March gardening checklist
There's time this month to do the prep work before the planting and growing season gets going.
© Rick Lew/Getty Images
March may find you sighing with impatience as you watch yet another snowfall cover your barren container boxes, but it's one of the most important months for gardeners.
There's still time to do all of your prep work, from honing tools to starting seeds, as you imagine the shapes, tastes and colors of your next garden. Spring begins with the vernal equinox on March 20.
If you didn't do so in the fall, it's time to give your lawn mower and other tools some tough love.
● Get ahead of the spring crowds by dropping off your lawn mower now to have the oil changed, bolts tightened and blades sharpened.
● Remove soil from your tools' metal parts using sandpaper or a hose.
- Sand rough edges on wooden tool handles, then coat them with linseed oil.
- Sharpen your tools. A file will sharpen tools of all sizes, from shovels and hoes to trowels and clippers. A Carborundum wheel will work on smaller tools. Pruning shears can be sharpened with a whetstone. After sharpening, use a rag to apply a thin, penetrating oil to metal tool parts; follow with a heavier oil on tools that have moving parts.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Turn foreclosed property into urban garden?
The green, green grass of home doesn't get that way by accident, and March is a perfect time to assess your lawn's health.
- Pluck a 4- to 5-inch square from your yard to see what's going on down there. If your area has crane flies, count the larvae. Fewer than 35 per square foot means less work for you: Your lawn should be able to withstand that number.
- If you're not sure what to look for, take your lawn sample to an expert at your garden store and ask for a diagnosis; then just press your sample back into its "bed."
- Lime, treat moss and, finally, reseed as needed. (Overseeding can be done after midmonth.)
- Fertilize your lawn now or start a new lawn using seeds or sod.
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There's always the battle of the weeds. The only way to win that fight is to keep at it. Nip weeds at the bud — literally, for if they're allowed to flower and go to seed, you could be looking at several years' worth of uninvited guests: Some weeds shed 10,000 seeds at a pop.
- Remove weeds by hand.
- Consult an expert in your area for dealing with persistent pests such as quackgrass or morning glory. Recommendations for herbicide treatment vary depending on the location of your garden's problem spots.
Once your soil has had a chance to thaw and lose some of its winter moisture, you'll want to prep it for planting.
- Remove mulch over the course of several days, exposing the soil gradually.
- Till or spade soil six to 12 inches deep.
- Mix in compost, peat moss and fertilizer for plants or vegetables. For vegetable gardens, include processed or well-rotted manure in the mix (using fresh manure in the spring may burn or damage your plants).
- Rake the soil level to smooth out low spots; pockets of water can make the soil cool, which slows plant growth.
Start planning your vegetable garden, keeping in mind the following guidelines.
- Choose neighboring vegetables carefully and you may as much as double your vegetable harvest. Onions, for example, are no friend to peas and beans but make good bedmates for tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce and beets.
- Depending on your planting zone and the vagaries of the weather gods, you can — finally — plant some perennial vegetables right in your rich new soil.
- Later in the month (in most zones) you can seed or set out hardier vegetables, such as chard and Brussels sprouts.
Caponata lovers, get those warm-season crops started indoors from seeds, including tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.
- Whether you use egg cartons, trays or pots, be sure the seedlings get lots of light.
- Get a jump on the Joneses' blooming season by planting some hardy flower seeds, such as petunias and marigolds.
- Potted petunias, which stand up well to cool weather, can be placed on your deck now for a splash of color to whet your gardening appetite.
After all the pleasure you've had from your rose bushes, now you can reward them with pruning. This will give bushes a more attractive shape and also result in larger blooms and longer stems. Use gloves to protect your hands from thorns.
- With a sturdy clipper, make your cuts just above outside buds to encourage new outward growth, giving the plant more sunlight and air.
- For more tips on pruning different kinds of rose bushes, consult a good gardening book or one of the many reputable gardening websites.
These are the deciduous days, so selections at garden stores and nurseries are at their peak — and not yet picked over — in March.
- From late March into April is a great time to plant fruit trees and berries. Just be sure they have enough water as they get used to their new neighborhood.
- In addition to zone-specific perennial vegetables, set out or plant new roses and cool-loving flowers such as snapdragons and pansies.
As tender shoots start to poke up in the spring, they make a beggar's banquet for slugs. Plan your counterattack before young plants become young nubs.
- As with much garden damage control, natural methods are growing in popularity. One simple approach is to sprinkle slugs with salt, which causes them to dry up.
- Slugs are attracted to stale beer, which you can leave in a shallow dish or bowl; slugs will enter and drown.
- Or you can gather slugs at night by hand, armed with a flashlight, something to lift them with and a pail.
- If you use a commercial slug bait, read the label carefully to be sure it won't endanger children, pets or birds.
Fun for kids
Kids love to help with simple growing projects or to have plants of their own to watch and care for, especially if growth is rapid (remember those pint-size attention spans).
- Growing a hyacinth from the bulb is fun, easy and educational. Find a glass or plastic container with a narrow opening. Set the bulb over the opening, and fill the container with water to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch below the bulb. As the bulb's roots grow downward for a drink, the top will soon begin to develop and bloom — a great lesson in how plants grow, with a colorful, fragrant result!
- Kids love watching plants grow from seeds. Beans, peas and parsley all grow quickly in pots, and seeds can be set in fun shapes or kids' initials.
For the birds
Find out who's likely to fly over for a visit in the next month or two, and target bird treats and feeder types for their individual tastes.
- Most bird species will go for either oil-type sunflower seeds or white millet (offered separately), but sunflower-seed munchers tend to prefer elevated feeders with perches, while millet lovers usually prefer ground or large platform feeders.
