March is the month when so many things on the veg patch finally get the green light. All of a sudden, there are lots of things to sow, plant and be thankful for. Spring officially begins this month and on mild days it seems hard to believe that the time for planting out tender crops such as courgettes and tomatoes is still two months away. But as ever, patience is a virtue in the garden and the gradual development that happens this month, from seedlings slowly strengthening to forced rhubarb stretching out its pale, tasty stems, is sure to dispel any lingering winter blues. The veg plot still looks pretty bare, this month, so it's a good time to catch up with planning what to do with the space this year and preparing the soil for new plants.


More fruit and veg advice:

New beginnings

Asparagus spears emerging from the ground
Asparagus grows best in a sunny spot with regular feeding

Chit early potatoes

Anyone who thinks potatoes are a somewhat bland food needs more home-grown new potatoes in their life! The distinctive sweetness of freshly dug and immediately cooked new potatoes is something to cherish. I remember as a small child seeing fish and chip shops putting up ‘now frying new potatoes’ signs in their windows in early summer and knowing that there was a treat in store next time I was allowed in! That’s the sweet June moment that I think of at the start of this month when I’m lining up the seed potatoes in eggboxes, like a child lining up toy soldiers. Pop them in with the ‘rose end’ (the end with the most shoots) pointing upwards and keep in a well-lit frost-free place indoors. Once the shoots are fat and around 3cm long then the tubers are ready for planting out.

Plant asparagus

I’m sure asparagus would be more widely grown if it wasn’t for the fact that planting it is a long-term commitment to the place where you garden. Planted now, asparagus crowns will be ready for an initial harvest in two years. "TWO YEARS!" often seems to be the response to this statement, followed by the choice not to plant asparagus. Then six years later and still in the same garden, that response will seem a mistake. Think of all those delicious harvests missed! Going out first thing on a fresh spring morning to cut some fresh asparagus spears with the dew still on them is a special moment. One that I wish I could bottle up and dip into in the depths of winter to lift my spirits! Choose a sunny spot with soil that drains very well. Dig a trench 30cm deep, add a 5cm layer of garden compost to the bottom of it, then mound it up in the middle. Place the asparagus crowns on top of the mound just made, planting 40cm apart and spreading out the roots. Fill in the trench, covering the crowns with 8cm of soil. Water well, mulch with another 5cm of compost, then feel good that you’ve just made an investment that can crop well for the next two decades.

Plant rhubarb

Maybe I’m mad, but I can’t get enough rhubarb. I would gladly eat it every day, although there’s something special about the first few harvests, when there is precious little else to harvest fresh from the garden. I’m no cook, but fresh rhubarb cooked on a hob until soft with a little water, honey, fresh ginger and a dash of cinnamon is my spring speciality! Plant dormant crowns now (you often find them sold in little bags and covered with compost) in a wide open, sunny space. I find it a great plant for growing in a sunny but scruffy corner of the garden where it can take up as much space as it likes. Plant rhubarb crowns 90cm apart, planting so the tip of the crown is just above soil level, then water and mulch with a 5cm layer of rotted homemade compost.

Start from seed

Sowing beetroot seed in modules
Monogerm beetroot seeds like these, produce just one seedling, whereas most beetroot seeds are actually a cluster of seeds, producing several seedlings

Sow beetroot

Beetroot is one of those ‘too good to be true’ veg crops. It’s easy to sow, something of a super-food, able to withstand the cold, and gives a heavy crop without being overly fussy. The seeds are large so it’s easy to space out the seed as you sow, which can save a lot of fiddly thinning out later. Sow the seeds in rows, 2.5cm deep and space the seeds about 10cm apart. A sunny spot in soil that has had lots of compost or manure added in previous years should give you a bumper crop. Beetroot doesn’t take up much space so I like to keep sowing new rows every month or so to give a longer period of harvest.

More like this

Sow perpetual spinach

Never mind Popeye, I’m surprised that this spinach hasn’t ever landed itself a commercial partnership with a battery company because it seems to have the energy to outlast all the other vegetables in the garden. The same row of leaves that I’m picking in July, I can still be harvesting from on Christmas Day. I sow the seed thinly in a row, covering the seeds with 2.5cm of compost after sowing, then water them in using a watering can with a rose attachment. I don’t thin them out but, instead, use them as a cut-and-come-again crop and they will re-sprout several times through the growing season.

Start a carrot crop in long pots

Let’s be honest, some garden soils are simply no good for growing carrots. If you’ve ended up with lots of fanged, knobbly carrots that seem to refuse to grow down, then don’t be too hard on yourself. Blame it on the soil. Heavy clay or stony soils are unlikely to give you anything other than a root that you might be able to enter in a funny-shaped vegetable competition. But to give a carrot crop the VIP (or should I say VIC) treatment, grow them in long containers of compost and you’ll have a crop to be proud of. Sow in deep pots of peat-free multi-purpose compost, sowing very thinly on the surface of damp compost, then covering the seed with a layer of sieved compost. Place the pot in a sunny spot.

Money-saving tip

I’m the worst one for deciding that it’s best just to finish off the packet of seed and sowing thicker towards the end of the row if the packet is nearly finished. This year I’m turning over a new leaf and saving what’s left in the packet to sow another batch of the same crop later on, once I’ve sown what I want to, as well as sowing as thinly as possible to get the most from each seed packet.

Thrifty Tip

Ways to get bigger crops

Help warm beds by adding a layer of organic mulch now
Help warm beds by adding a layer of organic mulch now

Protect tree blossom from frost

Unless you have the luxury of warm walls and sheltered corners near the house to grow fruit trees, the flower buds and blossom of peaches, nectarines and apricot trees are likely to be at risk of frost damage this month. If your trees are still small, drape fleece over the whole tree, securing it with pegs, if frost is forecast. If you’re growing in pots, move them to the warmest, most sheltered part of the patio.

Pot up evergreen herbs

Towards the end of the month, herbs that have been in the same container for at least a couple of years can be given a boost by giving them more room. This can increase the cropping potential, giving the roots more room and allowing for the plant to get noticeably bigger without becoming stressed. Pot up rosemary, bay, sage, thyme and lavender. Use a pot that's up to one and a half times as wide and deep as the previous container. Pot into a mix of equal parts peat-free multipurpose compost and John Innes compost and water well, watering again each time the compost is dry. While full sun will help develop the best flavour, move pots to shady spots during very hot days this year.


Prepare bare areas for new crops

Whether you’re in the ‘no dig’ or ‘I’m going to dig until the cows go home’ camp, it doesn’t matter, soil is best prepared for new crops now. Get out a trowel or a digging fork and uproot all the perennial weeds that you can see, to remove any potential competition for your crops. Then add a layer of well-rotted homemade garden compost or bagged peat-free multipurpose compost as a mulch over areas of bare soil to help warm them up. This is a good way of improving germination rates if you are going to be sowing seeds direct in the soil. The additional warmth and nutrients from the mulch will also give young plants planted out in spring a boost and it also helps to demarcate areas of the veg patch. Push labels into each mulched area saying what will be growing in each.

Growing greener

Now is a good time to think about how many pots and trays you are going to need for the forthcoming frenzy of sowing and potting annual veg. It’s at this time of year that I start examining all the items of food packaging that come into the house and working out how they can be effective vessels for housing young plants and seedlings! Tin cans are good pots for French and runner beans if you pierce a hole in the bottom with a sharp knife or drill. The deep trays that mushrooms are often sold in are good for growing some cut-and-come -again salad leaves on the windowsill, and small yoghurt pots with a hole at the base, or toilet roll tubes, can easily house a broad bean or pea from seed to young plant.