Do it – mulching
Warm weather and spring showers in March provide the ideal conditions in which to mulch beds and borders. Mulching with organic matter, such as homemade compost or bark chip, locks warmth and moisture into the ground, suppresses weed growth and ultimately improves the condition of your soil. Prepare the area first by digging out weeds. Leaf litter from healthy plants can be left to rot beneath the mulch, but larger twigs or branches should be removed, as should any diseased plant material which will likely spread disease further if left.
Larger borders will benefit from an annual application of slow release fertiliser before mulch is applied. Bone meal fertiliser is best for mixed borders of trees and shrubs; whilst fish, blood and bone fertiliser works better for herbaceous perennials. Apply to the surface of the soil taking care to avoid foliage, or the crowns of plants, which can scorch if contact is made. Once fed, borders are ready to be mulched to a depth of 3.5-7.5cms. Never mulch right up to the base of woody plants which can soften and rot if left in contact with soggy compost.
Different types of mulch can be used where a particular outcome is desired. Gravel is perfect for drought loving plants that prefer a thinner soil but continue to benefit from an absence of weeds. Alternatively, composts made with coniferous material will acidify the soil, ideal for use with ericaceous shrubs such as azaleas or camellias. Caution should be applied when accepting mulch from an unknown source. Bark chip made from trees with diseases such as honey fungus, or compost contaminated with weed seed, may do more harm than good.
Grow it: Narcissus
What: Narcissus, or daffodils, are bulbous perennials ranging in height from 5-50cms. Narcissus flowers appear in a range of different shapes and sizes but all produce a central corona, or cup, surrounded by a spray of petals.
Where: Narcissus can be grown in pots, borders or naturalised in lawns, thriving in sun or part-shade. Narcissus will even tolerate dry shade but flower less profusely in these conditions. Incorporate plenty of organic matter to help them along.
How: Plant bulbs two and a half times their own depth, dead-head regularly when in flower and feed with a fertiliser high in potassium once flowering has finished and until the leaves begin to yellow. This will help to combat daffodil blindness, which causes healthy plants to fail to flower.
When: Allow Narcissus foliage to die down naturally before it is removed. This will take about six weeks following flowering. During this period it is also possible to move and replant Narcissus whilst still in growth. Alternatively, dried bulbs should be planted in autumn.
The Gardener’s Verdict:
“Daffodils are best grown in naturalised drifts through sparse grass or beneath deciduous trees. Few of us have the space to recreate such an ambitious display at home. Planting small numbers in an average sized lawn can look out of scale and cause problems with mowing further down the line. Daffodil foliage must be allowed to die down naturally. Subsequently lawns cannot be mown until mid-summer, by which time the grass through which they are growing will have started to flower. Wilder lawns like this can be accommodated in big open spaces but may look odd in an otherwise manicured back garden.
Planting in mixed borders with other spring flowering perennials, such as Pulmonaria, or beneath spring flowering shrubs, such as Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’, is perhaps the next best alternative. This has the added advantage of hiding unsightly foliage as it dies and new plants emerge alongside to fill the vacant space. Take care here to reproduce a natural effect. Plant in random shapes and numbers, not small symmetrical clumps which can look too contrived. Planting the odd outlying group elsewhere in another border will create the illusion of happy plants drifting naturally around the garden.
Gardeners often find it difficult to place yellow flowers in the border. Yellow is too close tonally to green and can get lost amongst the foliage unless it is softened with white or lifted by other strong, bright colours such as orange. Fortunately, many daffodils have bicoloured flowers. The yellow petals of N. ‘Jetfire’, for example, contrast brilliantly against a bright orange cup. Those with simple yellow flowers, such as N. ‘Spellbinder’, can be planted alongside other more colourful varieties to achieve the same effect.
N. poeticus var. recurvus is perfect for planting in the middle of a mixed border. Growing approximately 40cm tall, the blooms are predominantly white with only a small orange cup which combines well with a range of colours. Of those suitable for growing in pots the yellow and white N. ‘Minnow’ is a favourite. A single pot brought inside will quickly fill the room with fragrance. Miniatures perform well in narrow borders or at the front of larger ones. N. ‘Tete-a-Tete’ is the most popular for a reason. It is easy and versatile to grow; flowering earlier than most of its rivals.”
Daniel Cartwright, Outdoor Area Supervisor, Winterbourne House and Garden
Read it: February Masterclass
Now is the time to plan and plant next year’s snowdrop display in your garden. Snowdrops establish better if they are planted ‘in the green’ whilst still growing in the spring. Last month’s ‘Monthly Masterclass: February’ will help you decide which varieties you should choose.