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Has spring sprung? 31 Mar 2024 The clocks have changed, but has the season?

March has certainly defied the proverb by going out with some rather lion-like behaviour, and yet more rain, but we did enjoy the occasional glorious day of real spring along the way. Though T. S. Eliot once wrote that “April is the cruellest month”, we are statistically justified in hoping for something kinder now, for all that Met Office records show that snow this month is commoner than it is in November. On April 26th 1981, five inches of snow fell as far south as Wiltshire, and in that week as recently as 2016, it snowed over much of southern England. The folkloric “Blackthorn Winter” is also identified with that period, but this year blackthorn was already out several weeks ago. Indeed, most of this winter was so mild that magnolias have been in bloom for almost two weeks, and I’ve got a June-flowering rose with several buds on it already.

The winter impatience of gardeners traditionally ends on Easter Monday (April 1st this year), and, with decent weather, garden centres and nurseries will be inundated with customers eager to “get going” for the coming summer. With the soil beginning to warm up, now is an ideal time to plant herbaceous perennials and shrubs. Try to plan ahead, thinking about how big any plant will eventually get, whether the place you want it for will suit it (dry/soggy/sunny/shady), and then always dig a generous hole for each plant, put some fresh compost in the bottom, then the plant itself (having teased out a few of its roots), and  fill up the hole with a 50/50 mix of garden soil and compost. When planting shrubs and trees I always add a scattering of mycorrhizal granules directly to the roots – this helps to establish the plant successfully. Whatever you’re planting, make sure the soil level remains as it was for the plant when in its pot, firm the soil down gently, and always water well in.

April is also the month to prune shrubs that are not utterly hardy, such as salvias (most varieties with a woody framework need a trim rather than anything more drastic), fuchsias (these can be cut down to a few inches above the ground, they soon resprout), and lavender (to be safe rather than sorry, only cut back to a point below which you can see new growth; if you prune into old wood, the plant might just die, but not cutting them at all can lead to straggly growth). Mophead hydrangeas should also have the old flower heads removed about now. Do NOT prune them back just to "tidy them up", or they won't flower. There is an excellent guide to pruning hydrangeas available here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/hydrangea/pruning-guide

In the vegetable garden, you can certainly get going with outdoor planting: chit and plant out second early potatoes in the first half of the month, maincrop potatoes in the second half. Plant shallots, onion sets, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke tubers and asparagus crowns; and transplant pot-grown broad beans. Sow seed of beetroot, carrots, Swiss chard, summer cauliflower, lettuce, leeks, radish, turnip, peas, spring and pickling onions – and what about experimenting this year with something unusual like salsify or scorzonera?

Meanwhile, fruit trees are budding and will soon be in bloom, so pray for no late frosts. In the event of an ominous forecast, a large sheet of horticultural fleece thrown over any such trees (and then well secured) is essential.

We had plenty of March winds, and will no doubt get lots of April showers, so fingers crossed for the May flowers that proverb promises!



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