Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 34 - March 2014
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • This is the main rose pruning season. You can cut back modern bush roses, climbing roses, patio roses, ground cover roses, shrub roses and species roses.
  • Prune back or coppice/pollard buddlejas, dogwoods, willows, cotinus, ornamental elders and eucalypts to control their size or ornamental effects.
  • Prune climbers such as summer flowering clematis. This is also a good time to undertake renovation pruning of climbers.
  • Sow hardy annual and wildflower seeds outdoors.
  • Sow half-hardy and tender annuals in the greenhouse ready to plant out in the warmer weather.
  • Pot up begonia tubers, gloxinia tubers, arum lily rhizomes, canna rhizomes, achimenes rhizomes, lily of the valley crowns, ginger lily rhizomes and dahlia tubers to start them growing in a frost free spot.
  • Plant new perennials and lift congested ones to divide them up (eg hostas, rudbeckias, heleniums, peonies and asters).
  • Plant out gladioli corms and lily bulbs.
  • If you’ve ordered plug plants, pot them up as soon as they arrive.
  • Brighten up your containers and pots with spring bedding, flowering spring bulbs and small evergreens.
  • Scrape the top layer of compost away from permanent container displays and replace it with fresh compost.
  • This is your last chance to move deciduous shrubs/trees and plant bare rooted ones.
  • Top dress the soil in beds and borders with a slow release fertiliser, raking it into the surface slightly.
Fruit and veg
  • As the soil warms up you can sow lettuce, rocket, radishes, spring onions, leeks, onions/shallots (seeds or sets), broad beans, parsnips, spinach, turnips, and early varieties of carrots and peas.
  • Start sowing annual herbs and lifting perennial herbs if you want to divide them.
  • Plant out rhubarb, strawberry plants and pot grown fruit trees/bushes.
  • Protect early crops with horticultural fleece, particularly if frost is forecast.
  • In the greenhouse you can sow tomatoes, chillies, bell peppers and aubergines.
  • Continue chitting early seed potatoes.
  • Harvest sprouting broccoli, Swiss chard and the last of the Brussels sprouts.
General tasks
  • Fork over bare earth in beds, borders and veg/fruit patches, removing weeds and mulching as you go.
  • Make sure you have your slug/snail protection in place to protect new growth.
  • Apply a spring feed (or ‘weed and feed’) to your lawn.
  • Start mowing your lawn as soon as it’s dry enough, starting with a longer cut and gradually shortening it (unless you have spring bulbs naturalised in it).
  • Scrub or pressure-wash patios and paths to get rid of the winter muck.
  • Clean your greenhouse out if you didn’t do it in the autumn.
  • Start recycling household rubbish to make plant pots, eg egg boxes, toilet roll tubes or yoghurt pots.
Camellia japonica Little BitPlant of the month

We're coming into camellia season and one of the early to mid spring flowerers is the pretty Camellia japonica 'Little Bit'. First cultivated in 1951, this is an anemone-form camellia with dark pink flowers flecked with white and lighter pinks. It's a medium sized shrub, growing to 4m height and 2.5m spread. Minimal maintenance is needed, although it would benefit from being covered by horticultural fleece in very cold winter conditions. Find out more...

Problem of the monthBlindness

Blindness is a problem which can cause flowers or vegetable heads to fail to form, particularly affecting flowering bulbs and brassicas. There is usually an underlying cause, such as planting bulbs at the wrong depth/too closely together, underwatering, water logging and, in the case of brassicas, periods of low temperatures. Blindness cannot be reversed that season, but identifying and resolving the underlying cause should prevent it happening again the following year. Find out more...

In the news

Woodland Trust petitions for flood reducing trees

The Woodland Trust has petitioned the Welsh Government to plant 10 million native trees to reduce flood risks. The Trust explained that, if planted strategically, the additional woodland could protect 375,000 properties from flood risks.

The Woodland Trust has also promised a new tree giveaway for 2014, offering 500,000 trees to schools and community groups for planting this autumn. Groups have until the 4th September to apply.

Slugs and snails top the charts, again!

