March can be one of the most exciting months of the gardening year, especially if you happen to be a seed sowing freak like me!
With winter and early spring flowers coming to an end this is your last chance to harvest lots of ‘free’ seed from them for sowing in the autumn and, as finished annual plants are pulled out and added to the compost heap, there should be lots of room in which to sow vibrant summer flowering varieties along with more of those all important vegetables, the latter being increasingly popular with gardeners as they fight inflation on the home front.
After pulling out finished plants and before sowing the next batch of seeds though, please take a little time to prepare the soil properly for its new inhabitants otherwise they will not thrive as they should. Food and drink are the order of the day when getting soil ready for its next batch of seeds but, first of all, get down on your hands and knees and physically remove any visible stones, pieces of old root and any other foreign matter you come across. While you’re at it, break up those hard lumps of soil as well!
Once you’ve got through with the above, spread a generous amount of lump free organic compost or that old favourite of mine ‘old, well rotted organic manure’ and mix it thoroughly in to the soil surface. No need to dig it in as the seeds you are about to sow go in to the top couple of inches at the very most and, by the time their hungry roots penetrate deeper, the all important nutrients will have travelled downwards assisted by hard working earth worms and the water you are just going to apply before sowing seeds, and then afterwards, to encourage germination.
Okay, soil prepared and lightly watered to settle everything nicely into place it is now time to have some real fun!
Aah seeds!!! Only a gardener can understand the sheer thrill of holding packets of life in their grubby hands. The deep down seed sowing thrill, there is nothing else like it in the entire world, bubbles up from somewhere in the region of your toes, performs flip flops in your stomach, makes your heart race and your brain sizzle in the anticipation of the glories to come – pictures of which are already flashing before your eyes!
This being March most of the seeds to be planted now are those that will tolerate, even bask in, the summer heat and humidity lurking just ahead and, on the annual flower front, these include:
A definite favourite of mine, sunflowers are not as widely grown in gardens as they really should be. Simple to propagate from seed, this should be sown at a maximum depth of one inch for the very large seed and nearer to the surface for smaller ones, not fussy about soil conditions as not plagued by water logging, germinating within 5-10 days and tending to shoot up like the proverbial bean stalk, sunflowers are, to put it bluntly, stunning! Some people avoid them thinking that at 8-14 feet tall they will totally dominate the garden but there are smaller varieties, including some dwarfs, available now and the colours….not just sunshine yellow but lemon, cream, orange, red, crimson, bronze and various shades in-between plus two-tones.
As easy to grow from seed as sunflowers, zinnias are flamboyant to say the least. From dwarf varieties up to magnificent tall ones of around three feet and more zinnias come in all the colours of the rainbow plus green. Equally at home in pots on the patio or sown direct in the garden where they are to bloom, these heat loving flowers are an absolute must to brighten up the summer with their sizzling hues and, with regular dead heading, they will put on a show for months.
These attractive red and yellow, daisy-like flowers, much loved by butterflies and bees, are actually perennials but are best treated as annuals in hot locations such as Karachi and Hyderabad. Perhaps a little slow to get started they are, however, worth the effort and, if you’re lucky, will flower themselves to death!
As with sunflowers these are often considered to be too tall and straggly but, in my humble opinion, no garden is complete without a largish patch of these delicate flowers with attractive ferny foliage. The ‘ordinary’ cosmos with its white, pink and crimson flowers is tall and may require some support if in an exposed location but, as with many other flowers, new developments have resulted in medium height and dwarf plants entering the market. The colour range has also been expanded to included bi-colours, yellows and even a rather blazing orange.
A rock garden favourite these brazen flowers are sun lovers of the highest caliber, to the point of closing their petals if the sun happens to disappear behind a cloud for even a moment or two. Simple to propagate from seed and reasonably fast growing, portulaca is perfectly at home in pots, hanging baskets, as a border edging or, as previously indicated, in the rock garden proper where its glowing colours draw the eye from quite a distance.
The Mexican sunflower is more akin to a single, tangerine coloured zinnia than to an actual sunflower and has many zinnia-like habits. Generally reaching a height of 2-3 feet in our climate, tithonia is reasonably drought tolerant once established and its unusual colour shines forth like a beacon towards dusk.
African marigolds with their huge globular heads of flower and their smaller, hardier cousins tagetes are incredibly simple to grow and care for as are all members of the amaranthus family of plants including celosia although care must be taken not to sown the seeds too close together as this results in poor, spindly plants.
On the vegetable front: continue sowing lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach, leaf beet, radish, aubergines, capsicums, chillies, lady’s finger and members of the gourd clan and, if running short on tomato and chilli seed, just buy some nice ripe red ones from the market, remove and sow the seed. Keep your vegetable beds weeded and watered as required: remembering that watering done in the evening is far more beneficial than doing this very necessary chore in the early morning as the precious water evaporates as the sun rises in the sky.
Elsewhere in the garden this month: Continue taking cuttings of shrubby perennials and feed everything in sight with a liberal dose of liquid organic fertiliser/manure and start amassing heaps of mulch to apply around the base of trees and shrubs before the temperature begins to soar.
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