Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

The Gardener's March 2021 Calendar

At the end of March, the hellebores will begin to bloom in Northeast Connecticut.

 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. (But, 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.

Leave the leaves somewhere on your property — there are many native insects that rely on the leaf litter to overwinter and you do not want to toss them away. (One of the things I enjoy is seeing the robins return to the area and rifle through the leaf litter looking for dinner.) 

While you are out making the rounds, 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 (if you do not already own one): 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 portulaca. Perennials such as delphiniums, yarrow, foxgloves, hollyhocks and carnations can still be started in mid-March as well.

    • If you haven’t started broccoli, leeks, cabbage, onions and celery seeds, there is still time in early March. 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 and the soil temperature is warm enough (at least 45 degrees F). 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. Use a heat mat to speed up germination.

    • 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.

    Pea seeds can be planted in soil that has warmed to at least 45 degrees F.

  • Pruning:
    • Finish pruning apple and pear 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 house rabbit treats. 

    • 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 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 USDA Zone 6b (average cold weather minimum temperature for my growing region is -5 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-20.6 to -17.8 degrees Celsius).


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