Garden Calendar for March
March is one of the very busiest times of the year in our garden. We are turning over the soil to expose overwintering pests, redesigning beds to make use of good crop rotation practices, and getting early spring food vegetables in the ground. It is a family tradition to get potatoes in the ground by St.Patrick’s Day. Peas are already popping their heads up ready to be covered with hay at the first sign of a hard snow or deep freeze, which is always possible with our unpredictable Oklahoma weather! The month of March is the transition from winter to spring and highly enjoyed!
- Tools and Equipment
- Growing Food
- Perennials, Annuals and Bulbs
- Trees, Shrubs and Ground Covers
- Indoor Gardening
Tools and Equipment March Upkeep
- Protect yourself and the blade of your pruning saw during storage. Make a cover for it using a piece of old garden hose the same length as the blade. Cut the hose lengthwise on one side, and place it over the saw blade.
- A 5-gallon bucket, already a popular garden carry-all, can be converted into a dual-purpose, tool older/harvest bucket by tying a tool pouch to the outside. Outside the bucket, carry trowels, pruner and seeds. Inside, collect vegetables or weeds.
- Ice cream scoops are great for digging holes for transplants; the dirt slides off easily.
- During inclement weather, clean and sharpen garden tools and prepare other gardening equipment for the busy months ahead. Inventory pesticides, fertilizers, bags of potting soil and amendments. Finish up last year’s records. There’s still time to do a little dreaming and planning.
- If you haven’t done it already, check stored tools and outdoor furniture for signs of rust. Remove any surface rust with steel wool, and paint with rust-inhibitive paint.
- If your tiller turns over sluggishly in spring, before trying to start it, move it to a sunny location and cover it with a black plastic garbage bag for half an hour. A few minutes of solar heating will warm up the fluids and make starting easier.
Growing Food in March
- Sow seeds indoors for the following vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant and head lettuce.
- On nice days, go outside and turn the compost pile. This will get it “cooking” again. It will also help you resist the urge to start working the soil too soon.
- To protect seedlings from cutworms, cut newspaper into three-inch squares. Wrap a square around each plant’s stem. About half the “collar” should protrude above the ground when the seedling is planted.
- Coriander seeds make fragrant additions to potpourri. To grow coriander, sow seeds directly into beds as soon as the danger of frost has passed. The planting should be located in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. Do not over-fertilize coriander, as high nitrogen will result in plants with decreased flavor.
- Parsley is rich in vitamins A and C. Start some seed indoors now for later transplanting to a sunny corner of the vegetable garden.
- Tops of onions seeded last month should be clipped to keep them at about 4 inches. This diverts energy to bulb growth.
- Pick a permanent spot for herbs in the garden. Many of them will come up year after year.
- A good, salt substitute for anyone who wants to restrict sodium intake is a blend of equal parts dried basil, dill, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme and a few dashes of Hungarian paprika. The mixture will keep indefinitely in a dark glass or ceramic container.
Lawns and Landscaping in March
- Cut English Ivy back very hard. It will come back very nicely in the spring.
- Trim Mondo Grass and Liriope with lawn mower set on highest setting (6 inches). Dispose of trimmings.
- Walks and drives help guide the flow of foot traffic. When lined with borders, hedges, or other plant materials, they may become too formal and prominent in the landscape. Use enough plant materials to lessen the impact of large areas of pavement, but still allow grass to meet the pavement in areas.
- Examine lawn areas where water may have pooled or snow cover lingered. Snow mold fungus may develop in these areas. Also look for meadow mouse tunnels in the browned grass. Both can be improved by roughing up the affected area with a rake to encourage the adjacent healthy grass plants to fill in.
- Take your lawnmower in for servicing to avoid the rush at the repair shop on that first nice weekend of April. Get it tuned up, the oil changed, and tighten all bolts. At the very least, get the blade sharpened.
- Early spring is the right time for two special turf treatments, if needed: vertical cutting or thinning to remove thatch and aerification or coring to reduce soil compaction. Special equipment is available for each operation. Consult a lawn-care specialist, or rent the equipment and do-it-yourself.
- Reposition stepping stones that have heaved or sunk below grass level. Lift them up, spread sand in the low areas, and replace the rocks. A bed of sand under the stones will aid drainage and decrease heaving next year.
- Take care to keep off soft and soggy lawns. Lime spreaders, wheelbarrows and other equipment will leave compaction marks. Seed new lawns and do repairs after the land has drained.
- When a blanket of snow insulates the lawn, temperatures at ground level may rise to above freezing. Snow mold fungi (a white, cottony growth on grass blades) thrives at temperatures between 32 and 65° F. To reduce possible snow mold damage, remove heavy snow accumulations in shady areas. If you cannot physically remove the snow, spread ashes or dry peat moss on the snow. The dark-colored material will absorb solar radiation and melt the snow faster.
