MARCH is here and we all need to step up a gear. This can be a busy month, but stay calm and organised and by the end of it you will have lots done. The next few weeks are mostly about sowing and planting in the garden. You might also decide that the grass needs a tidy and get out the mower, or you may want to check that all frames and supports for climbing plants are in good order.
Wash pots and prepare
Get out your collection of pots and give them a wash. You don’t have to be fanatical, but do aim to get rid of any clinging compost that may carry disease spores from last year into this one. If you save all the pots from when you buy in plants, you will end up with a wide selection of sizes, shapes and colours.
Choose the best one for what you want. Deep pots and tubs are best for long rooted plants like peas and beans. Trays that are divided into cells, work well for starting beetroot and large single pots do best for larger seeds like courgette. Some small seeds can be sown thinly over the top of a tray of compost.
Make sure all pots are labelled clearly so seedlings don’t get muddled up. Brassicas look remarkably similar when they are small. Plastic milk bottles cut into strips provide a good supply of robust plant labels and a waterproof permanent marker can be used to write on them.
What to sow now
• Tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in a propagator.
• Cucumbers do best if sown around the middle of March. A couple of early courgettes can be sown then too, but be sure to have somewhere warm to keep them until they can be safely planted out.
• Leeks, Brussels sprouts, celeriac and beetroot all do well from an early start. If you have a greenhouse or polytunnel then put pots on a bench and cover with bubble wrap.
• Broad beans can go in the ground under a cloche as soon as this cold spell passes. Wait another couple of weeks before sowing peas outdoors. Sow a few extra seeds in pots so you can fill any gaps in rows.
• Sweet peas can go directly into the ground, but you will get better germination if you soak seed for a couple of hours and then sow them in pots in a greenhouse.
Onions and shallots can be planted outdoors. Beware of doing this in very cold weather as a few hard frosts can make plants more likely to bolt. It’s worth covering new planted rows to protect small sets if a frost threatens.
Early potatoes can go into the ground as soon as it is warm enough. This is usually around the middle of the month, but don’t plant into cold wet ground. I prefer not to cut seed potatoes into smaller pieces – the wound can allow disease to enter. Potatoes should have short healthy green shoots before planting.
Look after seedlings
Sowing several small seeds in one pot is a good way to get started, but you need to be ready to pot seedlings on as soon as they are big enough to handle and move. Growth will be held back if you leave small plants crowded together so work out how many plants you want to grow and fill one pot with compost for each one. Make a hole with a finger at the centre of each pot and drop a single seedling into each hole. Choose seedlings that are strong and a good colour – you want to start off with the best that you can and give them the best chance to flourish. Handle small plants with care and don’t damage stems. Firm the compost gently, so roots aren’t sitting in an air pocket, and water until all is damp.
Leggy seedlings can be dropped further down in the pot so a longer length of stem is buried. Leaves should sit just above the top of the compost.
Keep these pots out of direct sunlight and avoid large temperature fluctuations for a couple of days. You want to avoid any stress on a plant that has just been moved to a new place.
These plants aren’t just for Christmas! They also grow well outdoors and particularly if they are grown in a pot near a sheltering house wall. Bulbs planted last autumn will be flowering now. They last for a few weeks before the flowers fade. Cut out the flower shoots when flowering is done and leave the pot in a corner of the garden for the leaves to die back.
Plants can flower for another year or two, but they will probably produce fewer flowers on each shoot.
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