March in the Garden by Sue Lavallee
March Madness has an altogether different meaning for me. It has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with the start of a busy and sometimes overwhelming opening season in the garden! There’s so much to do! I’ll break the chores down into 2 categories because of the late Spring we’re having.
- If you took your bluebird nest boxes inside for the winter, put them back out first thing in March. Returning and over-wintering bluebirds are very active now, scoping out potential nesting sites. If the boxes weren’t cleaned out in the fall, remove the old nest, brush it out and sterilize them in a bucket containing a 10% bleach solution. Rinse the box with hot water and place them in the sun to dry (with the door open) for 2-3 days; any remaining chlorine will oxidize rapidly and becomes harmless. I opted to leave mine out this winter after cleaning them and boy, am I glad I did! A bluebird pair made a cozy cushion of white pine needles inside and are roosting in it at night to escape the brutal sub-zero temperatures and wind chills we’ve had this winter. I occasionally drop a small piece of suet through the opening for them…like chocolates on a pillow 🙂
- I purchase most of my annuals, herbs and vegetable plants at independent Garden Centers and seed only the varieties that are usually hard to find. It’s a fun and rewarding project that allows me to experiment with a new array produce and flowers. I’ve already plotted the “sow indoors” dates noted from the seed packets onto my calendar and, for me this year, the fun starts mid-month. I’ll start out sowing vegetables that grow better in cool weather and can tolerate light frosts. This spring I’m starting Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach, Tyee Spinach, Revolution Bell Pepper, several varieties of tomatoes and an array of leaf and head lettuces. At the end of the month will be the tomatoes. I went overboard this year with 4 new varieties – Amish Gold Slicer, Plum Regal Hybrid, Jelly Bean Hybrid & Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (a husk tomato….can’t wait to try it!).
- With the winter we’ve had and the remaining mountains of snow, I’ll be wrapping up some indoor chores while the snow melts. Since I’ll be growing more tomatoes this year I’ll need to make more soil-heating covers. Basically I cut 2 foot wide circles out of black weed fabric and then cut an “x” out of the middle for planting access. I’ll place these discs over the spots where my tomato and pepper plants will go after I’ve worked the soil and amended it with Quoddy Lobster Compost and Lobster & Kelp fertilizer. Usually I place them on top of the soil 2-3 weeks before the plants are ready to head outside. Weed fabric pins are great at holding the fabric covers in place. I like using the weed fabric better than plastic because it allows the nitrogen-enhanced rainwater to fortify the soil. It also lasts a lot longer where plastic will get brittle after a few uses. A cover of shredded leaves will make it look nice and help to keep the soil moist.
- Here are some other indoor projects on my list:
- Repair & stain 2 cedar planting boxes.
- Re-paint lawn furniture.
- Order a new bio-filter for the Koi pond.
- Make a new wooden Oriole feeder.
- Sharpen pruners and loppers
- I’m hoping that the deep snow cover will melt by the end of this month and that I’ll be able to plant peas. It may not happen though, because the snowmelt might make the soil too soggy and pea seeds will rot quickly in muddy soil. I have 6 teepees which support the shorter 2 1/2 – 3′ tall varieties I grow and luckily 4 of them sit atop raised beds. I’ll have a better chance of planting these earlier because raised beds not only drain better, the soil in them also warms up faster. The remaining 2 that sit atop the other garden plot will be planted 2-3 weeks later giving me a staggered harvest. Before planting the seeds, I soak them the night before which really hastens germination. In recent years I haven’t been using any inoculant and the plants have still been healthy and productive. Inoculant powder is an organic powder comprised of living bacteria that the helps pea plants to grow.
- March is pruning month! You should wait to prune all early spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia, lilac, quince, rhododendron, azalea etc. until after they flower. In early March, you can prune late flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, Hydrangea paniculata and most other deciduous shrubs. Prune hybrid tea roses, floribundas and grandifloras but wait until after flowering on climbers and ramblers. Prune all fruit trees before growth begins, too. Last, if you’ve left your ornamental grasses up for winter interest, now’s the time to cut them back to the new emerging shoots.
- Watch for signs of growth in early spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. When the foliage is about an inch high, gradually start removing the mulch around them. Sometimes if the mulch is left over the emerging leaves too long, the leaves will be yellow from the lack of sunlight. If that happens, it’s best to remove the mulch on a cloudy day to avoid burning the tender foliage. When they’re several inches tall, adding about two inches of Fundy Blend enriching mulch around the flowering bulbs will both enrich your soil, feed the plants and help to retain moisture in the soil. Fundy Blend is the ideal top-dressing for roses and perennial beds too.
- Mid-March is an ideal time to divide and transplant summer and fall-blooming perennials. I’m happy that I took the time to jot down some garden notes last Fall. Not only does the list include what needs dividing but also where the divisions are to be planted. I’m dividing some of them because they’re overcrowding adjacent plants and the others because they are older and need rejuvenating. Plus it’s like getting freebies! I try to divide perennials after a rainfall and when the following day or two will be overcast. These conditions will help in reducing moisture loss due to transplant shock. If it’s a large perennial clump like bee balm, I simply dig out shovelfuls around the perimeter of the patch to reduce the size. If it’s a smaller clump like a daylilies (that bloom less when overcrowded), I dig up the entire plant and then cut the root ball in half (or smaller) using a hand pruning saw. Next it’s time to dig the planting holes for the transplants. It’s always good to dig the whole twice the width of the root ball but not any deeper than the height of the root ball (so you don’t bury the crown of the plant). Now is a great time for me to improve the soil in the planting hole with compost. I’ll add Penobscot Complete Planting Mix to the existing soil at a 50-50 ratio because the soil on my property is lean. The Penobscot Blend is formulated to condition the soil, offer nutrients to the plant and also provides aeration for new roots to grow. The garden soil that is leftover will fill be used to fill the spot where the perennial was taken out. Voila! Free plants!
Now that the sub-zero wind chills are gone, I can remove the protective burlap covers I put around my flowering evergreen shrubs. Cold dry winds can rob the leaves of their moisture (desiccation) and cause windburn and dieback on the buds and leaves.