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March Newsletter

It’s an exciting time with hardy bedding to plant outside and tender summer bedding to nurture. Easter is traditionally the time to get spring bedding planted. Whether you’ve grown your spring bedding plants from seed or bought them as hardy young plants Primroses, sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) and wallflowers will all shrug off cold weather. Even if there’s a blanket of snow in March these plants will survive. They keep the early daffodils company and add some extra colour while we wait for the tulips  to flower in April.

As soon as the clocks go forward we can also start looking forward to summer bedding displays. Petunias, fuchsias and geraniums (pelargoniums) are waiting in the wings and there are plenty to choose from.

While it’s definitely the right time to order or buy young plants it’s definitely not the time to risk these tender and half hardy plants outside. Tender plants need frost free conditions and it’s simply too early to risk losing them to a sudden frost. Pot them up and pop them into a heated greenhouse or warm conservatory to grow on until all risk of frost has passed.

It may be too early to plant tender and half hardy plants outside but don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm! If you want a favourite variety or something new and exciting it pays to get your plans finalised and plants ordered as soon as possible.

 

Brilliant begonias.  If you have dormant begonias they’ll be starting into growth now but you can also grow bedding and basket begonias from plug plants.  


Everyone has a favourite begonia and mine include: ‘Illumination Apricot Shades’ and lovely soft pink-tinted Million Kisses ‘Elegance’.  I have to confess I was slow to appreciate begonias but as soon as I discovered the soft pastel ones I was hooked.  They look so fragile but they’re tough cookies. The vigorous, disease resistant plants put on a reliable show even in miserable wet and windy weather.  Gardening Which trialled them last year and both these varieties came out as highly rated plants. They’ll give impressive results in containers and baskets and masses of gorgeously coloured blooms all summer.


Another begonia I get excited about is award winning Glowing Embers’- It won ‘Best in Show’ at the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) National Plant Show. I love the tangerine single flowers and it’s really distinctive contrasting dark foliage. It should look amazing teamed with Anagalis ’Angie’, an orange version of the ever popular blue Anagalis ‘Skylover’.  If there’s room I’ll pop in a dark leaved foliage plant, Lysimachia ‘Midnight Sun’ should carry on the dramatic foliage theme a treat.


I’ll also be giving new Begonia ‘Santa Cruz Sunset-Mix’ a try in my container displays but I‘m giving these a basket on its own. The trailing plants are a mass of vibrant flowers from mid summer until the frosts and because they are seed raised plugs it’s not going to cost a fortune to fill the garden to overflowing. They’re perfect if you’ve got a lot of containers to fill and a limited budget.

 

I always have room for shade-loving bedding or border begonias but because they are notoriously hard to grow from seed I’m buying these bedding begonias (begonia semperflorens), as young plants. This means the expert growers do the hard part for you.


I always buy them as plug plants and once potted and grown on they make a mass of bright flowers that are ideal for containers. Bedding begonias do really well even in a shady spot, so if you have a shaded patio or a north facing window box that needs livening up these are ideal.


Bedding begonias also make fabulous ground cover bedding in borders. I’ve seen them used as under planting for silver birch trees in a shady part of a mature garden where they looked superb. They were also planted around the base of a tree fern and gave a totally tropical effect. Definitely an idea to copy!


Pot up the plants when they arrive and keep them somewhere bright and warm to grow on into vigorous well-rooted plants. Keep them moist but not wet and plant them out into their final positions once the risk of frost has passed. Then feed them weekly and keep well watered for the best display.

Add an ornamental tree or hedge. It’s almost the last chance to plant bare root trees and hedging and all this wet weather means the ground is nice and moist. Bare root trees need moist soil and they won’t mind if the weather is cool over the Easter holiday; as long as the ground is workable you can plant them.


Buying trees and hedging as bare root plants is a really cost effective way of giving the garden height and privacy and a mature feel.


