As the months move on there is ever-lengthening days and we start to entertain the hope of more sunshine and calmer, brighter days after a winter of incessant wind and rain. Let us hope some balance returns to the weather from now on.
Jobs for the Month: Protect newly emerging shoots of perennials and bulbs from slugs, which have remained very active throughout this exceptionally, wet and mild winter.
Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes where both soil and weather conditions permit.
Plant summer flowering bulbs such as Gladioli, Nerines, Crocosmias, Anemones. Nerines should be planted in full sun with good drainage. Add plenty of grit when planting. Allow the shoots to protrude above the soil. Lilies should be planted without delay and should be left hanging around too long or they will shrivel. Add plenty of organic material at planting. Plant two to three times the depth of the bulb.
Begonias and Dahlias may be started off indoors in pots, trays or containers. Pot up in to good potting compost. Gradually increase watering as days become longer and growth accelerates. Grow them on in a frost-free greenhouse or bright porch, sunroom or garden shed. They may then be thoroughly hardened-off and acclimatised for planting in their summer quarters at the end of May.
Perennials that haven’t been divided with several years may be split up this month. Plant, adding plenty of organic material, as soon as possible after dividing, Hostas, Astilbes, Phlox and Lythrum will be especially appreciative of this generous treatment.
Containers containing overwintered conifers or shrubs will benefit from a top dressing of some fresh compost. Add too some slow release fertiliser. If your plants are lime haters such as Camellias, Heathers, Azaleas or Rhododendrons, use an appropriate ericaceous fertilizer-these are now readily available in a slow release format as well.
Cut back Dogwoods and Willow: Cornus (Dogwood) and Salix (willow), which have provided colourful winter bark, may now be trimmed back to encourage a new flush of growth. Use sharp secateurs or loppers when pruning. Feed and mulch generously after pruning to encourage a healthy crop of new shoots.
Greenhouse: Open up the greenhouse and conservatory on warm, sunny days. Close well before dusk. Get stocks of fresh compost for the greenhouse.
Get a stock of grow-bags in readiness for the tomato plants. Clean the glass thoroughly removing dirt, grime and algae. Repair broken glass. Repair polythene on polytunnels with repair tape available from McLaughlins, Bandon Medical Hall, 5/6 Bridge St., Bandon 023-8841115.
Get Bare Root Trees, Hedging, Windbreaks planted: Wrap up planting of bare root trees, hedging and windbreaks before the end of March. Hedging and windbreaks are terrific additions to the home and garden reducing the impact of wind and most significant reduction of noise levels. Needless to say trees and hedging make ideal habitats for wildlife and is generally beneficial to biodiversity. Shelterbelts are beneficial to farm animals. Trees and hedging can make working areas more pleasant and comfortable and help to reduce heating and fuel bills.
Choose native broadleaves and Scots Pine in rural landscapes. Young trees should be well protected against livestock, rabbits and hares. Deer fencing will be required where deer are a problem. Young trees and hedging should be kept clear of smothering weeds.
Fruit Trees: Apply sulphate of potash to cane fruit. Complete mulching of cane fruit, currants, gooseberries. Protect blossom of early flowering fruit when frost is forecast. Continue planting of Apple and Pear trees. Plant rhubarb and strawberries.
Rhubarb easy to grow but avoid a soil that is waterlogged over a prolonged period. Add plenty of well rotten farmyard manure prior to planting. Rake in Growmore fertiliser shortly before planting and keep well watered during dry periods.
Remove any flowering shoots that may appear. Feed the Rhubarb regularly throughout the summer with a liquid feed such as tomato food or a liquid seaweed based fertiliser.
Mulch with compost or well rooted manure in January or February. Begin pulling the sticks in April. Do not remove any stalks after July. Don’t harvest in the first year after planting. Generally a period of 12-18 months has allowed to elapse before harvesting.
Tomato plants may be planted by late March. Early plantings should be well protected against frost. Tomatoes come in a wide range of varieties. Qualities to look out for when choosing Tomato varieties include: fruit size; flavour; blight/disease resistance; fruit colour; varieties suitable for hanging baskets such as Tumbling Tom.