PHIL CALVERT: March sees the change from winter to summer

During the winter, with short days, the darkness lingering until around eight o’clock, matched by a depressingly early onset of more darkness around four o’clock in the afternoon, we tend to cling to anything that holds out the hope of better things ahead.

This is probably why, we love to see the early displays provided by snowdrops in gardens generally dormant. But February can be a cold cruel month and any hopes we have of an early spring can be easily dashed. We have to wait until March for the real start.

March marks the true transition from winter to summer. We can get cold winds, frost, and even snow, but the lengthening days mean the progression of the seasons will not be denied. The daffodils are already in bud, with just the odd one in flower. We have already got some dwarf tulips in flower. Catkins have started to appear on willows and hazels.

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Many birds have got to the point they are no longer just trying to survive, but have started fighting each other to stake claims to territory or possibly potential mates. The grass has started to grow and, later in the month, we have the spring equinox, when the hours of daylight start to outnumber the hours of darkness. It is the beginning of another gardening season.

First sorties into the garden may involve little more than a bit of tidying up and sweeping up leaves. But as your enthusiasm grows, you start to notice the odd tub that needs filling with spring-flowering bulbs, colourful primula and polyanthus, and soon pansies. It is heartening to see a return of colour in our gardens.

Roses are starting to sprout new shoots and over the next couple of weeks, would benefit from being pruned and being given a feed with a Rose Food fertilizer. High in potash it is perfect for creating the right conditions for a high quality display this summer..

Indeed all flowering shrubs, and also flowering trees, benefit from a feed with Rose Food, part from the likes of Azalea and Rhododendron which, being acid-loving, are better off being treated with a specialist ericaceous feed.

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Soil which has been beaten down by months of incessant rain, starts to ‘pan’. You can breathe new life into the soil as soon as it is dry enough by breaking up the surface with a hoe and applying a mulch of garden compost or composted farmyard manure.

This simple process helps improve the structure of the soil improving drainage and aeration, but for me, it is as much about making it look cared-for again. A tidy garden draws you into it, and inspires you to try new things. A mess repels and dampens enthusiasm.

Out in the potting shed, Wifey has already started sowing seeds for the vegetable garden, and is already predicting a classic season and of course, a bumper crop. Her main area of enthusiasm is in growing fruit and veg and already we have enjoyed some forced rhubarb, and she is thinking of planting two more crowns.

The garlic and autumn-planted onions now stand over 6in. high, and we are about to add some spring-planted onion sets. However many onions we grow, we never seem to have enough. She has also allocated space for ‘chitting’ seed potatoes for planting at the end of the month, recycled egg boxes are ideal for this.

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I am still keeping an eye on the temperatures, but March is also the time to service your pond filter.

I clean out all the filter media and give everything a good rinse, let things settle for a couple of days before adding some bacterial start-up to start the biological maturing process.

I will add some every week over the next month or so. Fallen leaves need to be scooped out and untidy pond plants cut back hard. Try fish with very small amounts of food increasing slowly as their interest increases.

The main action in the pond is centred on the frogs. I have only spotted three or four, but their breeding season is now imminent, and if nothing else heralds the arrival of spring.

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Try not to disturb them as they flail and cavort in the pond, but just leave them be, as soon it will all be over for another year.

They just ask for a little tolerance, and you will benefit from a garden full of allies all seeking to devour hundreds of slugs.

They truly are on our side. Spring is here at last!

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