Gardening: Warming soil makes a big difference

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THERE has been a certain amount of upheaval in my front garden over the last month or so. We’ve had the builders in and, although they were reasonably careful, the beds and lawn look bedraggled.

I’m not too downhearted though, because March is ideal for perking up a tired-looking plot, and they have left me a huge new border to fill.

The border is so big I can’t afford to pack it with newly bought plants. Fortunately, early spring is a great time to divide many perennials, such as hostas and hardy geraniums, just as they stir from winter dormancy, and there are many large clumps in the rest of the garden that will provide fabulous, free plants. Simply by lifting them, prizing clumps apart with a fork, and replanting portions with both healthy roots and shoots, much of the space will be filled in no time.

Meanwhile, the lawn will benefit from some work with a wire rake to remove any moss, dead grass and other detritus preventing the grass getting all the light, air and water that it needs. Sharpening lawn edges with a half-moon cutter instantly smartens up any garden, and helps stop grass creeping into surrounding beds. Wait until grass starts growing before dusting off the mower, and apply a high-nitrogen lawn feed to spur on fresh, green shoots, as the weather becomes milder at the end of the month.

Weeds have already launched into rapid growth, so remove them now to prevent them seeding and multiplying the problem by hundreds of times. Another vital task is to finish cutting back last year’s brown growth on herbaceous perennials to make way for the new shoots. The secateurs will also come in handy for pruning hybrid tea and floribunda roses, along with summer-flowering shrubs, such as Buddleja davidii and Lavatera. Cut them back hard, within 30cm of the base, just above a bud, to encourage plenty of strong, new flowering shoots.

Don’t neglect the vegetable plot either, where it’s the last chance to work in compost to improve the soil and rake over seedbeds to prepare them for spring sowing. At this time of year, warming the soil by covering it with horticultural fleece or cloches for a week or two before sowing can make an enormous difference to germination rates. Plant first early potatoes, broad beans and onion sets outdoors this month and, if you haven’t already, sow tomatoes, chillies and peppers somewhere warm indoors, and early peas in modules or in lengths of guttering in the greenhouse.