Your garden: March 18

Vegetables

Parsley may still be sown in warmer districts. Sow thinly and, when seedlings are strong enough, move so they are 10cm apart.

Spring cabbage can be planted immediately after rain. Put them in rich soil and plant close together, about 30cm apart in rows 1m apart. Every second cabbage can be harvested at the half-growth stage in spring and the others left to mature.

Cauliflowers can still be planted now to stand over winter. In cold, wet districts plants may produce a poor crop. Choose a warm, sheltered slope facing north or northeast and plant them at least 60cm apart.

Celery and leeks should be watered if the ground is dry and liquid manure used occasionally.

Green crops, such as barley or oats, can still be sown on spare ground and dug in during the winter. The plant foods locked up in a green manure crop prevent nutrients leaching from the soil in heavy rain.

Flowers

Autumn-sown sweet peas produce stronger plants with better flowers than those sown in spring. Sow seed in trays or pots and plant out when new growth is apparent, about August.

Alternatively, if winters are reliably mild and the soil is well-drained, sow seed in open ground where the plants will flower.

Sweet peas can produce flowers for three or four months, drawing nutrients from the soil, so the richer the soil, the better the blooms. Use rotted manure or compost and add 100g lime and 40g superphosphate per sq m. A second batch of seed can be sown in late September.

Cupani, a sweet pea known in England since 1699, is a mauve and maroon variety with exceptional perfume. Pink and white Painted Lady is almost as old, dating from 1737.

Other heritage varieties offered by New Zealand seed companies include scarlet Henry Eckford, orange Prince of Orange, navy blue Lord Nelson, cream Mrs Collier and pale pink Miss Willmott. Modern varieties include the Horizon and Melody strains, bred in Auckland by Dr Keith Hammett.

Most sweet peas will climb to about 2m, but Little Sweetheart and Bijou are dwarf varieties that can be grown without support.

Late chrysanthemums will be coming into bud and require some disbudding to produce best quality blooms. Nip out the buds when they are just big enough to handle, leaving one to a stem.

Feed the plants with liquid manure and mulch around them with garden compost to retain soil moisture.

Potted chrysanthemums need regular watering in dry weather. The first central (crown) buds have probably appeared, but second or terminal buds usually produce the best decorative effects. Stake stems to protect from the wind.

Rose enthusiasts could consider visiting botanic gardens and private gardens open to the public to see which varieties do well in their area. Seeing the bushes in bloom will help enable the best choices to be made.

Favourite pansies and violas can be rooted successfully by putting cuttings in rich, sandy soil or potting mix in shallow containers. Polystyrene fruit trays from supermarkets are ideal for this purpose. Lift old plants from the soil, split apart and put young side shoots into containers. Keep in a sheltered, shaded position, ensuring the soil stays moist.

Plant out as soon as the cuttings have started growing. If a large number of one colour is needed, this is a cheaper method than buying new plants.

Fruit

Outdoor tomatoes can have ripening fruit picked to hasten the maturing of the remaining crop. Half-green fruit colours up if kept in a paper bag or cardboard box in a warm place for a few days.

Fruit trees can be planted in the autumn and winter months. Prepare the site now by clearing off any weeds, grass or turf and lightly dig the top 10cm of soil beneath. Weed seeds will subsequently germinate and can be killed off by later cultivation.

Pick early pears, such as Williams Bon Chretien and red-skinned Starkrimson, before they are ripe and store them in a single layer in a cool place.

If planning to buy fruit trees, bear in mind that most pears need to be cross-pollinated and will do so with nashi as well as one another. Even those which do not need cross-pollinating have heavier crops if a compatible variety is grown close by.

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