In the Garden: March into the new season and plant a tree

Traditionally, mid-March is a time when the soil and temperatures begin to shake off the shackles of winter and become more favourable for planting, says Olive Ryan
In the Garden: March into the new season and plant a tree

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’.

THE arrival of March is welcome each year, bringing us closer to the growing season ahead. Birds have become more vocal and are starting to build nests and prepare for the arrival of a new generation over the coming weeks and months.

It is still important to continue to feed them so fill those bird feeders regularly and enjoy the show as all of the different birds queue up to feed!

With March comes St Patrick’s Day, always a traditional gardening deadline - a date that certain jobs need to be completed on or before. The ones that come to mind are that the roses need to be pruned and the early spuds need to be planted.

Traditionally, mid-March is a time when the soil and temperatures begin to shake off the shackles of winter and become more favourable for planting.

Planting a tree on our national holiday is a great tradition to consider going forward, and timely as well, with National Tree Week nearing, starting on March 20.

The stormy weather in recent weeks has seen the loss of many mature specimen trees which will leave gaps in the landscape and our gardens, which can be filled with a new generation, providing continuity - and tree cover with a range of ages is a healthy thing. We need to be adding every year to our stock of trees to ensure cover for the future.

Choosing the right specimen for a particular location needs some consideration and there is surely a tree for every location, no matter how big or small. 

A good rule is to look at the height it will get to at maturity, then plant it at least that distance from any built structures. 

A tree-like oak getting to 20-40m is best planted at least 40m away from a house, shed or garage.

It’s important as well to consider the growth habit of a tree: will it be conical in shape with an upright habit, spreading, creating an umbrella-like shape, or somewhere in between?

The most suitable choice will be dictated by the planting position and space available for a tree to grow and mature within the garden. Would an evergreen specimen provide some structure over the winter months or would a deciduous tree providing good autumn colour be more desirable? Would a tree producing spring flower be the best option in the space available? Are there overhead power lines or telephone wires to think about? Is the planting location sheltered or exposed? Is the soil good or poor?

There is lots to consider and lots of options available and it is worth taking some time to ensure that once a tree is planted, it can be left to grow to maturity in the same location without having to undertake major pruning, restriction or possibly removal. That it can simply be enjoyed, admired and become a valued part of the garden over the passage of time is the ultimate goal.

There’s plenty to do in the garden in March, the ground is soft underfoot right now and needs to dry out somewhat before working it.

Early March is too soon to consider planting most things directly outside. It is, however, time to consider what seeds will be sown this year. A heated bench is a great asset at this time of the year as it allows seeds to be gently awoken, providing higher temperatures that heat the growing medium, as well as moisture and light. Seeds can be started, pricked out and grown on to make sturdy transplants that can be planted out into the soil once the risk of frosts have passed.

It is a great way of getting a little ahead of the growing curve, it is important to have additional indoor space to grow on transplants and protect them for any severe weather that we may get in late spring.

Different plants need to be sown at different times, some seedlings having a long development time like celeriac and onions are best sown late January into February. Sugar snaps, runner beans and pumpkins are all best sown in April and grown on to be transplanted outdoors in May/June. 

Planting first early potato crops is in sight and it is a good idea to chit seed potatoes using egg cartons in a bright, frost-free windowsill for a few weeks before they go into the ground. This will ensure an earlier and better crop of potatoes.


Every week there are more flowers appearing in the garden. Crocus are a wonderful spring flowering bulb, appearing during some of the most inclement weather in February and March.

A good large flowering crocus that makes an impact is Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (above) with its large white flowers creatingasnow-like carpet when planted in drifts. The large white goblet-shaped flowers are stained with purple and the bright orange anthers sparkle against the white backdrop of the petals.

The flowers get to about 10cm tall. These corms do well naturalised in grass areas, flowering so early they will not affect grass cutting routines as the foliage will have time to die back before grass begins growing in earnest. Best planted in autumn in an area with good drainage. Crocus are a great early flowering plant for the garden, providing a source of pollen and nectar for early flying pollinators.

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