What NOT to do in your garden in March

by AnneWareham on March 6, 2013

Post image for What NOT to do in your garden in March

Start chitting tubers of seed potatoes.

Have you ever tried to stop a potato sprouting? (ie chitting) If anyone can tell me how to stop them I’d be very grateful. You do not, it seems to me, need to lay them carefully in single layers in trays in a cool light frost free place…Just try and keep them unsprouted in a kitchen..

Protect your peach, nectarine and apricot trees with double layers of fleece against frost.

Yes, well maybe (not) – can any half ripened fruit ever be worth that kind of faff?? Do you really really love them and how many did you get last year that were worth a munch?

Hand pollinate above frost protected blossoms with a soft brush..

And – yes, you are right, covering them up will keep pollinating insects away! You will have to cover them then uncover, play being a bee with a paintbrush and then cover them up again. As regularly as the blossom appearing (meaning often)…We have frost into April or May, she adds, cheerfully..

Sow aubergines, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chillies in heated environment.

There goes any savings (heat!), should the British climate ever let any of these come to sweet fulfillment…

Divide overgrown clumps of summer flowering herbaceous perennials..

– well I never have and can’t see any cost in not doing. But if you want to know whether to or not, read Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf  ‘Planting – a new perspective when it comes out. There you will get solid, researched evidence about when to or when not to. If you must even think about it.

Use two forks back to back to split the clumps.

I can’t find much use for one fork never mind two and this seems a mad thing to me – where do you stand to try to get leverage?? When I take a bit off a clump because I want more I take an old saw to it and saw a bit off. Smaller clumps – try an old bread knife: one of the best garden tools out.

Encourage helpful insects such as ladybirds, lacewings and bees into your garden by building them their own bug box.

Makes you think, doesn’t it, these poor discouraged insects wandering around, homeless, selling Big Issue, wondering where to go? What on earth did they/do they do without an encouraging bug box?? Fall into a state of terminal depression?

Tie in young delphinium growth to plant supports

Oh, hell, this is miserable stuff. Is it worth trying to grow these elongated extravagances? At the price of having canes or similar sticking up everywhere looking totally ugly? How could they be worth the work and ugly unless delphiniums are your obsession?

Sow hardy annuals direct into beds.

Do people really keep little spaces bare in the borders to organise a little bird feeding this way?  Nasturtiums maybe. That’s it.

Start to spray roses which are susceptible to disease..

And which are not? (well, some – try a rambler in a tree!) This is why people go organic – is this how you want to spend your time – spraying??? For the sake of stalky blobby roses?? Noooooo.

Plant herbs in decorative pots, and keep close to the house so you can reach them easily

That ‘decorative pot’ thing sounds ominous, doesn’t it?? Here comes ugly….. And – plant them? Where are they??? (well, supermarkets do a good job in perfectly ok black plastic pots for your kitchen windowsill)

Sow seeds of the following crops this week if conditions are fine: lettuce and salad leaves, spinach, radish, rocket, watercress, mizuna, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts

No. Not if you paid me.

Trim leggy rosemary bushes to promote bushy new growth

Don’t we also get told not to trim evergreens when frost is still happening for fear of promoting new sappy growth that will get frosted? Not that I’m convinced about that either…

Put up greenhouse shade netting if the sun is out and conditions are hot

Dream on…snow is currently forecast. Could as well say put up greenhouse insulation to keep cold out. No winning is there??

Plant up hanging baskets and patio pots with summer bedding

No – do us all a big favour and just do not do this. Ever. At all. Anywhere.

Hang yellow sticky traps among plants to catch whitefly and other flying pests

and catch your hair in as you bend down to….

Check plants regularly for signs of pests. (are you as bored as I am yet??)

Rake out dead grass from lawns –

Oh, what???

However – 

Mow your lawn – oh, sorry folks, not a bad idea! You can mow up all those leaves you left lying around last year and mulch the borders with them – and the place will generally look spruced up. Like vacuuming the carpet. (And just about as exciting.)

Hellebore flower in bud. 2 jpg


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Elizabeth Buckley March 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Anne, as usual you provide the perfect antidote to all of that, so called, ‘helpful’ gardening advice. The part about the homeless insects having to sell the ‘Big Issue’ had me in stitches!

And the part about hand pollinating fruit trees whilst trying to protect them from frost would try the patience & dedication of the most hardened gardening saint! For a start, varieties that aren’t self-fertile need to be pollinated from a different variety of the same species… did the ‘helpful’ advice say that? Just plant late blossoming varieties for goodness sake!