- Variegated plants can help add the illusion of light to a dark area. Shade-loving ground covers, such as variegated liriope, ivies, euonymous and hosta, can be very effective for this.
- Get your landscape design on paper. It’s easier to erase it from a plan than to move it with a shovel.
- Shrubs and trees in the home landscape break up sound waves and reduce the nerve-shattering noise of modern society. Plant some new shrubs and trees this spring to improve the beauty and ambience of your home.
Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs for March
- Be mindful of warm days when the sun can cause heat to build up under rose cones, cold frames and in other plant protection systems. However, avoid removing mulches prematurely from plants with tender new tissue forming.
- Bluebells are superb for naturalizing in the same manner as daffodils but prefer a shadier location and will bloom even where they get no direct sun at all.
- In your flower arrangements, avoid mixing cut daffodils with tulips. Daffodils produce a chemical “slime” that injures tulip blooms. If you wish to use these two flowers in an arrangement, place the daffodils in another container for a day after cutting,then rinse off the stems and add to the vase of tulips. Adding 1 tablespoon of activated charcoal or 6 drops of bleach to each quart of water also helps.
- Crocuses and gladioli are not true bulbs, but are corms. The main difference between bulbs and corms is the method of storing food. In corms, the food is stored in an enlarged basal plate or stem. In bulbs, food is stored in meaty scales. Corms are smaller and tend to be flatter than bulbs.
- To start new plants of the mother fern, Asplenium viviparum, bend down the tip of a frond with plantlets and anchor the tip to the soil with a U-shaped wire. When a plant-let has rooted, it can be cut from the frond and transplanted.
- Prune roses at this time. Remove dead and weak canes. Properly dispose of clippings.
- Replenish mulch around Azaleas and Camellias.
- Prune Crape myrtles and Altheas.
- Take bulbs out of cold storage for forcing as soon as they’ve had a long enough cold period. The smaller bulbs such as hyacinth and crocus only need eight weeks of cold, while tulips and daffodils need 12 to 14 weeks. Paperwhite narcissus do not require this chilling, so they can still be purchased and potted up to grow and bloom yet this spring.
- Tender bulbs of tuberous begonias, caladiums, dahlias and canna lilies can be potted up in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Discard any that have rotted in storage.
- If you’ve been storing geraniums in cool, dark conditions, it’s time to pot them up, cut them back and start watering again.
- Cut back geraniums and coleus that you’ve kept growing indoors through the winter to only a few buds. This will stimulate new growth and a fuller plant by the time summer arrives.
- As tulip, narcissus and other large bulbs begin to emerge, set pansy plants between them for added color.
- Accurate information on the longevity of flower seeds is hard to find. Based on limited observations, the following should be considered as short-life (one year) seeds: aster, candytuft, columbine, ornamental onion, honesty, kochia, phlox, salvia, strawflower and vinca. Some common, flower seeds viable for more than one year if stored properly are alyssum, calendula, centaurea, coreopsis, cosmos, marigold, nasturtium, nigella, petunia, salpiglossis, scabiosa, schizanthus, sweet pea, verbena, viola and zinnia.
- Seeds of the following annual flowers can be started indoors: ageratum, wax begonia, browallia, dianthus and carnation, dusty miller, impatiens, larkspur, lobelia, dwarf marigold, nierembergia, pansy, petunia, moss rose, snapdragons, celosia and stocks.
- Impatiens, one of the best annuals for shady spots, start blooming three months from seeding. Start seed indoors now, and they’ll be ready to set out after the last frost date for your area. Pinch back seedlings once or twice before setting out to promote compact, bushy plants.
- Be sure to use a sterile seed-starting mix, supplemental lighting and bottom heat for best results. Different species also have different requirements for light or darkness during germination.
- Celosia seeds are best started in individual containers to avoid transplant shock. Do not set celosias out in cold weather as the plants may become stunted and perform poorly.
- If weeds occur in bulb beds, do not remove them by cultivation. Pull them by hand so the bulbs and roots will not be disturbed.
- Some annuals, such as verbenas, snapdragons and petunias, take 70 to 90 days to bloom. They should be started indoors in early spring or purchased as greenhouse-grown transplants.
- This is the time to start resurrecting the water lily pool. Drain and clean the pool before growth begins. Plant new, hardy water lilies.
- Rejuvenate your liriope by using a lawn mower to cut back the old foliage to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Avoid mowing too close and damaging the crown of the plant since that is where the new growth emerges.
- Divide and transplant summer and fall blooming perennials (astilbe, aster, bleeding heart, coral bells, daylilies, phlox and shasta daisies). Perennials perform best in well-drained soil with plenty of humus. Astilbe, hosta and bleeding heart will bloom in the shade.
