March is a bridge month in the garden. Some activities must be completed before month's end; others are just revving up. Here's help prioritizing your spring chores.
Do It Now
Prepare for Upcoming Chores
Test Garden Tip: Fill bird feeders and clean birdhouses to offer room and board to returning migratory species. Feeders can stage a fascinating show as birds wing their way north to summer breeding grounds.
Deal with blooming plants now to ensure a season-long parade of cheery blossoms.
Wake Up Roses
Clean up rose beds, removing any fallen leaves from last season. Refresh mulch around roses. Feed plants with a slow-release rose fertilizer. As new leaves emerge, start weekly sprays for black spot. Double-check irrigation systems to ensure all is working fine.
Plan for Color
Test Garden Tip: Pinch growing tips of sweet peas and garden mums when seedlings reach 4 inches high. This pinch increases branching, which ultimately increases flower number.
Save money by growing your own food. It may be easier than you think to grow fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. And now's a great time to start.
Plant cool-season varieties, such as radishes, peas, lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower as soon as you can work the ground -- they'll survive frosty weather.
Wait to plant warm-season annuals such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, sweet potatoes, and watermelons, after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to about 60 degrees F (a temperature in which you can comfortably walk on soil in bare feet).
Here's a hint: If you started any vegetables indoors to get a head start on the season, harden them off by slowly acclimating them to the outdoors, before planting them.
Salad crops: Direct-sow leaf lettuce and spinach as soon as soil is ready and workable. Make weekly plantings this month and next to ensure a long harvest season.
Warm-season crops: In all but the coldest parts of the South, direct-sow seeds of beans, cucumber, okra, melons, and squash. In the same areas, set out transplants of eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. Keep frost protection handy, and use it as needed. Wait until next month to plant these crops in the northern reaches of the region.
Perennial vegetables: Plant roots of perennial veggies, such as rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish.
Berries: March is a great time to plant berry crops. This list includes strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries, currants, and grapes.
Citrus: In the warmest part of the South, plant citrus trees this month. Fertilize established trees with a citrus-specific product. Continue harvesting oranges such as Valencia.
Test Garden Tip: Convert vegetable garden paths to weed-free zones by covering paths with newspaper or cardboard topped with pine straw, grass clippings, or chopped leaves.
Give your yard more color and interest by putting in a new garden. Feed your family and grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or create colorful bouquets with a new cutting garden.
Here's a hint: Make maintaining your new garden easier with a raised bed. You can add high-quality soil to solve any problems with clay or sand. And you don't have to bend down so far to weed, plant, or tend to your plants.
Refresh the Water Garden
Test Garden Tip: Gather and dispose of fallen camellia blooms to prevent blight from developing and spreading.
The single best thing you can do to save time and energy in the garden is spread mulch. A 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch will stop many weeds from growing. It also helps your soil stay moist during hot, dry periods this summer.
Here's a hint: Look for inexpensive or free mulch materials in your area. For example, many municipalities offer a free compost pile for city residents.
Keep your perennials healthy and looking good by dividing them every few years. Divide most perennials in spring once their new foliage has grown a couple of inches tall.
Plant the divisions in your garden to fill in bare spots -- or use them to trade for different varieties with gardening friends, family, or neighbors.
Here's a hint: It's best to wait and divide many spring-blooming favorites such as bleeding heart and barrenwort after they've vanished blooming.
If any of your spring-blooming shrubs or trees (including dogwood, lilac, forsythia, flowering quince, or saucer magnolia) need a cut back, take out the trimmers right after the flowers fade. This helps ensure that you get plenty of blooms next year.
In the cooler parts of this region, you can still prune summer-flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush and rose of Sharon. Because they form their blossoms on new growth, cutting them back early in the season won't affect their ability to bloom.
Here's a hint: Early spring is also an ideal time to prune summer-blooming trees and shrubs.
It sounds harsh, but deadheading is simply the act of cutting spent flowers from your plants. It will make your plants look better, help reduce problems with pests and diseases, and may even encourage your plants to bloom more.
Here's a hint: Allow any flowers that self seed (such as bachelor's button, spider flower, or calendula) or bulbs you want to naturalize to form and drop seeds. That way you can be sure they'll come back next year.
Clear out debris and muck from the bottom of the water garden and add it to your compost heap. Start feeding fish again when water temperatures hit 50 degrees F or they're active and eagerly eat the food.
Now's also a great time to divide and fertilize your water lilies.
Here's a hint: If you need to add water to your garden, use a dechlorinator so you don't kill your fish.
If annual weeds such as crabgrass are a problem in your yard, stop them in their tracks by applying a pre-emergence herbicide. Early March -- when the forsythia blooms -- is the best time to do this in cooler parts of the region.
Don't jump the gun and feed your lawn too early. In most areas it's best to wait another month or two when the grass starts actively growing.