Gardening tips for spring

Sowing seeds Paul Peacock

There's no rush with spring planting says gardening broadcaster and author Paul Peacock as he presents tips for jobs to tackle in the garden in March and April.

In late winter and early spring, it can be hard to resist sowing too much, too soon. The sky’s blue and it’s no longer dark at four o’clock, so you just can’t help
yourself. Trays of compost and neatly sown vegetables invade the kitchen table, only to be marooned there by a prolonged April cold snap that stops you putting
them outside. In reality, there’s no rush. 

My advice is to take it easy; don’t do or plant too much, because even if you put it off until May, nature has a way of catching up. That said, there are some profitable tasks you can start now.

Top 5 tips for tending your garden in spring

1. Lawn treatment

It’s a little too early to be messing with the lawn, but give it an edging with a lawn edger or a light spade to neaten it up. Aerate the grass by stabbing it with a garden fork or a sharpened stick, making holes about 2cm in diameter, 15cm deep. This will keep the grass healthy and green.

2. Sow garden lettuce 

'All Year Round’ is such a great lettuce, but like all lettuces, it doesn’t enjoy being transplanted, which means sowing outdoors. It’s a bit cold right now, but I have a raised bed with a polytunnel top, so it gets warm enough for the next couple of plants. 

Lettuce, turnips and beets are all sown in a drill (a straight line). For some reason, scraping a drill in the ground makes me breathless. Instead, I put my rake on the soil and give it a tap or two with the spade. This makes an indentation, and I sow in this.

3. Onion transplants

In January I talked about sowing onion seeds. If you followed my advice, by now your seedlings will be 10–15cm tall. The bed for onions should be well prepared, but my condition means I can’t always do this. If, like me, you can’t hoe your bed to a fine, crumbly soil, get someone to bring you some compost, plonk yourself on a chair, and use a trowel to get about 15cm of compost roughly onto your bed. 

Use a dibber (I use a stick about 2cm in diameter) to make a hole a hand’s depth and pop an onion plant into the hole. Let the rain water the onion in position and the soil will do the rest. I plant them about 25cm apart to make it easier for me to hoe between the onions.

Lettuce, turnip and beets are all sown in a drill (a straight line). I put my rake on the soil and give it a tap or two with the spade

Paul Peacock

4. Seed bed

I use module trays for my bedding, and keep the seeds at around 12°C, more or less. You can sow asters, dahlias, stocks, ageratums, coreopsis and salvias right now. Fill the module trays with compost, firm it in with the bottom of another module tray, and then sprinkle about three seeds in each cell. Sprinkle with compost, firm in again and water. 

Later in March, thin them out to one plant per cell, which means they’ll be easier to transplant in May.

5. Prune roses back

Roses can be trimmed to give them shape. You want a wineglass shape to maximise the amount of air flowing to counter fungal infections. Cut the stems of the roses back so the buds face outwards, not inwards. Cut just above a bud, and think: if the rain falls on this cut, where will it flow? You want it to flow away to prevent the plant rotting, so make a slanting cut away from the bud.

Paul's tips for gardening with a heart condition

  1. Hoeing while seated isn’t easy, so I had the handle of my hoe cut down.
  2. Before I start any strenuous gardening work, I do a warmup. Holding the handle of a spade in both hands, I tap my feet on the shoulder of the blade 10 times each. Then I carry the spade across the lawn, slowly, and repeat. Some days I just do the toe taps, repeating three times.
  3. When planting garlic, the temptation is to make a hole with your finger, then pop the clove in. I only have small fingers and, as you need a good hole about 2–3 inches deep (5cm), I use a clothes peg then drop the garlic in. Watch out: in a few weeks they’ll be growing roots and can push themselves out of the soil, so you’ll have to push them back in.
  • Paul studied botany at university and made a successful career of it, appearing regularly on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, writing for the Daily Mirror as his alter ego Mr Digwell and publishing more than 20 books on gardening and food. He continues to garden despite having heart failure and diabetes

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