Posts Tagged ‘spring sowing’

What to do in the garden in March

February 27th, 2015 | Garden Diaries, News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

February gave us a mixed bag of weather, with plenty of rain, several frosts, but also plenty of bright, dry days.  We have had no snow and virtually no fog.  At present our land is fairly wet, but drying winds should see that situation change during March.  This is the month when seed sowing really gets into full swing, especially with half-hardy flowers and vegetables, which need gentle warmth for germination and the early stages of development.

At our trials ground in Kentford, our grounds manager has already made plenty of under-cover early sowings, and his activity will move up a gear or two as March gets into full swing.   The busiest time of the gardening year arguably is late February and March as we fill up our seed trays, and all available space in coldframes, windowsills and under cloches to get an early start on what we would like to grow in 2015.

The mornings and evenings are getting noticeably lighter, and the welcome sound of birdsong early in the morning is a sure sign spring cannot be far away.  Add to that the snowdrops, which are in full bloom by the wayside in the village, and the dwarf daffodils and hyacinths, which are just starting to flower in gardens, then the spirit really starts to soar in anticipation of the growing season ahead.  And so, here we guide you through the busiest month of the year, in the garden in March.


Jobs in the flower garden in March

Sweet Pea JimeldaFirst, the rather pressing matter of sweet peas!  According to our Pim Dickson, gardeners who wish to enter their sweet pea blooms in our £2500 sweet pea growing competition to be held at Capel Manor College, North London, on Saturday 18 July have only until the second week of March to make indoor sowings. You should allow at least 18 weeks from sowing to flowering under optimum conditions. Time to get those horticultural skates on!

Remember the competition is aimed at ‘ordinary’ gardeners rather than those who grow with exhibition in mind, with prizes being awarded to entrants whose displays have the greatest all-round appeal in the opinion of the judges.  We want the whole process of growing and showing sweet peas to be as much fun as possible, so please consider growing some of these beautiful flowers with the competition in mind.

Entrants may either post their blooms in a two-litre soft drinks bottle or turn up at the college on the day of the show to stage their flowers.  The two categories will be judged separately and there are also categories for individual youngsters and for schools.

Autumn-sown sweet pea seedlings will benefit from as much ventilation as possible, either in the cold frame or greenhouse, before being planted to their flowering positions later in the month.  Ensure their support system is in place before you set them out.  Sweet peas are hardy annuals and can therefore be sown direct in their flowering position when the soil warms up and is workable.  Again, make sure canes and netting or your alternative choice of support is in place before you sow.

Sunflower Sunny BabeSweet peas are sometimes referred to as the ‘queen of the annuals’, so we like to think of the sunflower as being the ‘king of the annuals’, especially when you consider the majestic height some of them reach!  This year, 2015, has been designated the ‘Year of the Sunflower’ by the home gardening division of Fleuroselect, the organisation which assesses new flower varieties from around the world to determine their suitability for European conditions. Incidentally, Mr Fothergill’s Tracy Collacott is the sole UK seed company representative on the Fleuroselect Home Gardening committee.

Sunflower Copper QueenNot surprisingly, Tracy hopes to see them grown in gardens everywhere!  They really are so easy to grow, great favourites with children and now available in so many different colours and plant forms. We have two brand new varieties on offer for the Year of the Sunflower.  Sunny Babe is a multi-stemmed variety, producing an abundance of golden orange 3-4in wide single heads on plants which grow up to 5ft.  Buttercream F1 has soft, butter-yellow heads which are pollen-free.  Again multi-stemmed and reaching around 5ft, its blooms are slightly larger at around 6in across.  Both varieties are great for garden display and for cutting.  Other F1 hybrid sunflowers we are launching include Infrared in a range of rich bicolour shades, Summer Breeze with unusually green centres and Copper Queen, a superior ‘take’ on the traditional sunflower and pollen-free.

Aster Kingsize Apple Blossom

There is a wide range of our half-hardy (frost-tender) annual seeds which can be sown indoors during March.  Growing your own bedding and container plants from seed is surely one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening – and it can also save a great deal of money when compared with buying the plants in May ready to plant out.  True, it takes time and a little effort to keep the seedlings growing and developing into healthy young plants, but it is worth the effort and it’s part of the great joy of gardening in our book.

