The starting gun for spring has fired. After the coldest March for over 50 years, the blackthorn blossom held in abeyance for so long, has at last burst into life this week.
That one simple event tells us two things: firstly Mother Nature says it’s time to get cracking with the garden. Secondly it serves as a warning; a blackthorn winter refers to the possibility of late frosts and cold conditions in late March or April, so it’s best to proceed with caution.
Good first steps are starting to harden off any plants under cover by opening wide cold frame and greenhouse doors and vents to get some fresh air around plants. This helps prevent fungal infections as well as preparing them for their new life outside. If the warmer weather continues, then hardening off outdoors can begin as well. Overnight temperatures are continuing to be quite low in many places, so make sure your charges are snuggled down indoors or under cover come the evening.
Seed sowing indoors can begin in earnest, though it’s best to resist outdoor sowing until soil temperatures reach the 5°C needed for germination. Test this by touching the soil with the back of your hand. If it feels cool, then hold off until it feels warm to the touch. Plants such as hardy shrubs can be planted out now and the forecast April showers will help them get established.
Don’t worry too much about winter plant casualties for now. Plants can often look dead right into May, but then start growing from the base once the risk of deep frost has past. Cramming two months of gardening jobs might be a little more worrying though, so you might like to consider buying some plants rather than growing everything from scratch. The garden industry has suffered terribly over the past year, so this will help enormously. Look out for plants with the Union Jack, the words ‘British Grown’ or similar on their pots, or use nurseries who propagate and grow their own material. That way you can be sure to support our British growers.
The starting gun for spring has fired. What better news is there for the start of National Gardening Week?