March Gardening Tips for the Mountain West
March can be snowy in the region, but spring isn't far off. Jump into the garden season with these tasks to ready the landscape and garden for flowers, vegetables, and other plantings.
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Leaf Disposal and Tool Care -- Get started on spring garden clean-up. Rake and dispose of leaves, pull obvious weeds, and spruce up hand tools and power tools. Before planting outdoors, make sure soil is workable. If it's too wet, you risk destroying soil texture and causing hard clods to form.
Tuck bare-root roses into planting beds. Soak roses for up to 24 hours before planting. After planting, heap compost around canes to protect from freezing. Remove compost by the last frost date for your area.
Sow seeds of cool-season vegetables, such as beets, carrots, lettuces, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Sow seeds of brightly tinted Swiss chard to give your food garden -- and dinner plate -- some cheery color.
About midmonth plant seed potatoes, onion sets, and shallots. It's also a good time to get rhubarb or asparagus crowns into soil.
Test Garden Tip: Many wildflower seeds germinate in early spring's chill. Scatter seeds where you want plants to establish. Choose bloomers such as annual coreopsis, mountain phlox, Texas bluebonnet, and California desert bluebells.
Troubleshoot Bulb Problems
You can help ensure a strong repeat performance next year. Don't remove foliage until it ripens fully and turns brown. While leaves and blooms are present, scratch a slow-release fertilizer into soil around bulbs and water it in. If bulbs fail to appear this spring, they could have rotted in wet soil or been the meal of a hungry rodent. They'll have to be replaced in the fall. Look for plump, firm bulbs and choose varieties that tend to be pest-resistant.
Prepare Strawberry Beds
- As soon as you spot new shoots, remove mulch around strawberry plants. Thin existing plants to 9 inches apart.
- Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers on strawberries. They result in soft fruit.
- For newly planted strawberries, spread mulch such as pine straw, hay, or straw over bare soil between plants. Snip off the first set of blooms to encourage roots to grow.
Continue to deep-water landscape plants whenever the ground isn't frozen. Water once every three to four weeks, soaking soil to a depth of 3-4 inches.
Test Garden Tip: Keep bird feeders stocked this month. March is frequently one of the snowiest months at higher elevations, and food is scarce for feathered friends.
Pamper Trees & Shrubs
- Prune trees and shrubs in early spring to remove branches damaged by winter storms. If you suspect a branch is dead but remain unsure, wait until leaves appear before pruning. Don't prune spring bloomers. Tackle that job within the month following flowering.
- Remove winter tree wrap by the end of the month. This is important because insects and even disease agents can take shelter behind wrap.
- Deep-water trees on a mild day when the ground isn't frozen. Soak soil to a depth of 3-4 inches. Repeat this irrigation process about three weeks after the first watering, especially if rains or snowfall have been scarce.
- Transplant shrubs in early spring before new leaves appear. This helps reduce transplant shock to the plant. Replant the shrub as soon as possible after digging. After planting, add a 3-inch-thick layer of mulch over the root area. Keep soil consistently moist until new leaves emerge.
Test Garden Tip: Apply a season-long insect control to shrubs and trees typically plagued by pests. For effective scale control, spray dormant oil by midmonth on woody plants.
Care for Indoor Plants
- Continue to give houseplants a quarter turn each week to encourage even growth.
- Begin fertilizing houseplants, using a solution mixed to half strength.
- If you have forced bulbs or amaryllis growing, continue to water when soil is dry, and keep plants near a sunny window. Healthy foliage generates food for next year's flower show.
- Tuck begonia, dahlia, and caladium roots into pots this month to give them a jump-start on the short growing season. Provide bottom heat for speediest growth. You'll probably need to use larger pots -- a minimum of 8 inches wide. Give plants as much light as you can once sprouts appear.
- Begin consistently watering overwintered potted tropical plants this month. Prune spindly winter growth back to encourage new shoots.
- Tuck elephant's ears and canna tubers into moist peat moss to awaken them for the season.
Test Garden Tip: Invest in root zone heating mats if you start seeds, tropical roots, tubers, and bulbs indoors while the air is still chilly outside. Providing steady bottom heat warms soil, which coaxes seeds and roots to grow quickly.