The 2013 RHS report on the most prevalent garden pests, based on enquiries to its entomologists, has shown that slugs and snails are top of the charts again. The wet and mild weather in 2012 secured their position that year and, it would appear, enabled them to survive in large numbers over the winter to return last year.

Second place went to vine weevils, with capsid bugs in 3rd. Mice and voles reached a 24 year high taking the 4th spot. The plum moth was the only top ten newcomer in 2013, making its first appearance at 8th place.

A touch of Scotland at Chelsea

Suffolk garden designers DeakinLock are bringing a Scottish Country House to this year's Chelsea Flower Show 'Fresh' garden category. Their design, for House of Fraser, will feature home comforts including an armchair, wallpaper and lighting. The hard landscaping and planting of the garden will reflect the woven textures of tartan fabric.


Plants - a buyer's guide

March brings with it the hint of spring and new growth. It's also the time of year that draws many of us down to our garden centres to start purchasing new plants for spring and summer colour.

Early spring is a good time to plant, so long as your soil isn't frozen or waterlogged (both being quite possible after the last couple of months' weather!). Your new plants will have time to establish before the drier summer months and before the weeds get too much of a stranglehold.

But what should you look for, and what should you avoid, when buying plants? The last thing you want is to get a new plant home only to find it's died a few weeks later or, worse still, introduced a pest or disease into your garden. The general rule is that the plant should look healthy, clean and pest/disease free, but here are some more specific tips on what to check for:Shopping for plants

- Look out for signs of disease including discolouration of the leaves (though one or two yellow ones isn't usually a problem), pustules or powdery coatings on the leaves which could suggest a fungal disease, any stems dying back, or an overall wilting/withering of leaves or stems.

- Make sure that the plant isn't bringing any nasty pests with it to infest your garden. Check for holes in leaves, traces of honeydew, and eggs (on leaves or the soil surface). You should also carefully lift the plant out of the pot to check the roots for pest eggs or larvae, and to make sure that the roots are a healthy colour and not rotting away or being eaten.

- While you have the plant out of its pot, take a look at the root ball. The root system should be substantial and hold most of the potting compost in place, but there should still be some space for the roots to expand. Where roots are growing out of the base of the pot, out of the soil surface or circling around the circumference of the pot this suggests the plant is 'pot bound' and is less likely to thrive when planted out.

- Make sure that the soil in the pot is moist but not waterlogged. If the plant hasn't been watered properly then irreversible damage may already have been done, even if there aren't currently any outward signs of it. You should also take a look at the cleanliness of the pot and the soil, particularly checking for moss or liverworts growing on the surface. This might sound pedantic, but poor cleanliness and hygiene levels in garden centres and nurseries increase the chances of pests and diseases.

- Don't be afraid to buy herbaceous perennials out of season when you can't see much (or any) growth above the soil. Just make sure you inspect the roots well as they will be the best indicator of the plant's overall health.

- It's always a good idea to keep a new plant in 'quarantine' for a week or so before adding it into your garden. Keep it in its pot away from other plants and look after it well, then check that it hasn't developed any signs of poor health before you plant it out. This is a particularly good tip if you purchase plants being sold off cheap at garden centres because they are past their best - these can be great bargains but just make sure they aren't harbouring a nasty surprise before you add them into your prized border.

Find out more about buying plants...


What's on this month

The winter hibernation is over, so here are some garden events to tempt you outdoors this month:

  • 1st to 30th March - Camellia Festival, Chiswick House, London.
  • 5th & 14th March - Shrub Pruning Demonstration, RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon.
  • 8th & 9th March - Orchids 2014: A Plant Hunter's Paradise, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey.
  • 14th March - Garden Re-Leaf Day, events at garden centres around the country.
  • 15th to 23rd March - Daffodil Week, Batsford Arboretum and Garden Centre, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire.
  • 16th March - NGS Charity Day, Mount Ephraim Gardens, Hernhill, Faversham, Kent.
  • 27th March - Head Gardener Spring Tour, Witley Court and Gardens, Great Witley, Worcestershire.
  • 28th to 30th March - The Edible Garden Show, Alexandra Palace, London.
  • 29th & 30th March - All About Gardening Show, East of England Showground, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.