GINA PARKINSON welcomes the arrival of a busier part of the year for the garden, and admire the tightly furled rhubarb.

GARDENING jobs increase this month as plants gush into growth and the weather warms. I have been in a flurry of planting new things and replanting old specimens moved into spare soil in the veg plot last autumn.

The lawn has had its first trim and the yard has been cleared of a mounting pile of old kitchen cupboards and wood, swept clear and made ready for a new display of containers. It’s a positive time of year for gardeners, even when the sky blackens and drenches us with a sharp shower.

The list of March jobs can be worryingly endless, so it is best to prioritise and be flexible – for everything depends on the weather. There is no point sticking to spending the morning putting in new shrubs if the ground is frozen. It may be best to find a sheltered spot and get on with filling a few pots with primulas and violas.

On a dry day at the end of last week, our lawn had its first cut of the year. Just a very light trim with the blade set high, but it looked neater; parts of the lawn seem to have been growing for weeks, especially in sunny spots where it is never walked on.

If you are thinking of laying a path across a lawn, March is a good time to plan where it should go. The routes of humans and cats can often be seen clearly after a period without mowing.


Border patrol

STEMS kept on last year’s perennials for winter interest in the garden can now be removed. They have served their purpose and as many will already be showing signs of growth at ground level, the garden won’t feel bare for long.

Some will pull away quite easily, but if they don’t come out of the ground with a gently tug, it is best to cut them away at the base with a pair of sharp secateurs. Sedum spectabile, for example, is delicate at this early stage of growth. New rosettes are fastened to base of each spent flower stem and hardly fixed into the ground. This eventually beefy plant needs kid gloves at the moment. It is amazing how good a bed looks after a spring clean. All the dead matter from the plants has gone, the soil cleared of moss and weeds and carefully loosened around the plants, bulbs beginning to show and the lawn edges re-defined.

If the soil is damp but not frosted, it can be sprinkled with a general fertiliser then mulched with well-rotted garden compost.

Mulching is beneficial in a number of ways. It helps with the breakdown of heavy clay soils, adds bulk to sandy soil, helps to retain moisture and suppresses weeds. I have run out of my own compost this year, having spread the last of it on the veg patch in the autumn, so will have to order some in. Will report back on that venture later in the year.


Weekend catch up

IMPROVING weather comes with the top garden pest hanging onto its coat tails. Slugs and snails will be waking from their winter slumber soon. I haven’t seen any yet but in a sheltered, walled garden they may already be active.

Tender new shoots of any plant will be eaten, most of us some time will have gone into the garden to find all the plants put in the garden the previous day have disappeared. The Which? Gardening team report on slug and snail barriers in this month’s magazine. They tried a number of different methods, including a spray, granules, gel, copper tape and a mat none of which managed to repel the slimy borders. The verdict was that slug pellets are still the best option followed by biological control nematodes.

If using slug pellets go for organic ones containing ferric phosphate which isn’t harmful to pets or wildlife. There is a concern that they may alter the chemistry of the soil so always follow the recommendations on the packet and spread as thinly as possible just around vulnerable plants.


The veg patch

HAVING planted a new blackcurrant bush last week our minds are still on fruit in the vegetable plot at the moment.

The rhubarb is coming up beautifully, with tightly furled leaves beginning to open up atop the pink stems that will be so delicious to eat in a month or so. We have two varieties here, Timperley Early and Victoria. Both seem to be hardy plants and now they are coming into their third or fourth season they should do well this year.

Rhubarb is a greedy plant and needs to be in fertile, moist soil to do well, especially in a sunny site. To improve the chances of a good crop it is best to avoid picking any stems for the first couple of years; very hard to do, but it will allow the plant to get well established.

Mulch heavily around, but not on the crown, when the buds begin to appear, and again in winter as the plant dies back. Add a general fertiliser in spring to give it a boost.


Gardening TV and radio


7.30am, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. How to design small gardens.

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio York, Julia Lewis. News and features from the gardens and countryside of North Yorkshire.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. The team advise gardeners from Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Bunny Guinness, Anne Swithinbank, Matthew Wilson and chairman Peter Gibbs help gardeners from Dartmouth in Devon with their gardening problems.

8.30pm, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. Monty Don discusses hellebores whilst Carol Klein visits a couple whose newly acquired garden is in poor shape.