- Hostas, liriope, daylilies, dicentra, Shasta daisies and coral bells are some perennials that can be divided before growth starts in spring.
- Buy some new perennials for your flower border. Spring is a good time to renew and add variety to your landscape. Visit a local garden center or secure catalogs from your favorite nursery.
- Cannas for early flowering can be started in boxes or large pots in a warm cellar or enclosed porch. Cut canna rhizomes into pieces, each containing two or three points or “eyes.” Plant in a soil mixture containing adequate sand for good drainage. The developing plants are sensitive to cold and should be set in the garden about a week after the average date of the last frost in your area.
- Don’t forget to compost naturalized bulbs in the spring as leaves emerge. Do not mow the area until the bulb foliage begins to die back.
- Divide and transplant perennials, such as ajuga, Shasta daisy, daylily, liriope and oxalis. Rework beds before planting, adding organic matter or compost.
- Many annual flowers are very frost hardy when plants are small, including alyssum, California poppy, candytuft, larkspur, pansy, viola, phlox, pinks, Shirley poppy, snapdragon, stock and sweet pea. Seeds can be sown as soon as the soil has thawed.
- When the leaves of spring-flowering bulbs emerge, apply a compost to ensure quality blooms next year.
Remove the bulb foliage only after it dies naturally.
- When buying transplants, choose those plants with a compact, bushy form and bright-green leaves. Young, healthy plants with no flowers or flower buds will adapt more easily and overcome the shock of planting much faster.
Trees, Shrubs, and Ground Covers in March
- Flowering shrubs may be moved at this time. Larger shrubs should be moved with a ball of dirt and smaller shrubs may be moved bare-rooted.
- A good rule of thumb for planting rhododendrons is: the smaller the leaf (i.e., R. carolinianum, R. laetivirens), the more tolerant it is of winter sunlight. Large-leaved rhododendrons, such as R. catawbiense or R. maximum, have more winter injury when planted in bright locations.
- When transplanting a young shade tree, it may help to orient the tree in its new location the same way it was in its old home. This will prevent previously shaded bark from suddenly being exposed to afternoon sun and causing injury. When not possible or desirable, or if the original orientation is unknown, wrap the trunk in tree tape or coat the sunny sides with white, exterior, latex paint for one growing season.
- Be aware that a brown plastic material that looks and feels like natural burlap, but does not break down in the soil, is now being used to wrap root balls of balled and bur-lapped plants. Synthetic materials enclosing the roots of trees and shrubs must be completely removed to ensure success of the transplants. Nurserymen have been alerted to avoid using brown plastic burlap, but there are still some landscaping plants on the market with soil balls wrapped in brown plastic. If you purchase balled and bur-lapped plants, to be on the safe side, remove the material covering the soil. If the tree is very heavy, peel the burlap down to the bottom of the hole if you cannot remove it completely.
- Some towns and cities are repeatedly bothered by inexperienced people selling trees or shrubs that have been dug from pastures or forests. Such plants usually have poor survival rates due to small, shallow, root systems that may have been damaged when dug or stored improperly. The best trees and shrubs are those grown in a nursery where a deep, full, root system develops. When these are carefully dug and the roots kept moist, the plants should recover quickly after transplanting.
- If you are buying bare-root trees, look for ones with a large root system in relation to the top growth. It is not necessary to purchase a very, large tree to get a quality plant.
- Potted azaleas, available through May, will flower for two to three weeks, if the soil is kept slightly moist. Display in a cool (60° F), bright location, and remove withered flowers. Unless you have room to experiment, discard when blooms fade since most florist azaleas are not hardy enough to be established outdoors.
- Young trees can be inexpensively protected from rodents, string trimmers and mowers with short, plastic, tube-shaped, tree guards. Each protector should be 9 to 10 inches tall and long enough to wrap around the entire trunk base. At least one company sells trimmer guards for trees, but gardeners can cut other plastic tree protectors to size for this purpose.
- Add compost to trees and shrubs with weak growth to stimulate more attractive development.
- Research has shown that young trees allowed to move with the wind develop greater trunk strength than trees rigidly staked.
- Plant roses and bare-root shrubs while they are still dormant, about four weeks before the average date of the last frost.
- Crabapples, valued for their beautiful spring blossoms and attractive fruit, are members of the rose family. Along with their relatives, many crabapples are susceptible to diseases, such as scab, cedar-apple rust, powdery mildew and fire blight. All of these diseases shorten the life span of the trees and diminish their ornamental qualities. Plant disease-resistant cultivars of crabapple, such as ‘Ames White,’ ‘Autumn Glory,’ ‘Baskatong,’ ‘Beauty,’ ‘Coral Cascade,’ ‘Evelyn,’ ‘Harvest Gold,’ ‘Molten Lava,’ ‘Red Snow,’ ‘Robinson,’ ‘Tina’ or ‘Wies.’
