This is the worst spring for a fair few years. Late frosts and buckets of snow – even as I write – have made the ground cold, soggy and compacted. The roots of plants in my greenhouse are pushing through the bottom of pots and it’s been a challenge hardening them off.

If you had covered the ground with a protective biodegradable mulch last autumn, things won’t be quite so bad. You will have prevented leaching of precious soil and nutrients into the water system.

My burn is running brown just now with hill soil speeding off to Berwick. A recent report for the English Environment Agency reckons leaching costs £1.2 billion a year for dredging and flood repairs.

My mulched soil is now two degrees warmer than the open ground and my first broadbean sowing, nestling beneath a cloche, is soldiering on.

You can’t just patiently wait for better times: April is too critical a planting month for that. And digging over wet, squelchy ground is almost impossible as well as pointless. Colder soil and a new batch of weed seeds come to the surface, and the complex web of vital soil micro-organisms is disrupted.

So, whether or not you’re a no-dig fan, and I’m increasingly becoming one, it’s the best approach to veg gardening this wintry spring.

Start by getting strong, healthy seedlings ready for action. Sow and pot on in the greenhouse or, if necessary, commandeer your window sills. And forget about direct sowings. You can even sow root crops in toilet roll holders and carefully plant out when possible. I don’t normally recommend this, but needs must.

At the same time, get the open ground ready. I find clean, clear plastic cloches warm the soil by around two degrees. And by keeping the plastic above soil level, the sun and good air circulation begin to dry out the top layer.

After a week or so, loosen the top crust with a sharp hoe to slice through any enterprising weeds. Rake in some

home-made compost and any other organic fertiliser, such as pelleted chicken manure, and plant.

Most vegetables find firm soil perfectly acceptable. Brassicas love it, and legumes and leaf crops tolerate most growing conditions, as do alliums, provided there’s plenty nutrient.

Potatoes are the main exception as they are usually planted in traditional trenches. But, especially for first earlies, you can station plant.

Trowel out a 20cm deep hole, plant and cover. Prepare planting holes 30cm apart for first earlies, 40cm for seconds and

45-50cm for maincrop. Leave 45cm between first early rows and 60-75cm for second earlies and maincrop.

Mulching is central to the no-dig approach, but only spread a mulch once the ground has warmed up: mulching on cold soil keeps it cold.

Home compost is the best mulch; partially composted material finishes weathering on the soil surface so is OK. But sadly, there’s never enough. Which? Gardening recently evaluated several different mulching materials and found that, overall, spent mushroom compost produced best results for most crops.

Soil improver and well rotted manure were nearly as good during the first year, with yields falling off sharply in the second year. Composted green waste is half the price but is much less nutritious.

And a word of warning about them all: quality varies from batch to batch and they may contain synthetic chemicals.

I always swear by grass clippings. They’re freely available after every cut. Don’t let the grass touch plant stems and prevent weed germination by first covering the soil with a thick layer of newspaper, spreading clippings on top.

Both gradually rot into the soil, adding carbon and nitrogen.

Plant of the Week

Hyacinth ‘Blue Festival’

Multiflora hyacinths produce several stems per bulb and the individual flowers on each stem are loosely packed, giving the inflorescence an informal look. Blue Festival is a pretty, soft blue.