The Gardener's March Calendar

Here in the Northeast U.S., the garden is beginning to awaken. The crocuses and snowdrops are starting to bloom in my front and back gardens. You can cut forsythia and Kwanzaa cherry tree branches to bring inside for forced flowers. Of course, there's plenty to do inside as well, mainly around seed-starting!

As a child one of my favorite movies was "The Secret Garden." In the movie, there is a scene where Mary begins clearing away the leaves so the spring plants can begin to grow.

This movie scene is a perfect example of what you can do now in March as snowdrops and crocuses begin to emerge. (Be careful not to walk on your garden beds at this time — if it's too wet, the soil can become compacted.) If any perennials are deeply buried by the leaves, you can brush those aside as well.

But leave the leaves somewhere on your property — there are many native insects that rely on the leaf litter to overwinter. (Additionally, one of the things I enjoy is seeing the robins return to the area and rifle through the leaf litter looking for dinner.) Keep an eye out for any plants that might have been heaved out of the soil as well (a task on the February chores list).

Tasks to complete this month:

  • Tool to get this month: A soil thermometer.
  • Check plants in storage — If your garage is a holding station for any perennials that didn't make it into the ground or a protected spot for potted fig trees, check on them and give them a little water. 
  • Check seeds for viability — Take into account how long you have stored them. (There are different guidelines for each type of seed. Here are some guidelines on sorting.) How were they stored? (Was it in darkness? Low humidity?) Check if the seeds are still viable by doing the paper towel test. And when in doubt, get a newer packet.

  • Seed-starting: 
    • 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 portulacaSweet 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 produce in cool weather so to get the most yield, you need to beat the heat. One old adage is to plant them on St. Patrick's Day, but it's still usually a little too cold and wet for that here. Peas are less likely than other seeds to rot in cold, damp soil and you can use a soil thermometer to measure when your soil is ready. To speed up the sowing process, you can cover your area with black plastic to warm the soil.
    • Mid-March is a good time to start warm weather crops like 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.)
    • It's almost time to sow your poppy seeds. Sow bread poppy seeds in an area where they will get full sun (ideally where the snow has melted) where they will be undisturbed in early spring. They need the wet, cold soil to germinate. Also be sure to mark them — I've accidentally pulled them out in the past because I didn't recognize what they looked like.

  • 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. 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 rabbits). 
    • Pruning paniculata hydrangeas is a good garden chore for the first warm day of spring when gardeners need an excuse to be outside. You'll want to take about a third of the plant off to increase branching this growing season. When pruning, make sure the cuts are uniform so the entire plant grows at the same rate. If the plant is older than five years, you can consider removing 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 native version of wisteria. If the shape of the plant is fine, you can leave it.
    • You can start cutting back the ornamental grasses that you left standing for winter interest. I use my little sickle for the job.
    • Around mid-March, if temperatures are warming and there are no cold snaps or winter storms in the forecast, you can start removing older, brown 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.
    • 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?)
    • Cut rose of sharons to the shape you desire. They bloom on new wood so you'll want to do this before new buds form. 
    • 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. 
  • Carrying over a chore from January is sharpening your tools. Have you done it yet? You can use fine steel wool to remove any sticky sap and then clean the blades with soapy water. Mineral oil can be placed in the space between the blade and the hook to help them move smoothly. If your blades need sharpening, you can use a diamond hand file. Take the file and in a smooth motion, drag it across the length of the blade so it sharpens the beveled side. You can also use it on the flat side of the blade if needed. You can also store your small hand tools in a bucket of sand, which helps absorb the moisture away from the tools. 
  • Cleanup:
    • 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.
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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