Officially winter is drawing to a close but weather wise this may not be true so with this months hints and tips be flexible and judge by what is going on outside. Do not take the printed word as gospel be guided by the weather.
Start Begonia and Gloxinia tubers indoors, ready for planting out when the weather is better. Prune Rose bushes when danger of long hard frosts is past. Divide and plant herbaceous plants and plant alpines. Prepare any areas where you intend to have a new lawn, take special care with any drainage and do not over compact the surface as this can cause problems later especially if it turns wet before sowing or turfing. Plant onion, shallot and garlic sets and cover with a cloche or polythene if really wet, to avoid rotting until roots are established.
Prune late flowering shrubs such as Caryopteris and Buddleia and give a really hard cut to plants such as hardy Fuchsia and Cornus, as these are woody species and only leaf and flower on new growth from the crown. Providing weather conditions meet the manufacturers requirements now is a good time to use a spring feed and moss killer on established lawns. Plant herbs in tubs, troughs and other containers also into beds including flower and herbaceous borders, some herbs can have attractive foliage and flower. Prepare support for taller herbaceous plants and re-support any late damage to existing stakes and fences. Plant potatoes and sow a wide range of vegetable seeds including successive sowings of broad bean, lettuce, leeks, parsnip, peas, radish, spring onion, spinach and chard. Remember solid clean pots and trays are very important and clear labelling especially where more than one variety of the same item is sown.
Place Gro Bags into tunnels, greenhouses or conservatories to warm the soil through, taking care not to dry them out. Sowing continues with the bedding range coming in, these include Dahlia, Impatiens, Petunias, Phlox Drummondii, Salvias, Tagetes, Mesembryanthemums, Alyssum, Nicotiana, Marigold and Linnias. Also to be sown at this time are Tomatoes, Aubergine, Peppers, Cucumber, etc in heated greenhouses and tunnels. Plant Lilies in pots ready for warmer weather.
Plant less hardy shrubs such as Hebe, Ceanothus etc, making sure the soil is not too cold and wet. Add some slow release general fertilizer to the base of the hole and to the soil going around the root ball. Keep a regular check for pests and diseases as the weather warms, and control any early outbreaks. One of the major headaches is vine weevil in containerised trees and shrubs. Once spotted at planting time, put the plant back into the container, treat with Provado and, once there is no sign of live weevils, plant out into the garden. Do not give them the free run off your borders, tubs and baskets.
Sow French beans under cloches and also make early sowings of Brussels Sprouts, Red Cabbage, Summer Cabbage and Cauliflower. If you have a pond start to feed the fish, once you see them moving keep them fed and make sure an airway is maintained during any late frosts.
Turfed lawns can be laid towards the end of the month providing the weather is suitable. The secret to any good lawn is in the preparation of the ground. First, dig over the area removing any stones and perennial weeds you find. If at this time you find the soil is wet then leave it open for a few days to dry out. Break larger clods with a fork and then rake to a fine tilth, at this time rake in a dressing of a balanced general purpose fertilizer to give the turf a good start. Once a good soil texture has been achieved "tread" down the soil and then rake out any unevenness and holes without going into the top and loosening the firmness. Once laid keep watering in dry windy conditions until the roots have gone into the new soil.
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