May we draw your attention to a couple of our new and exclusive half-hardy annuals introduced last year.  Aster Kingsize Appleblossom is wonderful for the backs of borders and perfect for cutting, so why not consider growing a row for this purpose as a ‘crop’ in the vegetable garden?  The large, pastel heads are really delightful.  Phlox Pomegranate Beauty has sparkling flowers on neat, compact plants, ideal for bedding schemes and patio pots.

Dahlia EvelineIf you lifted and stored tubers of your favourite dahlias last autumn, these can be inspected during March, with most of them hopefully remaining sound for this season.  Discard any which have shrivelled or rotted, and plant the rest individually in large pots of compost and start them into growth in the greenhouse so they will be ready for planting out later in the spring.  Remember dahlias are tender and will need protection from frost in the early stages of growth.

If you have Sweet Williams, Wallflowers and other biennials planted out for a late spring display, carefully hoe in some general purpose plant feed round them as the soil starts to dry up to give them a welcome boost ahead of flowering in a few weeks’ time.  They will definitely benefit after all the rain has leached out so many of the soil’s nutrients during the winter.

As clumps of snowdrops finish flowering and start to die back, this is the ideal time to divide them to provide more splashes of winter colour in future years.  Lifting them ‘in the green’ and transplanting them as soon as possible is generally regarded as a more reliable means of propagating these little beauties than planting the dry bulbs in the autumn.  They may not be the easiest of flowers to establish, doing best among deciduous trees and shrubs, but where they are happy they will thrive and multiply.


Jobs in the vegetable garden in March

Asparagus Ariane

Now they have come through the winter, young spring cabbages deserve a boost to jolt them into new growth as conditions improve.  A high-nitrogen fertiliser such as nitro-chalk is ideal or, failing that, a general purpose feed will give them a welcome tonic.  Unfortunately, these brassicas may attract the unwelcome attention of pigeons, so it may be an idea to net them against these often voracious pests.  Regular, careful hoeing between the plants, and all other over-wintered crops, will also aid their development and allow air into the soil, which may have become compacted in the last few weeks.

Now is the ideal time to consider making an asparagus bed if you enjoy the delicious and uniquely flavoured spears of this easy-to-manage perennial vegetable.  Once established, it will crop every year for 20 years or more, so the investment in a few crowns from us for April delivery is money well spent.  Home-grown asparagus is one of nature’s greatest treats!

Asparagus Pacific Purple

A free-draining soil is best, and make sure the proposed asparagus bed is free of perennial weeds before planting the spider-like crowns.  Dig a trench about 15in wide, and then create a a slight ridge of soil down the middle of the trench on which to place the crowns, with the roots on either side.  When you cover the crown with soil, its tip should be about 3in below the surface.  Allow around 30 to 36in between rows.

Choose our Ariane for the earliest crops – from early May onwards – and Pacific Purple for a slightly later yield to prolong the season.  All our asparagus crowns are one year old and Suffolk-grown.

Spring OnionsAs the soil dries out and warms up, a wide range of vegetable seeds can be sown direct in their cropping positions – and if you have warmed up the soil with cloches or fleece prior to sowing they really will get off to a flying start this year.  Parsnip, beetroot and carrot are some of the earliest vegetables to sown in this manner.  Radish, peas, lettuce and spring onion can also be sown in March, and followed on every three weeks with further sowings to ensure a crop right through late spring and into summer.

Even if you are particularly keen to make direct sowings of crops such as parsnip, beetroot, radish, carrot and lettuce, do exercise caution and be guided by prevailing local conditions rather than what it says on the seed packet.  The instructions we give on packets are general, but if it is very wet and the garden is sodden, or if a sudden cold snap occurs, there is absolutely no point in making a sowing just because the seed packet says so.

Aubergine seeds from Mr Fothergill's

Seed simply will not germinate in cold, wet soil with no oxygen, but will just rot and disappoint you.  If March is mild and the soil is workable, by all means start to sow some of your favourites, and so much the better if you can offer some cloche protection, but if you are in doubt do wait a week or two, as later sowings almost always make up for lost time.  Prior to sowing, the soil can also be warmed up by covering it with some pegged-down black polythene or horticultural fleece.  Remove the cover after three or four weeks and seed sowings will get off to the very best start.

Seed of tender crops, such as tomato, capsicum (chilli and sweet peppers) and aubergines can also be sown in March – but indoors on a warm windowsill or in a propagator.  As they are natives of warmer climates, they cannot be planted outside until danger of frost has past, although greenhouse crops can be planted out a little earlier.  Tomato plants grow fast, but peppers and aubergines are considerably slower and need a long growing season, so do not delay in sowing these.