I just cannot wait for Spring! My crocus are up and smiling. Tulips are up but not blooming yet. I have such cabin fever my husband is thinking on sending me to the funny farm. I hope they have gardens there
found out by working in garden center last year that sometimes people use one common name to refer to three very different plants, notorious is "Vinca". by the description, "Missourigardener" refers to the 'madagascar periwinkle' version of "Vinca", whereas "MalindaS" probably refers to 'vinca major' or 'vinca minor'. sometimes the same plant can be invasive or non-invasive depending on what part of country or just on conditions in your yard. might want to google a new plant before introducing, if you don't have time then go to garden center with knowledgeable staff and ask questions! perennials can be expensive so even better is to get divisions from friends and neighbors when you can, this way you know what the mature plant looks like, growing conditions, etc.
discussion on slugs is very interesting. that one human beings brief expression of compassion towards other living beings prompts such anger and ridicule from some. while we're out cultivating flowers and veggies this year what if we all tried to cultivate a little more compassion? we could start with birds and squirrels, then butterflies and bees, work our way down to slugs ...who knows, some might even be able to cultivate more compassion towards other human beings someday!
Bugs are what you make them. :) To the purist, only Hemipterans ("true bugs") are "bugs". To me, any little arthropod is a bug, be it arachnid (spiders, ticks), gastropod (slugs, snails), insects, crustaceans (pillbugs, sowbugs), etc.. If it has more than four legs, an exoskeleton, lives under the house or in the garden, its a bug, be it pest or beneficial critter.
Here's a bug guide that Iowa State put together: http://bugguide.net/node/view/15740
Oh yes, Dianthus are great just about anywhere! They are a really great flowering plant. I just took more cuttings of mine & plan to have them spaced close together for more impact.
Also, I forgot about my favorite--penstemon. There are hundreds of varieties! There are some that are shrubby groundcovers, tall groundcovers, and some that make really great focal points.
For the person who needs something that can take direct sun in the afternoons, there are so many options! Salvias, dianthus, anthemis, rudbeckia, coreopsis, all types of mallows and hollyhocks. The last few can take part sun, even part strong sun, and work beautifully. I think the key is to not overwater when a plant only gets 4 hours of burning sun a day, and it is humid. Some others are: monarda, yarrow, cleome, cosmos, snapdragons, goat's beard, queen of the prairie, joe pye weed, astrantia, swan plant, verbascum, butterfly weed, baptisia, and lady's mantle.
Some of those can get quite large, so that may be a factor. Believe it or not, a lot of the perennial poppies can take those kinds of conditions as well, just be sure to not overwater them the 2nd and subsequent years....
Some things I wouldn't recommend, simply because of your humidity, and it only being part sun are: Veronica (would get floppy the 2nd year), peony (peony blight, cause by not enough sun, too much humidity), Viscarias with blue foliage, phlox (humidity; same thing--creates mold! yuck!), some catmints (may become invasive with those conditions), snow-in-summer, snow-on-the-mountain, iceplant, canna (not enough sun for those last two), and russian sage. Some of those would get too invasive, or simply not thrive in humid, part-sun.
Quite a few annuals would do really great, too. Those listed as part-sun would work. The ones that say full sun would grow, but they might be one single flower the entire summer, as opposed to a full, bushy deal.
I agree with everyone about the slugs--well, those of you without nutcase tendencies anyway.
Some options for a slope in front of your house as erosion-control groundcovers would be Vinca, Oenothera, callirhoe, sweet woodruff, some types of ivies, crown vetch, fescues placed close together, creeping veronica, aubrieta, yellow perennial alyssum, creeping phlox, and some slightly taller perennials, like lavender, shorter salvias, germander, and catmint. Most of those dislike wet feet in the winter, or too much watering period, which makes them suitable for a spot that is hard to reach. Choosing perennials that reseed would be helpful as well, as they would fill in as time goes by.
If the area gets plenty of moisture you can choose the sweet woodruff as well, along with a few different groundcovers, like creeping mazus reptins, irish moss, lamium (dead nettle), perennial geranium (also does good with low water once established), erodium (same), etc.
Lamb's ears also looks good and does well with no watering once established, but it doesn't fill in like the creeping groundcovers do.
I also go to plant swapping sites and swap for seeds. I recommend going to demonstration gardens in your area, if you have any. There are a plethora of great ideas usually growing in those! Our Colorado demonstration gardens sometimes have webpages dedicated to them, with specific recommendations and plant's needs. One of them goes into a lot of detail about each plant, and even goes as far as telling us which ones need more water, sun, etc than they had imagined.
Gosh I wish spring was here already!!!
snails - - take your coffee ground leftovers and just sprinkle along the perimeter........they will not cross it! this has worked great for us!
I have had good luck with Snapdragons and Hollyhocks liking the heat. Copper repels slugs and snails. Their coatings react chemically with copper, generating a toxic reaction - similar to an electric current - that sends them elsewhere (Taken from Gardening all-in-one for Dummies). I'd still step on one in a heartbeat though.
For the snails I use saw dust around the edges of my planter box, they can't slime there way over it.
Admittedly, I don't think twice about sending a bug to its next life nor about how it's done, but why are so many offended when one person simply SUGGESTS another way to deal with the problem? They are living creatures, after all. Could your obvious offense and aggression be a symptom of inner guilt???
AND I AGREE WITH WHAT NOXIOUS BUBBLE SAYS AS WELL! "TORTURE IS AS TORTURE DOES!" THAT'S GREAT! I LOVE IT!