March 6, 2009 In the Garden

·         If you have outdoor grapevines which you have not yet covered, get the bird netting on as a top priority if you want any crop at all. The birds will eat them at an earlier stage than you and will completely strip the crop or open up the fruit for wasp attack.

·         A reminder to prune the fruited canes off your raspberries, if you have not yet done so (and we haven’t). If they have borne fruit this year, they are now redundant and merely clutter the place up because next summer’s fruit will be set on this season’s fresh growth.

·         Do a feeding round now on fruit trees, both deciduous and citrus. Feeding deciduous trees such as apples and plums now gives them time to take up the sustenance before they go dormant. If you are avoiding ready mix fertilisers, rich compost can be used but don’t build the layer up around the trunk.

·         March heralds the start of autumn. While we can expect a very long and mild autumn in our climate, getting the winter vegetables in should be a priority so they can do all their growing done and then most will just sit and hold in the ground when the cold weather comes. Winter vegetables take in the brassicas, winter spinach, peas and root crops such as carrots, swedes and parsnips. Sow the root crops first because they need longer to grow and it is getting late for them. It is the late winter and early spring vegetables which are the most expensive to buy so successional sowings now will save money later.

·         Gardeners in colder, inland areas should be starting to think about a pruning round on hedges because the plants are happier if they can make a small amount of fresh growth before colder temperatures stop them from growing until spring. The trick is to get the timing right so that growth is just a neat fresh flush and not a full on growth which will look untidy in winter.

·         A buxus expert we spoke to this week tells us that buxus blight (which turns the plants brown in big, spreading patches) is made a great deal worse by feeding and watering. Plants which are grown in drier, harder conditions will stay healthier. She also thins her plants to keep air movement. If you want to try and hold buxus blight at bay, don’t let your plants get too dense. She confirmed the advice we gave readers earlier: if you have a bad infestation, burn the plants and replace them with something different. Long term, there is little chance of beating buxus blight so the sooner you bite the bullet, the sooner you get other plants established.

·         Henry Mitchell, the deceased garden columnist for the Washington Post, wrote as recently as 1998: “There is a dangerous doctrine – dangerous because it precludes endless gardening pleasures – that every plant in the garden should be disease-free, bug-free, hardy to cold, resistant to heat and drought, cheap to buy and available at any garden centre.” Nothing has changed in the past decade, except that the plant is now expected to be low maintenance as well as all of the above.