Onion red baronOnion sets are ideally planted in March so they can start to form good roots and will be ready to grow rapidly as conditions improve.  Plant the tiny bulbs carefully to avoid damage to the root plate, and make sure just the very tip is the only part showing above the soil.  Our heat-treated varieties Hytech and Red Baron can be ordered until the middle of March, and we usually despatch these from late March onwards.  The special heat treatment they receive while dormant prevents them from bolting, or prematurely running to seed, so you get a bigger crop of usable onions at the end of the growing season.  The individual bulbs these sets produce also tend to be larger and heavier than those grown from untreated sets.

Seed tubers of early potatoes can be planted towards the end of the month, especially if conditions are reasonably mild.  Young new potatoes are many gardeners’ idea of the very best of the early summer produce from the garden, and we would not argue with that.  Supermarkets’ new potato offerings, whether from Jersey (at premium prices!) of from further afield, are fine, but they certainly do not compare with those first potatoes from our own gardens, cooked and eaten within hours of lifting.

Even if you do not feel you have room for potatoes in your garden, early varieties are particularly well suited to growing in pots of compost – and the tubers they produce in those conditions are usually free from blemishes and barely need scraping to be enjoyed.  Keep the pots well watered and frost-free for an extra-early crop of the very best little spuds.


Jobs in the fruit garden in March

Blackberry plants from Mr Fothergill'sIf you have childhood memories of blackberrying with parents or grandparents, why not grow some in your own garden?  We offer several varieties of blackberry, and all of them are easy to manage and heavy cropping.  If you want as long a season of cropping as possible, plant both Apache for early berries and Navaho for later ones.  Both produce fine yields of large, sweet, juicy berries which are perfect for making jam, crumbles and pies.  If you want the biggest blackberries, go for our Oregon-bred Black Butte, which produces berries about twice the size of those of other varieties – and flavour has not been sacrificed to size as they are tasty too.

Strawberry Collection

Blackberries and apples are a match made in heaven, so plant an apple tree in your garden too this year.  We can accept orders for fruit trees for delivery this spring up until the middle of March, so better to do it sooner rather than later.  Apple Bramley is a classic English cooking apple, with plenty of good, old-fashioned flavour and goes perfectly with blackberries when baked in crumbles and pies.

It is also a good time of year to replenish your strawberry patch with an injection of good fruit bearing new plants.  Try our Strawberry Collection to give you a long fruiting season this year of berries that are sweet, juicy and full of flavour.

For best broad bean results, Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners recommend autumn sowing

October 7th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Nation of Gardeners across the UK for Mr Fothergill's growing trialsMr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has found that sowing broad beans in autumn produces stronger and more resilient beans with a longer cropping period.

The team of amateur gardeners are based in 16 regions across the country and receive a parcel each month from the company to find out what grows best when and where.

The Nation of Gardeners received Mr Fothergill’s Broad Bean Aguadulce seeds in their first parcel in October 2013 and again in March 2014, with the intention of comparing autumn sowing with spring.

Whilst the spring sown beans were quick to produce flowers (on average they appeared 75 days faster than the autumn ones), the gardeners reached the consensus that the autumn broad beans were not only stronger than the leggy and spindly spring plants but that they also cropped for longer.

Nation of Gardeners Pontypridd October Broad BeansThe first beans from autumn sowing appeared in Devon in mid-February and the rest of the country soon followed suit with the gardeners harvesting a plentiful crop on a daily basis, and they continued to be inundated throughout June and beyond.

Mr Fothergill’s Seeds commercial director, Tim Jeffries, commented: “Most gardeners sow broad beans in spring. We wanted the Nation of Gardeners to explore the potential benefits of autumn versus spring sowing and the results have definitely been interesting. The majority of our gardeners reported back that their autumn sowing had a longer cropping period with tastier results. This certainly makes a good case for everyone switching to autumn sowing!”

Good overwintering broad bean varieties include:  Aguadulce, Bunyards Exhibition, The Sutton, Witkiem (Vroma) and Superaguadulce.

Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has now been running for 12 months and the parcels’ contents have ranged from windowsill planting of salads and herbs to overwinter protection of bare root perennials, and from testing the vigour of grow your own vegetable varieties to more recently, pushing the boundaries of when to sow with late sown annuals and perennials.

To find out more about Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners follow regular updates on the blog, follow the hashtag #NationofGardeners on Twitter or regular live updates by our gardeners on Facebook.

Horley broad bean crop