March gardening checklist (© Rick Lew/Getty Images)

© 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.

Tool cleanup
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.

Lawn doctoring
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.

Preparing soil
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.

Starting seeds
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.