Ornamental trees make a garden feel really established. Before you know it birds are perching on the branches, the blossom is out and the trees are alive with bees. It’s a great feeling to know you’re contributing to the wildlife in the area. Trees such as birch (Betula utilis) can be home to hundreds of insects as well as providing nesting sites for the birds. With brilliant winter bark and spring catkins birches are worth a place in any garden. Trees and hedging with fruit or berries such as our native hawthorn (Crateagus laevigata) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)  are tough as well as beautiful and   blossom trees such as flowering cherries and crab apples often have attractive winter bark as well as spring blossom, fruit and berries and autumn colour.

BeansA summer garden without a rose is almost impossible to imagine and, even in a small patio garden, it’s possible to include a rose; with breeders finding new and more compact varieties, you don’t need lots of space to grow them. These days there are patio and miniature roses that will even grow in hanging baskets.


The ‘Drift series’ of hanging basket roses are a breeding breakthrough. A cross between a groundcover rose and a miniature rose they’ve been bred to be disease resistant and repeat flowering. They’ll flower all summer and keep going year on year. The stems have very few thorns so they’re easy to handle and very easy to care for. Feed with a high potash feed or specialist rose food and keep a watchful eye out for aphids and they’ll give years of pleasure.


If you hanker after a more traditional rose try fabulously scented pink floribunda ‘Natasha Richardson’. It flowers from June until October and adds that soft cottage garden look to a border. Or for a shot of brilliant colour and a strong rose perfume go for scarlet hybrid tea rose ‘Tower Bridge.


Everyone has at least one favourite rose, I’ve got loads but one of my absolute favourites is Compassion.  It’s a climbing rose with large, beautifully perfumed flowers in a gorgeous warm pink and it’s a reliable, well behaved climber even in a small garden. .
Roses have something of an unfair reputation as being hard to look after but give them good soil and a yearly pruning regime and they’ll stay healthy and looking their best.
New varieties are bred to be disease resistant. But if your roses succumb to fungal disease such as black spot there are fungicides available to prevent further infection.
Mildew often occurs in wet summers when top growth is too crowded meaning air circulation is poor. It’s often a sign that the roots are dry while the portion of the rose above ground is in humid, still air. Pruning a rose to keep it open at the centre is one of the best ways to let air in and avoid mildew problems.


Aphids can be a problem on any plant, one day there are none and the next the stems are a horrid mass of grey or green. They breed incredibly quickly but a watchful eye will nip a small problem in the bud before it gets out of hand. Ants crawling up the stems are often a telltale sign of aphid infestation. The ants ‘farm’ the aphids for the sticky honeydew they produce and in return the ants protect the aphids from predators.


If you garden organically you’ll know that the birds can make short work of aphids, they’ll perch precariously on the stems and feast on pests! Ladybird larvae will do an equally good job, or you can just rub the pests off the stems as soon as you spot them. Aphids multiply at an alarming rate if left to do damage. If you’re keen to garden as organically as possible but still want to spray, use a fatty acid pest spray to kill aphids.  Pesticides work well but be careful never to spray plants while bees and pollinating insects are flying and keep spray away from ponds and fish.

 
Tips for the garden...

March marks the start of some serious seed sowing!  Get going with seeds that take a while to germinate and grow, such as nicotiana and antirrhinums. If you don’t have a heated greenhouse, start with seeds such as pansies that need cooler temperatures to germinate.


Every seed packet has information such as optimum sowing dates, what temperature to sow at and how long the seeds will take to germinate. Organise your seed packets by sowing month and you won’t miss the timing of any vital plants.


Staggered or successional sowings can extend the season for all sorts of plants. Some seed is very fine, and if you sow it all at once you’ll be swamped with seedlings, all waiting to be pricked out and cared for at the same time. By sowing a small amount every few weeks, flowering plants will bloom at different times to keep the garden colourful for longer and, importantly if you’re sowing salads or vegetables, you’ll avoid a glut of any one plant.

 


Make room for herbs and salads
Even in an ornamental garden there’s room for herbs and salad crops such as lettuces or mixed salad leaves. As well as providing home grown salads they make very decorative plants for planting along border edges or even for filling space in perennial borders. Chives’ pretty little purple pom-poms combined with tightly curled parsley plants will add that cottage garden look when they’re used in ornamental plots; plant them in the border or pop into containers.


