March is the beginning of the busy gardening season. It can be a challenging month too, with unpredictable wind and frosts. Now’s the last chance to complete tidying and winter tasks before the growing season really gets underway.
March is also the time to turn your thoughts to summer and your summer planting schemes as many seeds and bulbs should be planted now. Dahlias are low maintenance, but very productive, in a good year they’ll flower from late June to early December (in a sheltered spot). Dahlias are available in many shapes, sizes, and colours. Dahlias are one of my favorite summer plants and March is the perfect time to increase your stock by taking basal cuttings from tubers.
If you have overwintered Dahlia tubers, to bring the dormant tubers (which should feel fleshy and firm) into growth, place them in a generous pot (at least 2ltrs) filled with multipurpose compost. Water well and place in a warm, light spot indoors or in a heated greenhouse. They will quickly form lots of bushy shoots. When the new shoots are about 8cm long use a sharp knife to remove all but five of the shoots sprouting from the tuber. Cut just above the point where the shoot emerges from the tuber, below the lowest pair of leaves. With only five stems allowed to develop you will get strong, vigorous growth that will produce lots of flowers. The removed shoots can be used as cuttings. The five remaining shoots will also require the growing tips to be pinched out. Either squeeze between your thumb and forefinger, and remove the main shoot down to the top pair of leaves.
To prepare the cuttings pinch out the growing tip of the shoot, and then dip the base of the cutting into hormone rooting powder. Insert each cutting into a small pot (9cm is ideal) filled with potting compost. Firm in, top the soil with grit and water thoroughly. Cover each pot with a clear plastic bag and place in a warm, light spot (out of direct sunlight) in a heated greenhouse or kitchen windowsill. Once the cuttings have rooted, remove the bags and continue to grow on. In mid-May, harden off plants by standing them outdoors during the day and bringing them in at night. Plant them in their final positions once all risk of frost has passed.
Bedding Dahlias can also be grown from seed. Fill a seed tray with moist seed compost and lightly firm the surface. Gently push your Dahlia seeds into the compost. Label the tray and cover with a propagator lid. The seedlings will germinate within a couple of weeks. Once ‘true’ leaves have grown the seedlings will be ready to transplant into individual pots. From this point onwards follow the process as for rooted cuttings.
Here are my other top tips for March:
• Plant out chitted early seed potatoes, shallots & onions.
• Protect newly emerging shoots from slugs and snails
• Sew grass seed in any bare patches of the lawn.
• Keep on top of weeds, as they will complete with garden plants for water and nutrients.
Whatever March brings, I hope you are all able to enjoy some time outside in your garden.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk