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Full steam ahead to catch up with tasks

Dreaming of summer in the garden, but there's still plenty of work to be done before then. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Dreaming of summer in the garden, but there's still plenty of work to be done before then. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

In like a lion, out like a lamb. If March behaves as its reputation suggests, there should be some mileage in steaming ahead with outdoor gardening activities put on hold during the recent storm.

For many of us, this means action on several fronts; completing annual maintenance operations, final adjustments to bush and top fruits, and sowing ornamentals and vegetables.

Sowing grass seed during a relatively warm April should result in a green haze of germination within two weeks. Try this during a cold mid-March and it can be a waiting game, which is frustrating when there’s a bare patch to be covered. Lower temperatures and occasional frost only prolong the agony.

By comparison, laying turf is instant, albeit a little more expensive. One of my outstanding jobs is to lay circa five square metres of turf to reduce an ornamental border. It will cost approximately £20, but the effect will be instant.

Two ornamental beds that housed several old shrubs were cleared last year and replaced with low-maintenance, dwarf perennials. They were planted slightly closer together than the perceived regulation distance for instant effect, but made such good progress that some already need more growing space.

We started by moving half a dozen Nepeta Six Hills Giant. Once the soil is dry enough that’s another project to complete.

It’s okay, frost permitting, to keep on planting bare-rooted specimens until the end of this month. Just as well because we’ve had several heeled into a raised veggie bed just marking time until there’s an opportunity to plant.

Five David Austin roses and a few hardy shrubs have positions earmarked for permanent planting. A standard form of Viburnum tinus, trained in-house from a cutting five years ago, will lift from the soil with a good root-ball so when watered into a prepared site and soil made firm, it will settle in quickly.

When roses are unpacked with bare roots, keep them moist. Use the opportunity to trim any damaged roots with secateurs and spread them out when planting into an organic-rich soil.

Replacements for old or diseased roses planted into the same bed benefit from the presence of mycorrhizal fungi. They home-in and attach to an existing root system, massively extending it. Vitax Q4 Rootmore is the name of one product that carries these microscopic marvels, plus bio-stimulants. It’s particularly useful when there are signs of sickness in a rose bed, but is becoming popular as a root stimulant for trees, shrubs, edible and ornamental crops.