In my garden down here in Sussex, there’s an unmistakeable whiff of spring in the air. The daffs are pushing up, there are deep purple dots of Sweet Violets everywhere, and whenever there is a pause in the rain and the wind, my garden birds are singing at the top of their little lungs.

Then, yesterday, I had my first frogspawn in one of my ponds.

I’m sure for all of you, no matter how far north you are, there are similar little signals of the impending explosion of life, and I hope a little skip of joy in your hearts.

It’s a prompt to grab an hour or two to go out and get the garden into shape for the season ahead.  Here are what I think are the key tasks to take us through to the end of March:

  • This is the last chance to prune apples and pears. (Don’t prune plums or their relatives until late spring after flowering).
  • It is also the last chance to prune or trim deciduous hedges before the birds start nesting. Just be aware that in some parts birds such as Song Thrushes and Robins may already be building or even incubating, although at the start of the season any bird worth its salt will be doing so in thick cover rather than bare branches. But check first, that's the rule!
  • Plus, it is the last chance to plant bare-rooted trees and shrubs, such a quick and cheap way of doing so. This week I planted a new rambling rose, a famous one called Kiftsgate, that is the mightiest of all roses that I hope will grow to 15 metres (50 feet) or more to cover a particularly ugly, half-bare leylandii that I will use as a climbing frame.

  • If you’re going to let part of the lawn grow long, it is good to give it a mow or two before you leave it to its own devices. Put the mower onto its top height rather than giving the lawn a scalping.
  • In the second half of March, prune hard autumn-flowering clematis, plus fuchsias, caryopteris and buddleias, taking each stem down to about three buds. They will then flower on the new growth.
  • Buy wildlife-friendly flower seeds, plus some fresh peat-free compost to sow them into. It’s by far the cheapest and most satisfying way to fill your garden with plants. You will have failures – that’s par for the course – but it makes the successes all the sweeter.
  • If you have plans to sow a wildflower meadow or a cornfield annual bed, start to prepare the ground now if possible, digging over the soil (on clay soils this may need to wait, given how wet it has been). This will then allow any weed seeds in that area to germinate so you can hoe them off before you sow the seed, probably in April.

Here's an area I prepared for a wildflower meadow area in early spring 2018, actually sowing onto a mound of earth I created:

And here's the same area the following spring, flush with Red Campion and Wild Carrot and many more:

  • Finally, have a good old tidy – what I call getting a ‘clear going on’. Maybe you left the seedheads standing in your flower borders, in which case now is a chance to nip them off and lie them in a heap for a week or two nearby in case there is life inside to crawl out. The two photos below show the before and after when I spent an hour or so tidying one of my Bee Borders last spring:

  • Oh, and take time to pause and just enjoy that sense of anticipation, that feeling of being on the cusp, and hopefully all the hope that brings.

With the garden birdsong chorus building every day, don't forget to get a copy of Adrian's RSPB Guide to Birdsong, the book and CD/digital download that will help you identify every bird in your garden and beyond by their songs and calls.