“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”
Even though we know better in the Mid-Atlantic, expectations of spring are high in March. The weather of today will not necessarily be the weather of tomorrow; but whether we’re dealing with a blissful weekend warm-up, or our largest snowfall of the season, we know one thing for certain – days are getting longer and it’s going to get better from here on out. It’s time to throw off the duvet, clear up the shed and get serious.
So when we get that snowfall, or the temperatures freeze the blood in your veins, be thankful. Pretty soon there will be no excuses for putting off gardening for a warmer day.
- 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 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 and/or mowing. Believe it or not, dandelions will be blooming by the end of the month. Let them (and others) go to flower and seed, and you’ll have even more of a problem later.
- Re-mulch, re-gravel, and re-enrich with abandon.
- 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.
- 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 and her minions have arrived. These plants go INSIDE every night and will do until mid April (not that they’ll tell you that). Hold off unless you have plenty of greenhouse space in which to house them.
- At the beginning of the month, you can bring in forsythia branches to force. At the end 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.