I’m sure the people who write this stuff are bent on robbing the average gardener of any joy!

AnneWareham March 6, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Thanks Libby! No the helpful advice didn’t mention any of that. Yes it is joyless and terribly depressing – and also seems to me to be strangely random. So not to be relied on as comprehensive. Without even that, what on earth is the point!???

john lord March 6, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Perennials are all different, some you can leave alone like peonies, others such as some achillias benefit from lifting and pulling apart every few years, otherwise they deteriorate, flowering for shorter and shorter periods and even dying out.
Having viewed Mr. Oudolf’s prairie planting at Wisley – opened with much fanfare – I was much underwhelmed, it was neither much of anything. It could not, I think, be used as the basis of a master class on the cultivation of perennials.
Organic gardening is not supposed to be a dosser’s charter. Even so, I would only take it up if I developed a love for scutch / couch grass, because any organic establishment I ever visited seemed to be coming down with the stuff.

AnneWareham March 7, 2013 at 9:55 am

I believe Noel Kingsbury has researched the needs and behaviour of perennials (see current series in the Garden Design Journal) and may be authoritative.
Love the idea of a dosser’s charter, organic or otherwise!

Lynds Jennings March 6, 2013 at 9:44 pm

That brightened my day immensely ! So they’ll bee selling the Bug Issue,while fighting their way into the protected fruit trees to help you pollinate 😉 My plants all take their chances with the weather,like the rest of us. Make me happy if all survive,and if not it was the wrong garden for them !

AnneWareham March 7, 2013 at 9:56 am

Tough things, most plants…

Desert Dweller/David C. March 7, 2013 at 3:33 am

You made my day again! If only there was some advice (that worked), on how to trade a few of my daily hours of sun, 18c high temps and dry air, for a like amount of your damp and wet snow, then we would both be as happy as can be. (having to water my [1] Tuscan Blue Rosemary, hoping for a few blooms before summer hits)

AnneWareham March 7, 2013 at 9:57 am

I am looking out at pouring rain, unable to imagine your world!

Sacha Hubbard March 7, 2013 at 7:07 am

Just wonderful! This must strike a chord of “oh thank heavens” with every gardener! I’m worried about those homeless insects, though. Next thing you know, they’ll be hanging around leaf corners, sharpening their flick knives…

AnneWareham March 7, 2013 at 9:57 am

They are vicious, you know…..

Kylee from Our Little Acre March 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I just love this. Even if I don’t agree with all of it, it’s the kind of gardening I can live with.

AnneWareham March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Thank you. XXXX

Lynnette March 8, 2013 at 10:11 am

I do a light-hearted column for for local paper, and funnily enough, this week was all about chitting potatoes.

And I managed to sneak in the classic line, “I chit you not”… it was a very proud moment.

I love your outlook on gardening… my stuff is along the same sort of lines. ie I planted this, and it died/got eaten by slugs/was a weird shape when it got dug up. Keep it up 🙂

AnneWareham March 8, 2013 at 10:16 am


Clare March 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Heh, heh, heh – all these tips are wasted on me too. Although I may just sow some tomato seed – got to fill greenhouse with summat! As for the insects – next door neighbour has enough twee little bird boxes & bug houses festooning his garden for the both of us. Hopefully some will migrate over the hedge. Much too wet to get mower out. Probably won’t start anyway because I didn’t clean it in readiness for winter hibernation – never do! Ooops!

Looking forward to April’s “What not to do”. X

AnneWareham March 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Shocking idleness there…

Will endeavour to keep you slacking in April….

Sara March 9, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I LOVE delphiniums, and have never in my life staked them!

We have lovely weather forecast the next couple days, and unfortunately the only garden tasks I actually need to do involve raking out the dead leaves that got stuck in all the English ivy over the winter and ripping out about 30 sq meters of said ivy where it’s attempting to take over the lawn. Maybe a blowtorch…

AnneWareham March 9, 2013 at 12:50 pm

There’s interesting – unstaked delphiniums..How to get to the bottom of that one? But it’s a winner!

You can’t mow or strim the ivy presumably. Blowtorch – there are such things designed for weed destruction but I’ve never been convinced they work.. Love to discover these tasks I have never imagined!

Dave Miller March 10, 2013 at 10:46 am

Dear Anne
With all this helpful advice written in such a positive way, it makes me wonder what fun it must be to get up in the morning in your house.Lighten up!
PS Dont use last years leaves to mulch your borders, it strips them of nitrogen- use the 2 year old stuff -rant over!

