old wood, and should be more lightly pruned after flowering in late spring.

Cut out thin and crossing twigs of Spiraea 'Goldflame', and shorten back the main branches, to ensure a more telling flush of coppery spring foliage. I have two of these plants and one I prune to the base and the other as above. Both produce lovely new shoots.

 

FLOWER GARDEN AND ROSES

Use clean, sharp secateurs to prune bush roses (hybrid teas and floribundas) now, if you haven't already done so. First cut off all dead, damaged or diseased stems and thin, spindly twigs. Note that hard-pruning increases strong growth, so cut back weak shoots hard (to leave only about 1in of last year's growth) cutting above an outward-facing bud; leave about 2-3in of last year's growth on stronger stems. Shrub roses need less radical pruning. Take out about one third of the oldest and thickest branches at their base, using a pruning saw. Tidy up the remaining stems by trimming over the top to reduce height by about 4in.

Pick off faded flowers of pansy and daffodil. Pansies will flower longer if old flowers are removed

You can still buy Panisies in the garden centres. Set out pansies as soon as the ground is ready. They'll happily withstand cold weather and will bloom steadily if the spent blossoms are kept picked.

Lily bulbs are still available in the shops. Potted lilies make excellent stand-alone flowers for patios and terraces or sneaky fillers to brighten gaps in borders. It's much cheaper to plant them now than to buy them later, half-grown. Plant into deep pots; single bulbs need 7-8in diameter pots, or plant three per 12in container. Cover the soil surface with a half-inch layer of grit. Make sure when you purchase them that they are fim and do not have any diseases.

 

EXTRA BITS

It isn't too late to improve heavy clay soils for better yields this season, but act quickly. Dig plenty of coarse grit into the top 18in of soil over the whole area to be improved, incorporating one large wheelbarrow-load per 3-4 sq yds.

 

Like most plants Amaryllis, or Hippeastrum as they are sometimes called, need their leaves in order to create nourishment. If you cut off their leaves they are unlikely to be able to build up the strength to flower. Ideally they should be given a balanced liquid feed every two weeks while they are in growth and flowering, then watered sparingly until the leaves die back (naturally) at which point the bulbs should be kept dry until growth resumes. When they are in growth they like a warm, sunny spot. Finally they hate root disturbance and need to be re-potted only every three years or so.

 

Happy Gardening and see you next week.

 



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