- Dogwoods and magnolias should only be moved in early spring. Always move magnolias with a ball of dirt.
- Propagate deciduous shrubs, such as forsythia and winter jasmine, now by ground layering.
- When transplanting dogwoods, it is best that the trees be small (2 to 3 feet tall) and dormant. These do better than larger ones. The larger the tree, the greater the risk of death due to transplant shock since more roots are removed during digging.
- Boxwoods may be moved now; do not plant them deeper than they were previously planted. Trim and add compost established boxwoods before new growth starts, but do not cultivate under boxwoods since their roots are shallow and may be damaged.
- Some insect pests of trees and shrubs are best controlled by spraying with dormant oil. This includes scale insects of pine, lilac and euonymus and many of the gall-forming insects. These insects reside on stems or needles and are smothered by the oil.
- Galls are mostly a cosmetic problem, but scales can weaken plants. Check weather forecasts to be sure temperatures will stay above freezing for eight to 12 hours after spraying to avoid damaging stems and needles.
Indoor Gardening March
- If you want flowers on your cactus, plant it in a small pot. Most cacti bloom sooner if root bound.
- Wait until the weather warms to start putting houseplants outside.
- Repot houseplants that have grown too large for their containers. Cut back leggy plants to encourage compact growth. Root the cuttings in moist media to increase your supply of plants.
- Houseplants can be watered more frequently with the onset of spring and new growth.
- Start feeding houseplants now for good growth. Any that are rootbound should be repotted.
Miscellaneous Gardening Reminders for March
- Some gardeners start seedlings in vermiculite purchased at garden supply stores, but this medium does not contain the nutrients needed for sustained growth, so seedlings should be transplanted to soil when the second pair of true leaves form.
- Containers from the kitchen can be recycled for starting seeds. Aluminum trays from frozen food just need a few holes poked to provide drainage. Other possibilities are cottage cheese containers, milk or ice cream cartons, Styrofoam egg cartons, or paper cups. All should have drainage holes.
- Exhibit heavy plant containers on dollies or platforms with wheels or casters for ease of movement. This is especially useful for apartments or balconies, so plants can be moved to get the most sunlight.
- Dish gardens are ideal for gifts for mothers, dads, and grandparents. Use several foliage species, some ceramic figures or driftwood, and perhaps some unusual ferns.
- Catnip is a hardy plant, but grow it in a large pot or tub to contain its invasive habit.
- Make your own potting mix for outdoor containers with one part rich productive garden soil, 1 part leaf mold or compost, and 1 part builder’s sand or perlite. Add 1 tablespoon dolomitic lime per gallon of mixture.
- A clipboard to which you can attach your notes while working in the garden is a helpful gardening aid. Using graph paper, map out your plot. Note the varieties and dates of planting to aid in planning successive plantings and to help determine the expected time of harvest.
- Topiary is the art of clipping and trimming a plant into unusual designs. Forms for indoor topiary can be purchased or shaped by hand from galvanized wire. A media mix for topiary forms is 1 part peat moss to 1 part potting soil surrounded by sheet moss. English ivy and creeping thyme work well for this.
- A child’s first garden should include sunflowers from seeds. The large seeds sprout quickly and dependably, and the strong seedlings can push their way through crusted soil. If you are shooting for record sunflowers, your plants will need to top 20 feet in height with seed-head diameters of 2 feet to be in the running.
- Mulches can change the soil temperature. Black plastic warms the soil and should be applied before planting. Organic materials delay the sun’s penetration thereby keeping the soil cooler. Apply organic mulches after plants are 3 to 4 inches tall and the soil is warm.
- Cover old stumps with soil to hasten decay.
- Place bird houses outdoors early this month. Birds will begin looking for nesting sites soon, and the houses should attract several mating pairs. Ideally, houses erected on smooth metal poles where predators cannot climb are most often selected, but placement on top of fence posts or in trees will usually suffice.
- Don’t overexert those under-worked, winter muscles as you begin your spring gardening. Bend at the knees and lift with your legs, not your back.
- When setting out transplants in peat pots, be careful not to allow the rim of the pot to protrude above the soil level. It will act as a wick and draw moisture up from the plant. Break away the upper rim of the pot before planting, and make sure none of the peat shows above the soil.
- An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but two carrots a day can cut cholesterol levels by 10 to 20 percent, say USDA scientists. Carrots, as well as cabbage and onions, contain a type of fiber that lowers cholesterol.
- The most common nematodes are saprophytes that feed on decaying organic matter. They play a critical role in maintaining the balance of nature and in returning nutrients to the soil.
“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations