March: too good to be true?

At the risk of sounding like the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, when he cried out:“Beware the Ides of March!”, I would like to shout out: “Beware the Frosts of March!”.

Like many others, I have lapped up this recent good weather. Out at the allotment, down at the beach and on the bicycle; it has all been a real joy. The temptation now, is to charge ahead with the pruning, planting and mowing that are best left until the temperatures are consistently spring-like. You will have noticed the recent night frosts after the clear days: these are enough to damage a newly-mown lawn, knock back growth on recently pruned plants and to finish off anything that would usually be under cover at this time of year.

The best advice is to do what you would normally do at this time of year in the garden.

  • Start mulching your borders with compost or well-rotted manure in order to feed and improve the structure of the soil.

  • Keep planting bare-root trees and shrubs, but wait until the end of the month before you plant or move evergreens.

  • Cut back those dogwood and willow shrubs with the vibrant stems if you want them to produce strong colours next winter. Taking them down as far as 100mm (4 inches) from the ground is fine.

  • When the frosts are over, divide and replant clumps of herbaceous plants that have become too dense for their own good.

  • March is the best month for planting roses in heavy soil and cold areas. Prune bush and climbing roses.

  • In preparation for the new growth and flowering in the summer, prune Buddleja, Caryopteris, Ceratostigma, Hydrangea paniculata, Leycesteria, Lavatera, Perovskia and hardy Fuchsia. Look up as to what extent they should be pruned: this will vary according to what you are trying to achieve and the location of the plant.

  • Deadhead daffodils when they are over, but leave the foliage on order that the bulbs can be fed.

  • Plant and divide snowdrops and winter aconites.

  • Plant summer flowering bulbs and sow some seeds such as sweet peas.

  • Cut back ornamental grasses, even if they don’t look unruly, as this will make way for new growth.

  • If the dry weather persists, be prepared to do some unseasonal watering of newly installed plants.

I hope you do all this in blazing sunshine. If, however, you don’t, then take comfort in the fact that your March will still be a lot better than Julius Caesar’s one all those years ago.