Break­ing new ground

With the last weeks of win­ter merg­ing into the first days of spring, Sue Bradley is rar­ing to go in the gar­den

Living France - - À La Maison -

ising tem­per­a­tures and ever-length­en­ing days make March a key month to get out into the gar­den.

Whether the month comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb or makes more sub­tle progress through the weeks, the warm­ing soil means it won’t be long be­fore shrubs and peren­ni­als will be putting on plenty of new growth and the rich colours of spring bulbs will adorn gar­den beds and bor­ders.

Yet while the low­est tem­per­a­tures in cen­tral and north­ern France will be around 2 or 3°C, there’s still a risk of frost to stop any seedlings in their tracks, so be selec­tive as to what you sow in the potager and hold off if the weather is harsh.

Peas and broad beans are good early starters, al­though soak them in wa­ter overnight first if hun­gry mice are a prob­lem. Early car­rots, such as the clas­sic French va­ri­ety ‘Early Nantes’, can be sown di­rectly into the ground when the soil has warmed a lit­tle, along with leeks, parsnips, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. Don’t for­get, how­ever, that the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures will en­cour­age snails and slugs out of their win­ter shel­ters, so put down pel­lets, beer traps, egg shells or what­ever else you pre­fer to use to keep them off your ten­der seedlings.

Early pota­toes, onion sets and shal­lots can be planted once the soil is no longer freez­ing to the touch – usu­ally by the middle of the month.

Mean­while, get a head start on salad crops by sow­ing let­tuce and radish un­der pro­tec­tive cloches or in cold frames.

March is a good month to get wild flow­ers and an­nu­als, such as love-in-a-mist and Nas­tur­tium, on their way, plant sum­mer­flow­er­ing bulbs, corms and tu­bers such as lilies and glad­i­oli, and to bring on sweet peas in the spot where they are to bloom.

It’s also the time to start off sum­mer bed­ding plants such as busy lizzies, petu­nias and gera­ni­ums in a heated prop­a­ga­tor.

Be­fore any out­side sow­ing or plant­ing gets un­der­way, how­ever, it’s well worth tak­ing a bit of time to pre­pare the ground for the year ahead. Dig in lib­eral amounts of compost and well-rot­ted ma­nure to as­sist in the re­ten­tion of mois­ture, im­prove soil struc­ture and re­plen­ish lost nu­tri­ents.

How­ever, don’t add ei­ther to beds in which you’re plan­ning to grow root crops, which are prone to fork­ing if the soil is too rich, or wild flow­ers, which by and large need a poor soil to flour­ish.

Pounce on any weeds as they emerge and pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to peren­nial nui­sances such as ground el­der, couch grass or dan­de­lion, un­less, of course, you plan to fol­low the French ex­am­ple and har­vest the leaves of dent de lion for an early and nu­tri­tious salad crop.

Mulching is an es­pe­cially worth­while job to carry out this month and will pay div­i­dends in the way it helps to lock in mois­ture as tem­per­a­tures rise, es­pe­cially in the south of France.

March marks the turn­ing point from the end of win­ter to the be­gin­ning of spring and af­ter weeks of cold weather, the temp­ta­tion to get out onto the gar­den is great. Be sure to re­sist go­ing out onto beds and bor­ders im­me­di­ately af­ter spells of wet weather though, as at this time of the year it’s all too easy to cause sod­den soil to be­come com­pacted and less able to sup­port plants in the months ahead. Trim laven­der bushes be­fore they start putting on spring growth.

Be­fore any out­side sow­ing or plant­ing gets un­der­way, how­ever, it’s well worth tak­ing a bit of time to pre­pare the ground for the year ahead

Cut back plants grown for their colour­ful stems in the win­ter, such as wil­lows and dog­woods.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.