The Gardener's March Calendar ~ 2017
In typical New England fashion, we started out March with seasonably mild days, and as I write this, snow is falling and covering all the snowdrops and crocuses that emerged early.
Even though the garden is still technically sleeping, there are tasks that can be started outside. For example, pruning pear trees and cutting forsythia and Kwanzaa cherry tree branches to bring inside for forced flowers. Of course, there's plenty to do inside as well, mainly concerning seed-starting!
Despite the snow, here are some tasks to keep in mind this month for gardeners in Zones 6b and lower:
- It's time to start more flower seeds indoors and under lights! Think New Guinea impatiens or impatiens, salvias, ageratum, calendula, sweet Williams, coleus, snapdragons and portulaca. Sweet peas can also be started outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked since they enjoy cool weather. Perennials such as delphiniums, yarrow, foxgloves, hollyhocks and carnations can still be started in mid-March as well.
- Vegetable seeds can also be started this month, including broccoli, leeks, cabbage, onions and celery. You can get a head start on growing lettuce by starting seeds indoors as well. 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. For the warm-weather crops, I usually wait until the last week of March to start my pepper, tomato and eggplant seeds under lights.
- 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.)
- 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. Wondering what to do with all the branches you trimmed? You can put them in a vase of water to force flowers indoors, or you can dry pear (and apple) branches which make great rabbit treats (which is what I do for my house rabbit).
- 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. (I wait until the threat of really cold weather has passed.) 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, did you cut your branches and bring them inside to force flowers?)
- 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.
- Wait as long as possible to remove brush from the garden because hollow stems may be housing (sleeping) solitary bees. If I do cut back perennials, I lay them on top of the compost pile so the nesting bees still have a chance to survive. 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.
- Clean out old nests in birdhouses to encourage use this year.
I live in Central Connecticut and garden in Zone 6b.