Time to get pruning!

Once we get into March the list of jobs to do in the garden suddenly becomes much longer and one of the main jobs is shrub pruning around the garden. February is often too cold for some pruning and April can be a little late, especially if the season is advanced, so March is when many shrubs need attention. Before you start to prune any shrub, make sure now is the correct time to prune. So many times have I been asked why spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, ribes and magnolia haven’t flowered, only to find out that they were pruned in March which removed all the flower buds. The golden rule is not to prune any spring flowering shrubs at this time of the year, unless you are trying to renovate an overgrown shrub and don’t mind losing the blossom for a year or two. What can be pruned in March are shrubs such as buddleja, lavatera and autumn flowering ceanothus which flower on new wood. Shrubs grown for their attractive stems such as willows, rubus and dogwoods are also pruned now, and with all of these shrubs you normally prune last year’s stems back hard. Cutting back the stems to a few inches from ground level encourages strong new growth over the spring and summer and in the case of dogwoods it means you will get colourful display next winter. If not pruned for several years the coloured stems gradually fade to brown and the colourful effect is lost. March is also the time to prune roses. Any dead, diseased or damaged stems should be removed first, followed by weak or crossing stems. The remaining strong branches can then be shortened by at least two thirds. With roses the harder you prune back, the stronger the new growth will be. Evergreens can also be lightly pruned at this time of the year to maintain size and shape. Once you have pruned your shrubs or roses, it helps to feed them by applying a general fertiliser around the plants. Growmore, Blood Fish & Bone or pelleted poultry manure are all fine for this and after sprinkling the fertiliser it should be lightly worked into the soil surface where it will start to release nutrients.

Readers’ Questions

Heather has emailed to ask how easy it is to grow your own tomato plants from seed?

Tomato seed is easy to grow and can be sown now on a warm windowsill to provide plants for growing on in a greenhouse or conservatory. For plants to grow outside in June, wait and sow the seeds at the beginning of April. To germinate, tomato seeds need constant warmth and the easiest and cheapest way to do this is by using a small propagator. Seeds should be sown in small pots of multipurpose compost and lightly covered with compost. Keep the compost moist at all times and in a temperature of around 18-20oC the seedlings should push through in around 10-14 days. From this point on, it is vital that the seedlings are grown in good light conditions. If kept too dark, the plants will become tall, leggy and weak. A week or two after germination, the seedlings should be ready to prick-out or transplant into small pots. The ideal time to do this is at what we call the two-leaf stage and when transplanting, handle the seedlings by their leaves only as the stems bruise easily. Transplant the tomato seedlings into small pots of multipurpose compost so that the two seed leaves are just proud of the surface. Water the seedlings and keep them on a bright windowsill where they will soon start to make new leaves.

Jobs for the week.

Moss on lawns can be controlled by applying lawn sand very thinly.

Check plants in outside containers to make sure the compost isn’t drying out.

Lightly fork over borders to allow air into the soil and to dry out the soil surface.

If you have a gardening question for Martin Fish please email him at martin@flowershow.org.uk and we’ll print a selection of questions and answers for readers to share. Or, write to Ackrill Media Group, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate and we’ll pass on your question

Attached pic of buddleja for roundell