Dig it! Fulham Horticultural Society welcomes in the Spring

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Image captionSpring is an ideal time to start preparing seed beds

Snow may still be dusted over the ground but by meteorological calculations spring has officially begun.

Purple crocus heads surround trees, and some cherry blossoms have ignored the chill to burst into bloom.

It is an ideal time to start preparing seed beds, as well as applying a thick layer of mulch to the soil to try to keep it frost-free, allowing plants to continue to take up water.

Fulham Horticultural Society’s honorary secretary Nicole Coleman explains: “Getting the timing right on preparing seed beds can be tricky. The soil shouldn’t be so wet that it sticks to your boots, nor so dry that it takes a lot of effort to break it up.  

“If the soil is too moist but you need to get on, then use planks to stand on as these will distribute your weight and prevent compaction.”  

Another important job for this month is to start clearing the old leaves off strawberry plants to allow them to flourish in the season ahead.

“Keep some fleece handy to protect the developing strawberry flowers from frost,” says Nicole, who writes the group’s monthly newsletter.

“Any frost damaged flowers are easily identified as they display a tell-tale ‘black eye’ at the centre of the dead flower.”

While the bitter Siberian blast that has hit the UK may mean it’s more appealing to curl up with a hot cuppa, putting some work into the garden, allotment or window box now can pay dividends, adds Nicole.

Tackling snails and slugs can be a useful job to tackle in advance of sowing, with some inexpensive lengths of copper piping from a plumbers’ merchant laid around the vegetable patch a handy trick to try, she reveals.

As the weather gets warmer, the FHS kicks off its summer season with a blessing of the allotments at Bishop’s Avenue, in Fulham, at 3pm on Sunday 6 May followed by tea in the All Saints vicarage garden.

And keen gardeners can start preparing for the horticultural society’s annual show, which will be held on Saturday 8 September at St Etheldreda's Church in Fulham Palace Road.

Visit the FHS website to join and read on for the latest top 10 gardening tips from the society’s experts.

Image caption: Garden compost bin

Fulham Horticultural Society’s March to-do list

  1. Weed, tidy and water soil before mulching with organic matter such as well-rotted farmyard manure, garden compost, cocoa shells, or chipped bark.  Covering with a thick layer of organic matter will cut down the rate of water evaporation from the soil, as well as suppressing weeds.
  2. Prepare seeds beds by breaking larger lumps of soil down with a fork, then using a rake to smooth out smaller lumps and create a fine tilth, pushing and pulling the rake back and forth over the surface of the soil to a depth of about 2.5cm.  Tread the soil to firm it, and apply an organic fertiliser, such as one based on seaweed, about two weeks before sowing.
  3. Sow round seeded spinach, Swiss chard, early types of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, spring onions, peas, broad beans and turnips in rows in the open ground. Try sowing the seed of the white form of kohlrabi towards the end of the month.
  4. Plant out onion sets, shallots and garlic before they start to produce shoots. When buying reject any that are shooting already as they will bolt during the summer.
  5. If you have the protection of a greenhouse sow celery, celeriac, French beans and cauliflower seeds to transplant to the open soil next month.
  6. Clear the old leaves off strawberry plants and clean up the ground in between the plants before giving them a top dressing of a general fertiliser.
  7. Plant out early cultivars of potatoes and follow on by planting out the second earlies and first maincrops at regular intervals until the end of the month.
  8. Cover rhubarb with large pots or buckets to exclude light and force an earlier crop.
  9. Deal with snails and slugs by using copper piping to enclose a cabbage patch. Check that there are none inside the enclosure before you start, and that there are no overhanging leaves that make a handy bridge.
  10. Sow tomato seeds in a greenhouse, or to crop outdoors, sow in late March.  Fill 9cm pots or a small tray with moist seed compost, then space seeds 1.5cm apart and lightly cover with vermiculite or sieved compost. Keep at 21C in a propagator or covered with a clear plastic bag and seedlings should emerge in about five days. Move them to a well-lit place such as a heated greenhouse or windowsill, and keep them at 18C. Once the plants are 15cm tall, keep above 12C, and wait until the first flowers show colour before planting out into grow bags, larger containers or beds.

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