By Cinthia Milner
Spring arrives on the 20th, bringing fresh and expectant hopes for the 2018 garden. There are still frosty days ahead, but March turns the corner on winter’s cold, heralding sunny days of daffodils, azaleas and dogwood blooms. It makes even the most hardened soul smile.
And yet, here’s the buzzkill: March is a frenzied month of garden chores, a literal laundry list of outdoor to-dos, but let’s narrow it down to the four most important tasks, starting with a fun one.
Who doesn’t prefer planting over mulching? If you’re a vegetable grower, March is the month for sowing cool-season vegetables. Below is a list of what you can plant now.
- Asparagus crowns
- Garden peas
- Head lettuce
- Leaf lettuce
- Potatoes (Irish)
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Pruning is a late winter, early spring chore, done while trees and shrubs are dormant. Begin by pruning out the dead, diseased, damaged wood and the crossing branches, which eliminates hot spots for disease and pests. Thin out interior twigs to avoid overcrowding in the plant’s interior, allowing better air circulation and sunlight penetration. This is especially important for fruit trees and berry bushes. Remove watersprouts and suckers. Suckers are vegetative growth from the root system that competes for nutrients and watersprouts are vegetative growth from branches that, left alone, will clutter the interior of the plant.
Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs like azaleas, rhododendrons, forsythias and lilacs until after the flowers fade. These shrubs produce blooms on last year’s wood. If you prune now, you are removing this season’s flowers.
Fertilize, Compost and Mulch
As plants grow, they draw nutrients from the soil, depleting it. In natural environments where leaves and other debris biodegrade back into the earth, the ground is replenished. In our urban landscapes, this cycle is interrupted by our leaf blowers, so fertilizing gives plants crucial nutrients. Feeding plants supports a healthy immune system, making them less susceptible to disease and pests.
A layer of compost is also beneficial. Bagged compost is available, or you can start a compost pile. Compost piles are a great way to recycle yard waste and replenish lawns and landscapes. It’s an organic solution to building a better soil for your plants.
Adding mulch helps retain moisture and is a barrier to weeds that compete for nutrients. Add an inch to two inches of mulch to your beds and around trees, starting at the dripline of the tree. Avoid piling mulch around the trunks of trees, giving them the “candle in the cupcake” look. This creates a home for small, unwanted critters and shortens the lifespan of the tree. You should always see the root fl air of a tree or shrub.
March is the month to seed grass in your new yard or over-seed bare spots in your existing lawn. Your local nursery can help you determine the grass seed type you need and explain how to proceed. Or consider incorporating groundcovers into the landscape, cutting down on the mowing and mulching of summer garden chores.
Remember, if March comes in like a lion, it leaves like a lamb. Don’t let windy days intimidate you. Get those March chores done, so you can enjoy April’s showers and then May’s flowers.
Cinthia Milner is the garden coach and blog writer for B.B. Barns Garden Center in Asheville.