AnneWareham March 10, 2013 at 10:51 am

Thanks for your helpful advice. ‘Lighten up’ sounds like the kind of comment women get from builders as we walk down the road….Lighten up who for??!!

Not terribly bothered about fertiliser levels – come and visit Veddw to see result of mulching with leaves and bark/wood chip for over 25 years.

Dave Miller March 10, 2013 at 11:43 am

Perhaps I should have meant Brighten Up!.

You do have a beautiful garden there is no doubt but is that an invitation to visit or a threat? We all know the benefits of mulching, but the fact is that leaves take nitrogen to rot down to mould and then add nitrogen to the soil when they are rotten, as does all well rotted matter.
Sorry to have dared to comment!

AnneWareham March 10, 2013 at 11:59 am

You are very welcome to comment and I’ve heard all that stuff about nitrogen too and only once seen any evidence (see The Bad Tempered Gardener for more.)
Invitation not a threat at all – just come and see results of a quarter of a century of nitrogen depletion – and say hello! XXXXX

nikki negrea March 11, 2013 at 5:17 pm

This gave me a good chuckle, thanks! Now, I don’t feel so bad avoiding lots of unnecessary tasks…and I can mentally check off my to-do list (or not to do) all the work that I’ve avoided.
Sounds like a productive way to work–by minimizing it. We just received 8 inches of snow in Greenwich, CT. Thankfully, the following days were warm and sunny and it has all melted.

AnneWareham March 11, 2013 at 6:01 pm

It’s a great idea to put all this stuff on a list so you can decide not to do them and glow as you cross them off!

David March 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Its amazing how non lawn lovers treat them with such disdain…
I understand that plant lovers, love plants, but many lawn lovers are just the same.

Pity up until now, that we have not had a strong voice to stand up for lawns.

Most of today’s garden media is made up of non lawn lovers, hence why it gets little or no press….and when it does, its apalling.

Would often wonder if I did a TV show on plants, what the feeling would be?

Gardeners are not lawn experts in general and this is very evident in the media.

AnneWareham March 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Good try!

David March 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Would you care to elaborate on the good try? 🙂

The shortness does emphasise my point! lol

AnneWareham March 15, 2013 at 3:43 pm

To get your point about lawns out there…

barbara gingold March 18, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Thanks, Anne, for the heads-up about the new Oudolf book, can’t wait to see it. I had the privilege of seeing his Wisley garden in its first or second year — late summer, I think — and unlike the polyestered English matrons (or John Lord) sniffing around making snide comments, thought it was brilliant, as painterly as a Monet. Have followed Piet ever since, mostly via cyberspace, and expect his HighLine to be a highlight of my next visit to NYC. Is the new book likely to give us major insight into his planting head? The dry, stony little corner of Jerusalem that I think of (in my dreams, anyway) as my “Piet Oudolf garden” is calling out for his first-hand advice…

AnneWareham March 18, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Sorry – only familiar with Noel’s work on the book. But spot one of my proudest things on this page – http://veddw.com/

How about that???!!! (I guess you found it…)

barbara gingold March 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I’m impressed — spotted Piet’s compliment months ago! And Immediately put Veddw on The List for next time I’m anywhere near Wales: I like to eat my heart out over other countries’ luscious greenery. Ground elder included — never having had to do battle with it, I think the variegated brand is elegant, even just contrasted with plain ol’ ivy, and confess to having had wicked ideas of smuggling some this way for my mini-shade garden.

Thanks also for another inspiration: From now on, I’m going to call the untended (i.e. neighbors’) part of my building’s shared courtyard “The Meaddw.” It blooms naturally for a few weeks in February and disappears by end of March (or earlier if I’m into weeding mode) — a fleeting reminder of the time, just a few decades ago, when Arab shepherds from nearby villages would bring their sheep and goats to graze here in the relatively open spaces of what is now a very urban (and urbane) part of Jerusalem. If only it didn’t seed itself everywhere in sight…

AnneWareham March 27, 2013 at 10:58 am

Sorry – I seem to have missed approving this – my apologies. And I love getting comments and thoughts from such an amazingly different part of our world. Thank you! XXXXX

Noel Kingsbury April 7, 2013 at 10:27 am

Great stuff Anne! Agree with some of it, but not all. So much ‘advice’ is so old-fashioned, or unrealistic, or the kind of thing which the under-gardener might do if s/he was not so busy doing something else, but of course these days one cannot get the staff…. etc…. etc… You do a very good job at pricking the advice balloon.

AnneWareham April 7, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Thanks, Noel.