Place cloches over existing, overwintering plants in order to stimulate them into flowering so they produce a crop as early as possible. Once flowers form, remove the cloches on warm days to allow insects to pollinate them.
Protect strawberry cloches
Rake seedbeds ready for sowing
Remove sheets or cloches from areas you’ve been preparing as seedbeds and rake over the soil, breaking down any lumps until it forms what’s called a “fine tilth”. This is the Holy Grail of every vegetable gardener: soil that is fine and crumbly, with no stones or large clods of earth. Perfect for sowing. If it is too dry and dusty, water it. If it sticks to your boots, wait for it to dry out a little more.
All soils benefit from the addition of fertilizers before seeds are sown or young seedlings planted. Now is a good time to apply them. You can choose organic fertilizers, which originate from plants and animals, and include seaweed, chicken manure, and fish, blood, and bone meal. Or you can use inorganic fertilizers, which are extracted from minerals or manufactured using chemical processes.
Feed overwintering crops
Vegetables that have been in the ground throughout the winter – onions, kale, spring cabbages and cauliflowers, and hardy lettuces – may be looking a bit worse for wear. Perk them up with a top dressing of blood, fish, and bone, chicken manure, or seaweed-based organic fertilizer.
Remove rhubarb cloches
With luck, you may be able to harvest your first forced rhubarb this month.
Trim and divide herbs
Tidy up perennial herbs such as rosemary and sage by giving them a good trim. Propagate clumps of chives and mint by digging them up, dividing them, and re-planting.
Protect cherries, apricots, peaches, and nectarines
These trees should all be in blossom by now. If possible, cover them with fleece or polythene to protect the flowers from frost damage.
Early cherries, which are in flower in March, are particularly vulnerable to frost.
Finish winter-pruning gooseberries, blackcurrants, and blueberries
If you’ve not already done so, complete your winter-pruning. Next month will be too late.
March is your last chance to prune last year’s autumn raspberry canes. Cut them right down to the ground. The new canes on which this year’s berries will fruit will start emerging soon.
Feed and mulch fruit trees and bushes
All fruit trees and bushes are coming out of dormancy and entering a growth spurt. Giving them a feed of high-potash fertilizer or an organic mixture of blood, fish, and bone or seaweed will get them off to a good start. Spread fertilizer around the base, water it in well, and cover with a layer of rotted-down farmyard manure or compost to act as a mulch.
Pollinate apricots, peaches, and nectarines
In a cool spring, insects may not be around to pollinate blossom when they’re needed. If so, a little human intervention may be required. Hand-pollinate using a soft paintbrush to carefully dust pollen from one flower to another.
As days lengthen, temperatures rise, and the soil warms up, weeds will begin to germinate and grow. Dig out perennials such as bindweed and couch grass, and hoe regularly to kill off emerging annual weeds.
Make runner bean and celery trenches
Both runner beans and trench celery need rich, fertile soil. Get ahead now by digging trenches 60-90cm (2-3ft) wide and 30cm (1ft) deep, and over the next few weeks fill them with compost. It should have all rotted down by the time you’re ready to plant in May or June.
Pest and disease watch
Mice and rats
Big bud mite
Peach leaf curl
Text and photographs copyright © 2010 Alan Buckingham.