Welcome to Lee’s gardening advice for March written by local resident and keen gardener, Lee Stevenson (aka An English Gardener in Çalış).

March is the busiest month if, like me, you prefer to grow your plants from seed. Growing from seed is the easiest and cheapest way to grow a range of different plants that are not available in the shops to buy.

Growing from seed isn’t that difficult either, it just takes a bit of patience and keeping an eye on the young plants to avoid drying out or over watering. Don’t worry if you don’t have any pots to grow plants from seed as any container will do – I regularly use old ayran cups to pot smaller plants. You can even use plastic food covers as a mini propagator, which can be picked up for as little as 10TL at the old Birim store which is now a 10TL store.

How does your garden grow? Lee’s gardening advice – Marching ahead
Plastic food container used as a propagator

The soil I use is great for all sorts of growing uses such as seedlings, pot plants and general garden soil improvement and is available at most garden/horticulture shops in 70 litre yellow and green bags. Don’t be tempted to use the soil in smaller bags sold in the A101 or Migros stores as I’ve found this is usually of poor quality and has been left in the sun outside the shops.

When growing any seeds that are pin head/needle thin in size, lightly cover with soil and water with a spray gun to avoid disturbing the seeds. If possible, place any container in a tray so that the water is drawn up to encourage strong root development. Cover the soil with a clear plastic bag or place a sheet of plastic/bubble wrap on top to help keep the soil warm and the moisture in. Make sure you remove it during the day when the sun is at its strongest.

Once seedlings have their first true leaves or look big enough to handle, you can transplant them to their final growing position. Don’t forget to water the plants once moved to keep them happy.

If you enjoy a particular type of tomato you can save the pips by placing the watery inside on tissue paper, squeezing out the pips and leaving to dry. Once dry, either place the whole sheet on the soil and cover, or cut around the pips and sow in neat rows. Don’t worry about the tissue paper being left as this will eventually break down.

Lettuce, cucumber and most salad vegetables can be sowed now. If, like me, you’d like some swedes, parsnips or sprouts later in the year, start from seed before April is finished as they have a long growing season.

If sowing flower seeds, make sure you sow thin enough as it may be difficult to separate smaller plants once grown as the roots may become entangled. Some plants don’t like their roots being disturbed so try to transplant them when the soil is dry and water the plant once in its new home.

Another thing to remember when planting out is the number of hours of sunlight plants need. Most garden vegetables require full sun which is six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Plants that grow in partial sun/shade only need three to four hours of direct sunlight whilst plants that thrive in shade need only two hours of sunlight daily.

Something Different

Don’t be afraid to try growing something different – I’m currently trying to grow a mango tree. Its supposed to take at least five years until fruiting but I like a challenge.

If you’d like to try growing a mango tree, remove as much of the flesh on the stone and wrap it in a tissue and keep somewhere dry. After two days, gently pry the stone open with a blunt knife or similar instrument removing the seed which looks like a large broad bean.

Sow the seed concave side down and cover with soil. Keep moist and, in about two weeks you should see some growth. I’ve been growing mine for 10 days and have a green shoot showing. The fully grown tree should get to 10 – 15 feet in height so consider this if you intend on planting for the long run.

How does your garden grow? Lee’s gardening advice – Marching ahead
Mango just starting to appear

Carrots, although fairly cheap to buy at the market, are a great veg to grow and you don’t need a garden to do so. When growing from seed, water from the top for the first 2 months and then from the bottom to encourage long roots or just water heavily so the bottom stays wet. If you want a bit of fun try growing carrots in old soda bottles to guarantee a straight carrot or if you want to go for a “long un” cut and attach soda bottles together.

Best Friends

Companion planting is a great way to have more success with whatever you are growing, What this means is planting in close proximity plants that help each other either by detracting pests or helping to attract pollinators. For example, basil is great for repelling aphids, spider mites, mosquitoes and flies. Marigolds also repel pests.

Corn and beans grow well together as the beans will grow up the cornstalks meaning you won’t have to build a trellis. Beans also fix nitrogen – an important key nutrient element for plants – in the soil. If you’ve ever pulled up broad beans or runner beans you will notice little nodules on the roots. These are best left in the soil as they will improve it by leaving a residual amount of nitrogen in the soil for other plants. Corn is also great for plants in the squash family (courgette, butternut) to grow up.

Radish, which is quick and easy to grow, is also a great repellent. If you want something prettier and are fed up with marigolds, grow nasturtiums as they not only look good and come in a range of colours, but are edible too.

Carrots planted near onions will help to repel carrot fly.

Not such good companions

Keep cucumbers away from aromatic herbs such as sage as this will stunt the growth of the cucumber.

Keep onions away from asparagus, beans and peas. 

Click here for more information on companion planting.

Feeling Fruity

If you are lucky enough to have citrus fruit trees in your garden you should start to see new growth and flower buds starting to develop. If possible, now is the time to spray with a pesticide if you have any leaf curl damage. Take a picture to show the shop the damage to your tree so they can recommend what to use.

How does your garden grow? Lee’s gardening advice – Marching ahead
Citrus tree with new growth and flower buds appearing

Now is also a great time to plant strawberry plugs -small plants in plastic trays. Depending on how many strawberries you want, 8 – 10 plants should be plenty as they will send out runners which in turn will grow into new plants. Grow in long pots or in the ground. If planting in the ground, plant at least the distance from your hand to your elbow apart and in full sun. With any luck, you will have two harvests of delicious strawberries.

Happy Growing!

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An English Gardener in Çalış