Gardening in March – “On your marks,….get set,…..GO” – New gardening year commences!

Keith Jordan

The season of Spring seems to have resumed in recent days (early March) with a few pleasant sunny, mild days after seemingly weeks of cold, dull, uninspiring weather. It’s difficult to believe that the first summer migrant songbirds (Chiff Chaffs) usually arrive in Cambridge around the 21st of this month on their journey from southern Europe and western Africa! As with plants, their spring progress is influenced by the weather.

March is really the main start of a new outdoor growing season and time to begin sowing/planting hardy vegetable varieties (peas, root crops, brassicas, onion and shallot sets, spinach, swiss chard, early potatoes, etc.). But just like Olympic athletes, pace yourself and don’t rush in and sow everything too soon! Spring can be a fickle affair and revert back to winter in a few days as soon as the winds change to an east or northerly direction. It has been known to snow at Easter! Sow seeds ‘a little and often’ and make use of horticultural fleece, old net curtain, cloches, cold frames (easily made from reclaimed timber and window frames) and other forms of shelter to create micro-climates around some crops. Plants can really respond to an increase of one or two degrees C in addition to any shelter provided (reducing ‘wind chill’) – in many ways mimicking climate change. If you plant potatoes too soon, their emerging foliage in April/May can be susceptible to frost damage, unless you can cover them over on a cold night. Again, if you plant a few at a time you guard against everything failing if the weather deteriorates and this maintains a continuity of crops that can be harvested throughout the year. Rhubarb and Seakale can also be forced (produces long tasty stems) by placing a bin or large bucket over a plant or two – the darkness and small temperature increase stimulates growth.

It’s the last chance to plant and prune fruit trees and bushes as they’ll soon be in growth. The buds on blackcurrants are already swelling and the flowers of wild Cherry Plum (e.g. along Barnwell Road, Cambridge) – the earliest of the plum/cherry (Prunus) family are coming out in flower. When pruning fruit trees that you want to rejuvenate, remove any dead, diseased or dying and stems and branches and those that may be rubbing or too close to neighbours. ‘Stone fruits’ such as plums, peaches, peaches and cherries should only be pruned only when dormant as wounds made during the growing season can lead to fungal infections. However, apples and pears can be ‘summer pruned’ later in the year to promote the growth of fruiting buds.

Last year the spring drought started around this time, and in the last few weeks there has been low rainfall, so start collecting rainwater….just in case!

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