In the garden: March 12, 2010

  • With temperatures cooling, particularly at night, conditions are good for gardening. Leave planting or shifting of woody trees and shrubs until later in autumn but you can turn your attention to clumping plants and perennials. Lifting overcrowded plants and splitting them up at this time of the year means that the plants can recover and re-establish before winter. This can avoid bare patches in the garden in spring which is particularly important for those who open their gardens. Always dig the ground over to loosen up the soil and add some compost or other soil conditioner along with a dressing of fertiliser. To reduce the shock to the plants, cut back the top foliage by about half and water the plants in well. Keep watering for a few days if we don’t get rain.
  • While working with your perennials, you may want to try taking some cuttings from types which only grow from a few stems rather than forming a clump of many shoots. We demonstrated this in an earlier Outdoor Classroom but the rule of thumb is to use firm new season’s growth and to take off any flower buds or stems. We are about to do some gypsophila cuttings.
  • Flaxes, astelias and grasses will respond very well to being divided at this time of the year but they need their tops cut back. The Mohican hair cut is not a good look but done now, the clumps will spring into fresh growth and cover that. Done later, you will have the ugly cut leaves until late spring.
  • A sharp spade makes digging and cutting hugely easier. We sharpen our spades by securing them in a bench-top vice and using a file. Remember to only sharpen the side which faces outwards when you use it. Once you have used a sharp spade, you will appreciate just what a big difference it makes.
  • In the vegetable garden, you are really too late now for Brussels sprout, leeks, carrots and parsnips but you can still plant Florence fennel, winter spinach, peas, winter lettuce and all the obliging brassica family.
  • Gardeners in colder, inland areas should be thinking about starting the autumn hedge trimming round. The trick to timing is to allow the hedge to make a light flush of fresh growth only and have time to harden it slightly before the onset of winter stops all growth. Get a man in, was the suggestion of friends over dinner at the weekend. We own up to having just such a treasure here (and he is not Mark) who is a perfectionist when trimming sharp hedges, even using a string line to keep the levels straight.