A patch of poor soil in full sun may be just the place to site a mini herb garden. Herbs don’t need perfect soil to thrive but they do need sharp drainage and most enjoy a sunny position although leafy coriander, chervil and mint will all do well in part shade.


Even if your only outside space is a patio or balcony it’s easy to create a dedicated herb plot if you plant into a decorative container. Our hazel patio container  groups your herb collection together and adds a traditional ‘potager’ style to urban as well as country gardens. Site it in full sun and near to the house so you can snip some leaves for the kitchen whenever you need them.


In a truly tiny space opt for a mini herb garden in a decorative trough that’s small enough to fit on a window sill.


If you want your herb garden to make a real statement nothing beats a bay tree. Traditionally bay trees were placed in the centre of herb beds as ornamental and useful culinary herbs.
These days they are just as likely to be standing sentry outside a smart townhouse as in a vegetable garden; but these classy, ornamental plants are kitchen stalwarts. Bay is an essential ingredient in the classic French ‘bouquet garnis’ a herb bundle used to give soups, stews and sauces extra flavour.  A single bay leaf added with the milk gives a whole new dimension to a plain white sauce. Use it in dishes such as lasagne or cheese soufflés. Just be sure to wash bay leaves, and all other leafy herbs, before using them in the kitchen.

 


Harden plants off and prepare for planting when warmer weather arrives.
Get prepared for planting in late spring once the weather warms up; clear space now in cold frames and grow houses  and in the greenhouse to make room for trays of seeds and plug plants.
The Easter weekend is a busy time for growers and nurseries so order in plenty of time to get your favourite plants delivered.


Once you get your young plants not all of them can be planted out straight away! Depending on where you live and whether the plants are hardy or tender, they’ll need hardening off for days or even weeks to gradually get them used to outside temperatures.


Most hardy plants arrive at the right time to grow on or plant out but if your hardy plants arrive in an unexpected cold snap keep them protected from frost.  A cool greenhouse or cold frame or a sheltered spot outside will be ideal. 
Half hardy and tender plants such as geraniums (pelargoniums), fuchsias and many bedding plants will need more warmth. Shelter them in a heated greenhouse or warm, well lit place indoors and don’t be tempted to risk them outside until all risk of frost is passed.
During March and early April grow these tender young plants on and repot them as necessary, going up one pot size at a time until they are well rooted young plants.


Harden off plants
This might sound technical but it’s really just the term used for getting plants used to outside conditions and temperatures.
Start by putting plants out during the day and bringing them in at night.
If they are in a cold frame or grow house increase ventilation by opening the lids during the day and closing them at dusk.
It’s important to balance the plants’ need for warmth with good air circulation. This will help to avoid fungal infections such as mildew or fungal spots.

Here are some top tips:
Space plants out to allow air to circulate.
Water carefully -Water the soil and avoid wetting the leaves
Remove any debris or dead leaves promptly
Some plants such as lobelia get a reddish or metallic tinge as they acclimatise to outside temperatures, this is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

 


Wage war on slugs and snails


As soon as weather warms up and spring rains start to fall our number 1 pest appears. In fact with the amount of rain we’ve had in the past year some gardens have hardly seen a dip in the slug menace all year! Everyone has a favourite method of getting rid of them, from the deeply ghoulish (squashing, squishing and slicing!) to the hi tech and traditional.
Copper rings, crushed up eggshells around vulnerable plants and beer traps all have their place.


But once soil has warmed up my favourite method is to water in nematodes.  These are tiny living micro-organisms that live in the soil and destroy the slug population, killing pests underground as well as those above soil.
Slug pellets used to have a bad reputation with organic gardeners but the formulation has been radically changed and if used as directed i.e. sparingly and with the pellets well spaced out on the soil they don’t pose a threat to our garden wildlife.
Whichever method you favour stock up now before the slug and snail population takes hold.


Check for slug and snail eggs in the crevices of seed trays and pots and destroy them. The underside of bricks and stones is another favourite hiding place. Slugs and snails can invade cold frames and greenhouse staging, keep vigilant because just one slug can munch through a tray of seedlings over night!

 


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