March Gardening Tips for the Southwest

Spring isn't far off. This month it's time to tend to spring garden chores and enjoy the early season's bounty.


Spring hints at its arrival day by day, but don't be fooled. At higher elevations, March is often a snowy month, and at lower elevations, frost is still a possibility until midmonth. These garden tasks can jump-start your spring activities.

Early Bloomer Enjoyment

  • At higher elevations, cut a few stems of pussy willow, forsythia, and redbud to coax into bloom indoors before branches are in full flower outside.
  • Watch for bulb blossoms: crocus, snowdrops, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. Gather some stems to brighten your home. Snip spent blooms so plants focus energy on building reserves for next year's flowers.
  • As fruit trees blossom this month, bring some branches indoors for fresh color -- if you aren't counting on picking all the fruit.

Houseplant Care
Start fertilizing houseplants midmonth. Repot crowded plants before you start fertilizing. As you repot, trim roots back by one-third and loosen them. Add old soil to the compost pile. Tuck the plant back into a pot with fresh potting mix.
Learn more in our houseplant care guide.

Test Garden Tip: Desert wildflowers burst into bloom if fall and winter rains were sufficient. Watch for the color show as you're out and about. In your own yard, water annual wildflowers every two weeks for longest-lasting blooms.

Vegetable Planting Guide

  • During the first half of the month, direct-sow cool-season crops, such as beets, carrots, green onions, and radishes.
  • Two weeks after your area's average last frost date, sow the rest of the vegetable roster, including sweet corn, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash, sunflowers, and tomatillos.
  • Set out transplants of tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers late month.
  • Grow some native beans this year, such as Yoeme Purple String, Chihuahua Canario, or O'odham Pink.

Learn more about cool-season crops.

Get your tomatoes off to a good start.

Cactus Planting Tips
Mark the south or west side of cacti and succulents you're transplanting. Plant them facing that orientation to prevent burning tissues not used to sun exposure. Nurseries usually mark pots. If a plant isn't marked, watch the plant carefully after transplanting. If the surface yellows or pales all at once, cover the plant with 30 to 60 percent shade cloth. Leave the shade cloth in place all summer.
Check out these video tips for transplanting a cactus.

Test Garden Tip: Cover vegetable and herb planting areas with a fresh layer of mulch. Compost works well for this purpose because it builds soil as it breaks down.
Get tips for making your own compost!

Garden Maintenance Tasks

Watering: When temperatures stay consistently above 50 degrees F, water landscape plants three to four times monthly. As spring arrives, wind is prevalent throughout the region, putting plants at risk of drying. When winds gust heavily, water plants afterwards to replenish moisture.

Irrigation systems: Turn on and test your irrigation timer to be sure it's working correctly. Double-check backup batteries; replace as needed. Flush out lines and check for clogged emitters and leaks.

Fertilizer: Feed roses and perennials, along with citrus and avocado trees. Mix a slow-release fertilizer into soil for containers filled with annuals. Use a half-strength solution to fertilize any pots of flowers that you overwintered.
Get more information about feeding roses.

Pruning: Prune any frost-damaged plants after all danger of frost has passed. Remove the tips of fuchsias to encourage bushiness. Wait to prune camellia and subtropical hibiscus until after flowering.
Don't miss our BHG pruning guide.

Test Garden Tip: After planting, wait one week before watering cacti and succulents. This helps reduce the chance of rot. As succulents establish, let soil dry between waterings. Plan to irrigate every 10-14 days. For cacti, expect to water one more time in the month of March -- as long as soil is dry.

Pest Control

Deal with pests as soon as you spot a problem. Try these simple solutions for a few common pests.

Aphids: These pests appear on landscape plants and vegetables. Natural predators, including native hummingbirds, usually control populations well. A blast of water from the hose can also help. Avoid using insecticidal soap unless you're sure natural predators aren't working.

Cochineal scale: Watch for cottony masses on prickly pear and cholla. Remove with a blast of water from the hose or insecticidal soap.

Mealybugs: Keep an eye out for these on cacti and succulents. Act quickly after spotting a few; they reproduce quickly. A 70 percent alcohol-water solution kills them fast.

Rabbits: They feast on tender new growth. Use chicken wire or plastic netting to cage plants until other food sources appear in the landscape. Or spray a rabbit deterrent. Consider planting rabbit-resistant plants.

Weeds: If weeds were an issue last year in flowerbeds or gravel areas, spread a preemergent herbicide in those areas this spring. It won't hurt established plantings, but don't use it where you plan to sow seed.
Check out our Weed Identification Guide.

Test Garden Tip: Small, circular cuts on leaf margins are the work of leaf-cutter bees. These pollinating insects use small leaf sections to line their nests. Don't try to control them; they're helpful insects.

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