Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings

Newsletter 58 - March 2016

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.
Plant of the monthMagnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata is a rounded shrub or small tree. Furry grey buds open into slightly scented white flowers on bare stems in March and April. It suits low maintenance gardening and can be grown in the ground or in a large container, though it prefers a sheltered location. Find out more...

Problem of the monthGarden rose tortrix moth larva

The larvae of the garden rose tortrix moth can be a problem for roses and other garden shrubs and trees. The caterpillars create shelters by folding up leaves with webbing, then proceed to skeletonise or eat the leaves entirely and also consume young shoots, buds, flowers and fruit. Find out more...

In the news

Funding granted for over 80 'pocket parks'

Communities Secretary Greg Clark has announced a £1.5m fund to be shared between 87 neglected small urban spaces across England. The money will help to turn these areas into community parks for everyone to use. Winning locations include Penryn in Cornwall, Wolverhampton and Walsall.

Japanese knotweed makes an early appearance

The Property Care Association has reported sightings of Japanese knotweed in several areas of the country, months ahead of its normal growth pattern. It is thought that the wet and mild winter weather has brought forward this destructive plant's growth habits and that the widespread flooding the UK has seen recently may have spread the weed's seeds further than normal.

Flower Show plans announced

The show garden line up for the RHS Malvern Spring Festival has been announced, including a homage to Capability Brown, a representation of an old rustic Italian Cloister garden, a sunken retreat and an exploration of the Japanese technique of 'Shakkei' ('borrowed landscape').

Show garden details for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show are also being revealed. Cholmondeley Castle Gardens and Mornflake will be displaying their 'Temple Garden' in the Great Pavilion, enticing visitors with the promise of a unique selection of plants that has never been seen at Chelsea before.

The Brewin Dolphin Chelsea show garden, designed by Rosy Hardy, will showcase four new varieties of herbaceous perennial, including a white form of the popular thistle Cirsium rivulare and a mid-blue repeat-flowering veronica.

Championed by Peter Seabrook, The Sun Flower Square exhibit in the Great Pavilion will feature four model garden displays which have been created in a collaboration between nearly 60 horticultural industry companies along with the Horticultural Trades Association, the Garden Centre Association, schools and horticultural colleges.


Low maintenance gardening - easy beds and borders

All gardeners strive for beautiful beds and borders with fabulous year round displays, but few have the time to achieve such perfection. So here are some of our top tips to help the time-constrained gardener keep their beds and borders in the best possible condition:

Manage your expectations

When you go and visit gardens, such as RHS or National Trust locations, you’re bound to be inspired by their wonderfully colourful borders. But keep in mind that these borders are tended year round by a team of gardeners, so the plants and designs they use are less likely to be suitable for low maintenance gardening.

But while you might not be able to recreate the majesty of a professionally tended garden, with careful plant selection and a few days’ of care and attention each year, you too can have beds and borders to be proud of.

Organising your beds and borders

Make sure you know where you intend to put each plant before you decide which to purchase. By ensuring that each plant is growing in a spot where it will be happy you’ll have fewer problems and less to do. You need to consider the aspect of the location, how sheltered it is, any climactic factors (such as frost pockets), and the qualities of the soil.

Growing your plants in drifts of the same type can help to reduce the time it takes to look after them as it's easier to tackle one large area for maintenance tasks (such as cutting back after flowering), rather than having to pick out small groups of plants.

Organise your planting scheme so the plants which need most attention are easiest to get to. Plants stuck at the back of a border far from the house are likely to have to fend for themselves, whereas you’ll be more inclined to tend to those which are within easy reach.

Choosing the right plants
Ground cover plants
Pachysandra terminalis

Keeping the soil in your beds and borders covered with foliage for most of the year will help to suppress weeds and give you interest in all seasons. Great low maintenance ground cover plants include:

  • Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpureum’
  • Dianthus cultivars (pinks)
  • Hedera (ivies)
  • Pachysandra terminalis (see right)
  • Waldsteinia ternata
Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald and Gold'

Shrubs can provide year round interest and, so long as you select them carefully, will require little attention. Avoid specimens that require annual pruning and make sure that you check the ultimate size of the plant will fit into the spot you’ve chosen. Here are some suggestions:


This is another easy option for beds and borders. Underplanting shrubs and ground cover with bulbs can provide shots of colour throughout the year, but particularly in spring and summer. Just make sure that you’re choosing a bulb which will survive year on year in your chosen location, rather than having to be lifted after flowering. Tulips, daffodils and snowdrops are great choices.

Herbaceous perennials

Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinstern'When choosing herbaceous perennials for your beds and borders you need to be quite careful that you don’t select plants which require a lot of maintenance, as many need staking, cutting back, deadheading and other tasks. These examples require little or no looking after:

  • Astilbe cultivars, such as A. ‘Bressingham Beauty’.
  • Carex elata ‘Aurea’
  • Echinacea purpurea (E. p. 'Rubinstern' is shown right)
  • Hemerocallis cultivars (day lilies)
Plants to avoid

Once planted most annuals will require little maintenance, but they will need to be replaced each year, so if you want to keep your garden really low maintenance then you’re better off going for perennials which will give you value year after year.

Tender perennials

While these plants will survive more than one year, they are usually grown as annuals (for example pelargoniums). This means that you’ll either have to replace them each year or dig them up and bring them under cover to survive the winter.

Mulch, mulch and mulch again!

Regular mulching around your plants is key to reduce weeds and the watering you’ll need to do. There are many different types of mulch to choose from to suit your style, such as bark chippings, composted bark, gravel, or leaf mould. Apply the mulch to damp, weed free soil to a depth of at least 5cm, ideally 10cm. You’ll need to top it up each year (early spring is an ideal time), but this relatively quick task is well worth the effort compared to the hours you would otherwise spend doing the weeding.

Make sure that your mulch doesn’t smother low growing plants and if it’s an organic mulch (such as bark or manure) don’t let it touch the stems of woody perennials (ie trees or shrubs) as it can cause rot.


Find more ideas for low maintenance gardening.


What's on this month

Gardening events are "springing" up everywhere this month!:

  • 11th to 13th March - The Edible Garden Show, Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, Warwickshire.
  • 12th March - Saturday Seed Swap, Gorgie City Farm, Edinburgh.
  • 13th March - Early Spring Curator's Tour, University of Bristol Botanic Garden, Stoke Bishop, Bristol.
  • 19th March - New Ideas For Veg Growing, Waterperry Gardens, Nr Wheatley, Oxfordshire.
  • 19th & 20th March - Spring Flower Show, Princess Pavillion, Falmouth, Cornwall.
  • 20th March - Rare Plant Fair 2016, The Bishop's Palace, Wells, Somerset.
  • 25th March to 15th April - Amazing Magnolias, Borde Hill Garden, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.
  • 26th March - Delight In Dahlias Talk, West Dean Gardens, West Dean, West Sussex.
  • 26th to 28th March - The Suffolk Flower Show, Suffolk Showground, Ipswich, Suffolk.
  • 27th March - Spring Bonsai Show, Capel Manor Gardens, Enfield, Middlesex.
  • 31st March - Ponds And Pots Children's Activity, The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Essex.