This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Where ridges have been thrown up to the frost, the width at which the Potatoes are to be planted, it answers well to place a little kindly soil in the ridges - such as leaf-mould, old mushroom - dung, or old potting - mould - planting the Potatoes on it, and forking down the ridges, carefully burying the Potatoes 4 to 6 inches; and if they should come up while there is danger of frost, a little litter may be used for protection - earth drawn over the young tops will answer for a time. Herbs may be divided, if necessary, and fresh plantations made. Mint and similar kinds do well to be lifted, parted, and planted singly (in well-worked ground), just after they have sprung an inch or so; others established may only require surface-cleaning, and top-dressing with clean rich earth. Celery may be sown for the general crop, from the middle to the end of the month. Fine soil, placed a few inches thick on a mild hot bed, answers well to sow the seed on. Excessive heat, or allowing the young plants to become dry at the root, would, in most cases, cause the crop to run prematurely to seed, and be unfit for any purpose. Checks from cold to heat are productive of the evil.
Any early seedlings up, and fit to handle, may be pricked out 4 inches apart, on a bed prepared with a few inches of rotten manure placed on a hard surface; over the manure is spread an inch or two of light soil. The young plants are planted neatly, fastening the fine roots to keep them firm, but not squeezing; they should be allowed to hang their full length in the soil. Protection with glass is necessary at this early period, giving air gradually, till the plants are of a size to endure full exposure on mild days. Drawing them up is a great evil to be guarded against. If Basil is wanted, a little seed may be sown in a pan, using free healthy soil, and not covering the seeds very much. Cucumbers and Melons may be begun this month in the smallest places. A bed prepared with good stable-dung, and a few leaves to keep it lasting, is as good a way of growing them in summer as any other; hot-water pipes, reducing labour and being more cleanly, are preferable for the workman. If dung-beds and frames are used, let the heat be regular and the atmosphere pure before the plants are planted out - a heat of 70°, and 10° or 15° higher, with sun and air on, will bring the plants on rapidly at this season.
If the bed becomes dry towards the afternoon, a sprinkling with tepid water over the whole surface, and shutting up with sun-heat at a temperature of 85°, will promote active growth. If the steam is of a brown colour, and hanging in drops from the lights, it is a sign that it is impure; and plants, if they live in it, cannot make healthy growth. Small quantities of soil, in a warm state, laid up to the roots as they appear through the hills, is better, for a time, than filling the structure full of soil at once. Melons do well in strong loam and a little decayed manure well mixed. If much dung is allowed, disease is more liable to attack the plants. Cucumbers do in a lighter soil than Melons - a good portion of turfy loam should be used. Near the sides of the bed the soil may be made very firm, as, when very loose, more of the growth of the plants is given to wood and foliage than fruit. Melon soil, all over the bed, can hardly be made too firm, and sloping a little from the stems of the plants. If ridge-Cucumbers are to be grown, they could be brought on early in a frame, which could be gradually taken off in summer, and used for any other purpose.
The usual system of growing ridge-Cucumbers and Gerkins may be delayed till next month, as the plants seldom do much good if planted out before the end of May. New Zealand Spinach may be sown in a pan or pot to raise plants for planting out. The end of the month will be early enough. A frame is valuable in most places to raise such plants as the above, besides Vegetable Marrows, Capsicums, and Tomatoes; both of the latter may be sown at once.
Nail and otherwise finish fruit-trees as formerly directed. Though bushes and fruit-trees should have been planted long ere this, they may still be got in; a little extra care of drought will be necessary, as March is sometimes very trying for all kinds of newly-planted trees; and where staking has not been well done, strong winds will do much damage both to root and branch. Trees on walls, etc. - such as Plums, Apricots, and Peaches - may require disbudding early this season, as unfortunately most things are very early. When taking off the wood-buds, considerable judgment is necessary, so that the best-placed shoots may be left as near the main branches as possible; any that are growing right out from the tree should be taken clean off, and enough of wood left to furnish bearing wood for next year. The wood and leaves should fully develop themselves without being crowded. There are generally more failures from overcrowding than the reverse.
The propagating of bedding-plants may be proceeded with as rapidly as possible. Verbenas may be put in a high moist temperature, in rather sandy soil. They will soon root, and if potted and replaced in heat till the roots take with the new soil, they can be placed in a close frame, and air increased as the plants begin to grow. If green-fly make its appearance, a little tobacco smoke will kill it; confine the smoke for a time by placing mats over the frame. Calceolarias and other more hardy plants can be placed in a sunk pit or frame if pots are scarce; it does well to turn the plants into rough soil, where they will root freely, and can be lifted out with balls at planting time. Chrysanthemums may be propagated now, by cuttings or by dividing the old plants. A cold frame answers well for them; if much, heat is used they become drawn up and weakly. Abundance of air and light is necessary for all hardy plants, especially if they are to be turned out into the open ground. Bedding-plants, and others for ornamental purposes, cannot have too much air, when weather will allow, to secure bushy strong plants for turning out. Hardy annuals may be sown in the borders; some of them make a good show, though not so lasting as most of the perennials.
If annuals are wanted late in the season they may remain unsown till May.
Bulbs of all kinds, Carnations, Pinks, Pansies, and such like plants in pots, must now have all the air possible, using the lights to keep off heavy rains; however, mild showers, when required, would be a good watering, but no damp should be allowed to settle about the plants. Auriculas may have their side shoots taken off if they are not wanted to increase the stock; in their absence the main flowers would be finer. If top-dressing has not been given with rich compost, it should not be delayed. Tender annuals should now be sown in a little heat. Balsams, Cockscombs, and similar plants would do well for a time in a cucumber frame. To grow them well, especially Balsams, they require bottom-heat and plenty of air given as they grow. When they grow to their blooming size, they will do in an ordinary greenhouse, but require to be taken gradually from a warm to a cold structure. All plants will require to be more frequently watered - however, guarding against extremes, and let it still be given in the mornings. More roots and more active growth are a sign that more moisture is necessary.
When plants are potted give plenty of drainage, especially to any requiring peat, such as Heaths; place compactly over the bottom a few large pieces, then a quantity of small ones, making a level surface; keep the soil well packed round the ball in process of potting. Roses may now be pruned, cutting out weakly growths and shortening strong ones; fork over the mulching and make the beds tidy. Strong shoots may be pegged down to fill up. M. T.