March is when things really start happening in the garden – even though some wintry weather is normal for this month you can’t help but notice the flowers appearing, the buds swelling, and the birds singing – nature knows that winter is almost over. If you haven’t already placed your seed order you need to do it ASAP! If you save your own heirloom seeds you don’t have to worry about buying seeds – ever again.
March is the right time for planting many cool season plants, but unfortunately the unpredictable weather means that it might be hard on any given day to work in the garden. So try to take advantage of any break in the weather to prepare the ground as soon as possible. Add compost, manure, lime and other soil amendments at planting time if you haven’t already.
Freeze hardy annual and perennial vegetables can be planted or set out any time in March:
- Potatoes *
- Onion and Shallot sets
- Fava Beans
- Jerusalem artichokes
Frost hardy vegetables can be seeded or set-out later in the month:
- Potatoes *
- Brussels Sprouts
- Kohl Rabi
Just about any of these will get off to a quicker start if they are protected from the worst of the weather by a cloche, floating row cover, cold frame or plastic tunnel – but take care not to let them over heat on a warm sunny day. If possible set your cloches, covers, or warming plastic mulch well in advance of planting to warm the soil a bit – pull any organic mulch back from the planting area until the soil is warmer.
Start Seeds Inside – It’s time to get serious about starting those seeds for tomatoes, peppers, herbs, etc. Our frost free date in zone 6b is April 15 for gamblers, March 1 for sissies – 6-8 weeks away. Start your seeds indoors under lights, in a greenhouse, a sunny window or on a sun porch – or even outside in a hot bed. My success starting seeds has increased tremendously recently when I built a bottom heater for seed starting out of recycled rope lights. However you go about it most seeds will germinate better if kept very warm and will grow better with as much light as possible.
Planting and Pruning Fruit Trees, Vines, Canes, Bushes and Ornamentals – The garden centers have their best selections right now. By March first the sooner you plant things like fruit trees the better as many of them have already (or soon will) break dormancy – not the end of the world, but also not ideal. March is the last timely chance to plant bare-rooted trees, berries and canes.
Pruning – Take care of any pruning as soon as possible except on spring flowering ornamentals like azaleas – wait until after the show is over for those. All types of roses can be pruned this month Severe pruning results in long stemmed flowers and more attractive rose bushes. This is also a good time to give all of your perennials a dose of compost or rotted manure.
Plan to cover fruit trees if frost threatens while they are in bloom! – this probably won’t be a problem until later, but be prepared! Peaches and apples are most vulnerable during the bloom period, and are usually frost proof once fruit has set and the blooms have faded. A loose covering with a sheet may make the difference between having fruit or not. If you have trees that are too big for you to fully cover, then cover the parts that you can reach! The fruit will be concentrated lower down where it’s easier to reach if you do this. It will also clearly show you how you need to prune.
Lawns – March is the month for sowing or over seeding lawns. Get a soil test before adding lawn amendments and you will save money, and protect the environment by avoiding excessive fertilizer runoff. Consider adding some small white clover seed to your lawn – it’s good for the soil, birds, bees, and wildlife. To really save money and help the environment consider reducing or eliminating your area of lawn grass – the less you have the less you have to mow, fertilize, and water. I’m sure that you’ve heard – beautiful lawns are environmental disasters – smaller is better.
*Potatoes aren’t really freeze hardy, but since they are buried they won’t be harmed by a light to moderate freeze until the tops emerge, and even then they will come back out if bit. It’s safer to wait, but also worth the gamble to plant a few earlys.