• Sally Watts

March- Goodbye Winter, hello Spring!

Rain! Rain! Go away! What a dreadfully wet month February has been which has prevented us from getting on with several jobs in the garden, not to mention all the tidying up after all the gales we have had.

Spring is here at last so get cracking and complete any jobs that had to be abandoned last month.

Pruning Shrubs

The best time to prune shrubs grown for their stem colour such as Cornus (Dogwoods) is just as they come into growth in march to mid april. Known as coppicing, cut the stems of new specimens down to no more than 6 inches from the ground to achieve a stubby framework. This encourages new brightly coloured leafless stems for winter interest next year. You can do the same treatment with Salix (Willow). Then each year cut back to the previous years stubs. On old specimens that haven’t been pruned its best to cut out one in three stems each or every other year.

If you have deciduous shrubs that flower from July – October then you can prune these plants now.

Examples that need regular pruning each year include Buddleja davidii, Caryopteris, Ceratostigma, Hibiscus, Hydrangea paniculata, Leycesteria, Lavatera, Perovskia, hardy fuchsia, and deciduous Ceanothus species.

Most evergreen shrubs can be pruned just before growth starts in mid-spring. Delay pruning spring-flowering evergreen and deciduous shrubs until after they have flowered, otherwise this year's display will be lost.

Winter flowering Viburnums such as x bodnantense cultivars can be pruned now or when they have finished flowering. Cut out up to one in three of the oldest stems to the base.

Cut out the top rosette of leaves from leggy stems of Mahonia x media cultivars to encourage branching.

Remove any reverted green shoots back to the main stem on hardy variegated evergreens, to prevent reversion taking over.

All of those lovely winter flowering plants like Skimmias, Sarcococcas, Lonicera purpusii, Hamamelis will finally be going over. Lightly trim any spent flowers and primp into shape where necessary.


March is the last and best time to plant bare root roses in heavy soils or in cold areas. Avoid planting in areas where roses were previously grown, otherwise new introductions may suffer from replant disease. However, if you dig out all the old soil and replace it, this should avoid the problem.

Many people prefer to leave their hybrid tea and floribunda rose pruning until spring. So, if you think that the frosts are over, prune with sharp secateurs or loppers so that you make good, clean cuts that heal quickly. Cut to an outward facing bud so that you encourage summer growth away from the centre.

Modern bush roses tend to be grafted onto vigorous stock so do not be shy about giving your rose quite a severe haircut. It will redouble its efforts for you as a consequence. Thin out the centre of the plant if it is looking too busy because the better the shape and the space within the plant, the better your display of flowers and the healthier the plant.

Cut back ornamental deciduous grasses left for winter interest, if you have not already done so (such as Miscanthus), down to ground level before their active growth in spring.

Evergreen grasses such as Stipa Gigantea do not need a complete prune, just pull away any dead material from among the better looking growth and remove last year’s oaty fronds. Pennisetum is a warm season grass and starts to grow later in spring so leave the trimming back until mid-April.

Dividing and cutting back Herbaceous Perennials

Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level (including Helleborus x hybridus and H. niger ) to expose the flowers and remove possible foliar diseases such as hellebore leaf spot. Divide if required after flowering.

Divide and/or plant bulbs-in-the-green, such as snowdrops and winter aconites, if not done last month. Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials and those that are flowering poorly or have lost their shape. Examples: Sedum, hardy geraniums, crocosmia and hemerocallis (day lilies) and agapanthus. Divide hostas before they come into leaf. Divide polyanthus-type primulas after flowering.

Once new growth appears on more tender plants such as verbena bonariensis, gaura lindheimeri and penstemons, cut back just above where the new growth sprouts from the base.

Caring for Daffodils

Deadhead Daffodils as the flower heads fade by cutting or pinching off the old flower head and the seed capsule behind the flower. This redirects energy back into the bulb, not the formation of seed.

Leave all the leaves on the plant. This allows photosynthesis to continue putting energy back into the bulb.

Do not tie leaves, plat or tidy them with a rubber band.

When the leaves start to yellow in 6 weeks or so, then it is safe to clear them. (If growing in turf normally around June)

Daffodils bloom well provided they are not short of water after flowering, so prevent the soil from drying out. Apply a high potassium feed such as tomato fertilizer to bulbs in containers and on poor sandy soils.


Scarifying and removing the thatch and moss from your lawn is another job that is put off year after year. Set aside an afternoon to tackle it. It is immensely satisfying to see how much rubbish you remove from the lawn and it is good exercise to boot! Use a tined lawn rake if your lawn is small or hire a scarifier for the weekend. A few weeks later with a little bit of feeding, your lawn will look quite changed (for the better!).

As soon as you notice that your lawn is becoming a little shaggy start your regular mowing regime again. Keep the blades high to begin with. Little and often is recommended if you are to achieve a manicured lawn.


It’s good idea to mulch bare soil in borders with a thick layer of compost, this will improve the soil, keep down the weeds as well as giving the plants a boost.

Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent rotting around the neck.

Perennials putting on plenty of growth may need support. It is best to get supports in early, so that the plants grow up through them, covering them discreetly. Adding rigid supports afterwards usually looks unattractive and results in bunched stems lacking sufficient ventilation.

Protect new growth on lilies, delphiniums, hostas and any other plants affected, from slugs and snails.


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Garden Design in and around Peterborough, Cambridge, Northamptonshire & London

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