Gardening Jobs of the Week, March 5, 2011

The month may have changed but the weather is stuck in winter. Although has been very cold the days are getting brighter with some sunny spells to brighten up the garden. The daffodils are finally starting to come into flower and the garden is starting to get the feel of spring. Plants that are outside that are not fully hardy will still need protecting as the weather is still very cold especially at night.

•It is great to be able to tell your dinner guests that you have grown what they are eating and one of the most satisfying is the humble spud, and especially having new potatoes when the price is high in the shops, and everyone else is only thinking about getting out into the garden. Now is the time to get your 'first earlies' and set them in trays, ideally egg trays as these allow the potatoes to be put in the right way up with the buds or eyes at the top. Keep them in a well-lit frostfree place, a greenhouse is ideal. Getting the right variety is also important. Arran Pilot is good on drier soils and Home Guard for moist soils, and Pentland Javelin for heavy crops of large potatoes. These three are all very reliable although very traditional. After ensuring that you have selected the best variety for your site next ensure that the seed potatoes are healthy. They should come from certified seed to ensure varietal purity and substantially free from virus diseases. It is best to purchase fresh certified seed potatoes each year rather than save your own or use ones destined for the table. For extra early potatoes cover some soil with cloches or horticultural fleece, plant a few potatoes under this to bring them on early, for continual cropping plant them every two weeks from now to the end of March. Protect the emerging shoots from frosts with dry bracken, twigs and newspaper, as a temporary measure. Planting time to harvest is about 15 weeks and a good average yield is 3-4kg per plant.

•In the greenhouse seed sowing should be the main job at the moment. For the vegetable garden sow cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce for planting out after the frosts have stopped. Tomato seed needs to be sown in the next few weeks to get a good start to the season, these will need frost-free conditions and some bottom heat to get them going. Flower seeds should also be sown now, particularly slowgrowing plants such as lobelia. Bedding plants will require a heated greenhouse to get them started with a minimum night temperature of 6C. On sunny days watch the maximum temperature and keep it no more than 20 degrees centigrade. Ensure they do not dry out.

•I often find that March is the month when I start to panic, when the weeds start to go into overdrive and the garden is beginning to need more attention. That is to say nothing of what is required in the greenhouse, with seeds to sow and seedlings to prick out. To try and steal a march on the weeds by getting out and mulching all the bare soil you can find in beds and borders. This will not only help to suppress the weeds, it will also help to retain moisture in the soil – after last summer this could be very important. Mulch should be applied in a good thick layer 3-5cm thick. Well-rotted bark mulch performs very well and gives beds a pleasant appearance.

•March is a busy month for the secateurs, roses need to be pruned and those shrubs grown for their winter coloured stems. Roses should be pruned hard back. Most people do not prune their roses hard enough and then they become lank and exhibit poor vigour. Bush roses are best pruned to six to eight healthy buds from ground level. Always prune just above the bud with a sloping cut away from the bud. Don't forget to give them a good mulch with mushroom compost or horse manure up to 10cm thick. Roses are hungry feeders, so to get good plants with lots of flowers you need to feed them.

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