Jobs for the garden in March – planting, planning and pruning

It’s the season for planting and planning – just a couple of the jobs to do in the garden in March to help you get ready for spring.

March is when it starts to get busy in the garden, but it can be a tricky month. The days are getting longer and the sun is starting to have a little warmth, but heavy rain can leave the ground saturated, hard frosts can kill off tender plants and a late snowfall can ruin carefully made plans.

But whatever the weather, there are still many tasks you can tick off, whether it’s chitting potatoes, sowing seeds under cover or some last-minute pruning.

So if you are wondering where to start, we’ve got some of the most important jobs to get done in the garden this month, whether it’s planting, planning or tidying – that will get you ahead.

A log surrounded by snowdrops with a small wooden sign on it saying 'March'Credit: Shutterstock /Kathlyn Johnes
Getting jobs done in the garden in March will help you get ahead

What to plant in March

The seeds to sew this month

Flower seeds to sow in March

Hardy annuals can be sown in trays indoors or under glass now, but unless you live somewhere mild, it’s a bit early for half-hardies.

If your seed trays have been stored outdoors over winter or weren’t washed when you put them away, give them a good clean and brush up with hot soapy water.

Get the best results by sowing into trays using a finer seed-sowing compost, keep in bright but not direct light, and avoid temperature fluctuations. Once germinated, seedlings need to keep growing apace, so pot on regularly to encourage well-rooted, sturdy plants.

It’s also your last chance to plant out summer flowering-bulbs like lilies, as well as any forced bulbs you might have had indoors over winter, such as daffodils and hyacinths, if you haven’t already.

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Flower seeds you can sow now

Hardy annuals to plant under cover now include sweet peas, and pollinator-attracting calendula, cornflowers, ammi, cerinthe, Californian poppies and nigella.

From mid-month, sow tender annuals in a frost-free greenhouse, with rudbeckia cosmos, sunflowers, tithonia, nasturtium and cleome all easy options.

Vegetable seeds to plant in March

Hardy crops can be planted out in March, although those in the very north of the UK should wait until the end of the month or even early April, depending on the weather.

Hardy vegetables include broad beans, peas, spinach, garlic, onions, radish, Swiss chard and beetroot.

Sow in short rows at weekly intervals to ensure a steady crop over summer and autumn.

Start chitting potatoes

Find a sunny spot for seed potatoes

Gardening expert Val Bourne says: “It is traditional to plant on Good Friday but this is a superstitious idea rather than a practical one.

“Potatoes are frost tender and mid-April is usually safer than March – unless you fleece the crop or cover the tops with soil – this is called earthing up.”

However you can get ahead with early varieties by kick-starting the tubers into growth by placing on a sunny window ledge for a week or so, to encourage sprouts to form ahead of planting – known as ‘chitting’. Large egg trays left somewhere bright are perfect for this.

Potatoes were branded the devil's food

Bourne says: “Potatoes were introduced into Europe in the mid-sixteenth century by Spanish conquistadors who found them in the high Andes. Hence they were not mentioned in the Bible (for obvious reasons) and many people thought they were the devil’s food.

“In Ireland they were planted on Good Friday on land blessed with Holy Water.”

Garden jobs for March

Tasks in the garden this month

Mulch your borders

What you mulch with will depend both on what you have to hand and on what condition your soil is in. Hard clay soils can be opened up by digging in or mulching with composted bark or well-rotted manure or grit.

Avoiding walking on the soil which only compacts it even more – instead use a board to spread your weight. Sandy soils also benefit from annual applications of well-rotted manure, compost and other organic matter.

Plan your vegetable garden for the year ahead

Planning your vegetable patch for the year ahead ensures better use of space and bigger, healthier harvests. The basic principles are to avoid growing the same crop in the same ground two years in a row and follow ‘hungry’ plants that need a lot of enriched soil (such as cabbages or beans) with lighter-touch produce such as salads, leaves and root crops.

Pile 5-8cm of homemade compost, rotted manure or bagged soil improvers onto beds where you’ll grow brassicas, peas and beans and leave for a week or two to settle before sowing direct – starting with cold-hardy broad beans.

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Deadheading and pruning

Deadheading and pruning are important to encourage more flowering now and into the summer – and a good set of secateurs is vital. Read our guide to the best secateurs and best gardening gloves to buy.

  • Cut off old hellebore leaves to stop disease and to show off fresh new flowers.
  • Deadhead daffodils by cutting flower stems to the base but let foliage remain to help build up energy stores in the bulb. This reduces the chance of them coming back blind (without flower) next year. However, wild varieties, such as Narcissus obvallaris, can be left to spread by self-seeding.
  • Prune outdoor fuchsias back to one or two buds on each shoot, ie about four inches above ground level cutting to just above a pair of buds. This will encourage new shoots.
  • Cut back cornus and salix which are grown for colourful winter stems.
  • Deadhead and prune hydrangeas before the sap starts to rise.
  • Prune winter-flowering jasmine, cutting last year’s growth to a good sideshoot.

Pep up your pots

Boost your permanent pot displays of trees or shrubs, without disturbing the plants, by refreshing the top few inches of compost – known as top-dressing.

Simply scrape away the top 10cm and discard onto your compost heap and replace with fresh compost into which you’ve mixed a general fertiliser such as Fish, Blood & Bone.

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Any shrub or rose compost will suit but peat-free John Innes No 3 is ideal. Top with horticultural grit to keep weeds at bay.

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Feed roses

If you haven’t already done so give roses their first feed of the year. Use a tailored rose feed as they need the correct mix of nutrients. And don’t think you’ll be doing them a favour by over feeding. You’ll end up with too much sappy soft growth that makes them less able to withstand pests.

Feed again in April/May and, if you want, they can have a final feed in July but no later or that soft wood will make them vulnerable to winter cold.

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Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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