The Gardener's March Calendar - 2016



It's starting to feel like spring here in Connecticut, and we may even see temperatures in the 70s this Wednesday! Woot! I finished my pear tree pruning today, which means better airflow for this year's crop. I've also been busy cutting forsythia and Kwanzaa cherry tree branches to bring inside for forced flowers. This is my first year trying to force the Kwanzaa cherry tree, so we'll see how it goes! 

The floral display began with the hellebores, followed by the snowdrops in my garden (such as the beauties above). The crocuses are just starting to peek out of the ground in the back garden this week, and the salix is starting to show, too. I love this time of year when the garden awakens. 

Here are some tasks to keep in mind this month - with rapidly approaching spring! 

Seeds

  • It's time to start more flower seeds indoors and under lights! Think New Guinea impatiens (or impatiens if you are in an area not affected by the blight), salvias, ageratum, calendula, sweet Williams, coleus, snapdragons, some cosmos and portulaca. Sweet peas, grown just for their flowers, can also be started outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked since they enjoy cool weather. Perennials such as delphiniums, yarrow, foxgloves and carnations can still be started in mid-March as well. This year I'm trying to grow hollyhocks from seed. 
  • Vegetable seeds can also be started this month. During the last week of March I'll start my pepper, tomato and eggplant seeds under lights. Broccoli, leeks, cabbage, onions and celery can be started now if you haven't already done so. You can get a head start on lettuce by starting seeds indoors as well, but I usually wait until they can be seeded outside. Sow peas as soon as the ground can be worked; peas are less likely than other seeds to rot in cold, damp soil. It's also important to get them started early before the heat moves in. Peas produce in cool weather so to get the most yield, you need to beat the heat.
  • Herb seeds that take longer to grow, such as chamomile, thyme, parsley and sage, can be started now. (Parsley seeds can be soaked for a few hours to enhance germination.)
  • If you haven't sown your poppy seeds yet, do so quick! Sow bread poppy seeds in an area (where the snow has melted) where they will be undisturbed in early spring. Do not scatter on top of the snow. Wait until you can see the frozen ground. (I've accidentally pulled them out in the past because I didn't recognize what they looked like, so make sure you mark them.)
Salix in my back garden, taken this past
Sunday when the sky was so blue!

Pruning

  • Finish pruning fruit trees by mid-March. Make sure you don't leave stumps along the trunk where the branches are cut off, and aim for nice, clean cuts. This helps prevent infection in the tree. You can take your fruit tree prunings and put them in a vase of water to force flowers indoors. Or, you can dry pear and apple sticks, which make great rabbit treats (which is what I do). 
  • Pruning paniculata hydrangeas is a good garden chore for the first warm day of spring when gardeners need an excuse to be outside. "You take about a third of the plant off to increase branches in the growing season," said Chris Valley in a previous hydrangea talk. When pruning, make sure the cuts are uniform so the entire plant grows at the same rate. He also recommends that "after five years, to remove the main branches to reinvigorate the plant and spur new growth."
  • Wisteria can be pruned, but don't cut off the flower buds. I grow Amethyst Falls, which is a less invasive version of wisteria. If the shape of the plant is fine, you can leave it.
  • Remove older leaves of hellebores so new growth can fill in. This clean look helps hellebore blossoms to look their best when they bloom in your garden. They are already blooming outside in my back garden.
  • Roses can be pruned when the forsythia begins to bloom. (Speaking of forsythia, do you cut your branches and bring them inside to force flowers? It's very easy to do! Learn how here.

Cleanup

  • If there is no snow on the ground, you can start cutting back perennials so that new growth can emerge as the weather gets warmer. I usually hold off on doing this until the ground is safe to walk on: if it's too wet, you can compact and damage the soil. Also, if the dead plant material isn't bothersome, try to leave it up because hollow stems may be housing (sleeping) solitary bees.
  • Clean out old nests in birdhouses to encourage use this year.
  • Raspberries need thinning in order to grow well. If a stem had fruit last year, cut it out. If it's thinner than a pencil, cut that out as well. Raspberries produce fruit on new stems. Everything left can be shortened about 12 inches as well. This is also a good time to check that the supports for raspberries are in good shape. I plan to put in a more permanent support this year, like this model I found through Pinterest.
What garden chores are you hoping to accomplish this month? Let me know in the comment section below.

I live in Central Connecticut and garden in Zone 6b.

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