Spring or Winter? March is of two minds.
I understand completely.
Although this month marks a significant change in the weather going forward, that change brings with it many tasks for the gardener. Sometimes we feel up to hitting them hard and sometimes we could use a few more weeks of winter to prepare for them.
A car accident in late January means I’m in the latter camp this year, and so must prioritize between what I really must do and what I had planned to do with winter still ahead of me. A little hiccup — life gives us many.
So, cutting back all the grasses before new growth begins takes a Number One spot, but further clearing in the woodland garden will have to wait for a happier back.
The tasks I am choosing to do right now will save me work in the long run. For instance: epimedium foliage can be cut back with a weed whacker right now, but as soon as the new foliage begins to unfurl in a few short weeks, it will require a pair of snips and a kneeler. I’m not beginning any new projects at the moment, just keeping a handle on the ones I have.
March is an exciting month after all, and I want to savor that excitement. Already the bluebells are beginning to push deep purple shoots out of the soil and the new daffodils planted along the drive in November are up and ready to bloom.
“I should have planted that!” for March’s garden
Carefully observing neighboring gardens month-to-month and putting in some of the wonderful things you see during the next planting season allows you to successfully increase your garden’s display season without having to experiment too much with timing.
Edgeworthia chrysantha – (Paperbush) This is an unusual shrub that could easily be showcased most months of the year – particularly the winter months; but edgeworthia adds something very special to the March landscape. This month, the velvety white buds it’s been holding since early autumn open to bright golden yellow and scent the air with a daphne-like fragrance.
Edgeworthia is reportedly hardy to USDA Zone 6, (key word ‘reportedly’ – I’d guess no more than 6b). However, buds and tips will be burnt by cold winds and the bloom will be compromised. Best to find a sheltered spot for this daphne relative in partial shade with well-draining soil, and give it plenty of room.
The natural shape of the shrub is umbellate, with large, tawny-red branches coming from the base. Ramrod straight suckers shoot up from the center, and with patience and a trowel, you can slowly separate some from the outer base, and pot them up in summer. By late spring, edgeworthia is decked in large (5+”) glaucous leaves that take up a fair amount of real estate. Again, give it plenty of room. Two of the most propagated cultivars are ‘Snow Cream’ and ‘Winter Gold.’ Rarer is ‘Akebono’ – with a red-orange blossom that I have yet to grow in my garden.
Where can I get it?
This isn’t a Big Box shrub – you’ll find it at specialty nurseries and you may need to ask to be contacted when it is available. Definitely worth the wait, and it may be shorter than you think. Here are some places to start…
March’s Garden: Outside Tasks
You won’t get to all of them – I certainly won’t – but a seasonally relevant list is helpful when you’re unsure where to start.
- A serious bed clear up is in order. If you have left leaves and debris to mulch perennial beds over the winter, now is the time to remove them and replace with a top dressing of high-quality compost.
- If you have left perennial flower stalks to feed the birds, cut them down to the ground and mark with a small piece of staking so you know where they are over the next month.
- PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not cut back spring flowering shrubs UNTIL THEY HAVE BLOOMED. By all means, force a few branches indoors, but stay your hand and let your neighbors enjoy a bit of bloom before you whack.
- Keep on top of your weeding. Weeds like bittercress go from tiny rosette to seed-spitter in less than two weeks at this time of year.
- Re-mulch, re-gravel, and re-enrich.
- March is a construction month. It may be cold, but the soil thaws and footers can be set for walls, sheds and raised beds if needed.
- Fertilize vegetable and ornamental beds before planting. I use a high-quality organic fertilizer that is a nice mixture of bone/blood meals, alfalfa meal, lime and a few other micro-nutrients thrown in for good measure. Compost, manure and humus increase the ability of your soil to hold moisture and sustain plant life, but actually contribute very little to the fertility of the soil – which means vegetables with less nutritive content. Look into fertilizing and feeding your soil, not just amending it.
- Cool weather seedlings put into cold frames at the beginning/end of this month should be ready for the garden by the end.
- Peas, spinach and lettuce can be direct sowed when the soil thaws.
- Check fences and gates for broken pickets, hinges and groundhog holes and repair them.
- Excellent month for putting down an automatic watering system if that’s in the cards this year.
- Repair, repaint and re-seal outside furniture.
- If you are a newbie gardener, do not trust the big box retailers who will be putting out tender plants at the end of the month as if spring has arrived. These plants go INSIDE every night and will do so until mid April (not that they’ll tell you that). Hold off unless you have plenty of greenhouse space in which to house them.
March’s Garden: Inside Tasks
- At the beginning of the month, you can bring in forsythia branches to force. By the middle of the month, bring in fruit branches like apple, cherry and plum
- Hopefully you have sorted your seeds by now and organized them so that every week you can check what needs to be sown and sow it.
- You may be sick of many of your winter refugees such as coleus, citrus, schefflera, agave etc… Do not jump the gun and throw them outside as soon as temperatures are feeling a bit warmer -the shock could easily kill them. Keep an eye on overnight temperatures – most pampered plants are not going to handle new digs outside until mid to late April.
- Water-forced bulbs should be discarded after flowering. Soil-forced bulbs need some rest and a spa in Switzerland – but a back part of your garden might do just fine as well. Don’t expect much from them for a while.
Whatever you do, inside or out, take some time to look around at public and private gardens around you and see what is blooming right now in your zone. Take notes. Then in the fall when plants are cheap but ideas are exhausted, you can go back and incorporate some of these beauties (hellebore, cyclamen, hammamelis, galanthus, erythrium, mertensia, etc…) into your garden – expanding the season for next year.
“The stormy March has come at last,
With wind, and cloud, and changing skies;
I hear the rushing of the blast,
That through the snowy valley flies.”
– William Cullen Bryant
– from “March”