Purple veined crocus muddled with yellow primroses.
Garden Chores for March
In This Issue
Hello Fellow Gardeners,
It's barely spring and landscapers have never been so busy as people relish their gardens even more since the pandemic.
There's lots to do out there and sometimes some extra help, and some muscle is needed. Whether it's digging a trench or a hole, making a path, planting a tree, laying a concrete patio, or shoveling gravel, assistance is required.
try looking in your local free neighourhood newspapers. Alternately if you want to do some gardening for someone else, place your own advertisement.
While gardens lie in wait, the best thing to do is plan what you want, and how to do it – if possible. Do your research as there are many informative You Tube videos and websites. Do purchase the correct tools for the job to save yourself time, injury and be more efficient.
Think ahead and pre-book a landscape contractor, irrigation specialist, arborist, construction crew etc., months in advance. Keep in mind that timing is everything. Irrigation specialist aren't busy in the winter. Landscapers are swamped during the spring and fall, but work slacks off in winter and sometimes in the summer. So if you are looking for work to be done, ask them when is their slackest times of the year and book asap.
Just a caveat while I'm at it. Do your due diligence when hiring a contractor. Make sure they are trained and have an education in their specialty. Arborist must have their ISA certification, landscapers should be trained in horticulture such as Horticulture Apprentice, Red Seal in Horticulture, Residential Landscape Technician, Organic Master Gardener and other certifications and diplomas. Experience counts, but training is imperative.
Do get referrals. Check their past work, and make sure they are registered and up to date with WorkSafe. If they are not covered by WorkSafe, the homeowner is liable for any injuries and damages. Also check out the Better Business Bureau to be on the safe side. Another resource is the BC Landscape & Nursery Association. Due diligence is so important – even in the garden.
March PLANT COMBO
Apricot single early tulips are surrounded by two dwarf Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria nana) with purple crocus in the foreground. This sweet little planting is suitable for full sun locations with good draining loamy soil.
Although this looks innocent enough, it will eventually strangle the tree to death. As the tree's trunk grows in girth, the string will become tighter and tighter, cutting off the circulation. Luckily this is an easy fix. Just cut the twine and the tree should be fine.
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The Do's & Don'ts of Growing in Containers:
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March Garden Stars
Sow Seeds Indoors
Sow Seeds Indoors: Sow most seeds indoors including cold season crops, but do read the instructions on seed packets for where, when and how to sow. Some flowers and veggies need to be started inside 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. These include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants (aubergines), zinnias, petunia and snap dragons. To learn more about sowing seeds indoors click here. FYI sow carrots, dill, radishes and coriander outside. For more click on Growing Seeds Indoors
The Indoor Seedling Killer!
Once seeds germinate, they are vulnerable to a prevalent fungus called Damping Off. Once infected, seedling stems become thin and thread-like, then fall over and die. It's a quick death. To prevent infections either use camomile tea or hydrogen peroxide.
Camomile tea: Steep a bag of camomile tea in four cups of boiling water allow to cool. Mist seedlings daily. Camomile tea contains anti-fungal properties.
Hydrogen peroxide: Water seedlings with a mix of 1 tsp. of hydrogen peroxide to 2 cups of water. It oxygenates soil, which kills bacteria and fungi. For more tips, tricks and techniques click here.
Sow Seeds Outdoors
Sowing Seeds Outdoors (direct sowing): Sow seeds when weeds start growing with gusto and the soil warms to 10 °C (50°F). Soil shouldn't be soggy either. Remove debris, weeds, then mix in some compost and level the ground with a rake. Follow instructions on seed packets for when and how to sow. Suitable cold hardy veggies are peas, spinach, parsnips, radish, lettuce, chard, arugula, collards, kale and mesclun. Suitable flowers include clarkia, cornflowers, poppies, cleome, cosmos, Bishop’s flower (Ammi majus), calendula, wallflowers and wildflower mixes. Water gently and keep the soil moist until seeds germinate. If frost is predicted, cover seedlings with a layer of spun-bonded polyester (Reemay), a light garden frost blanket (available at plant nurseries). For more on sowing seeds outdoors click on Growing Seeds Outdoors
Protect outdoor Seeds & Seedlings
Birds: To prevent birds from feasting on seeds, cover with a cloche or a spun-bonded polyester floating row cover. (Clear plastic doesn’t allow air and water to filter through, unlike the fabric.) To learn more about cloches click here. Alternately, lay chicken wire or bird netting over the bed. To scare them away use Mylar balloons or shiny tape.
Soil Insects: Use organic solutions that don't contaminate soil or crops. Diatomaceous earth is made from fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms. Composed of silica, they are sharp and dehydrate insects. Reapply after rain or irrigation and follow all precautions – wear gloves and don’t breathe it in.
Cutworms: When seedlings disappear overnight, cutworms are usually the culprit. To prevent them sprinkle, diatomaceous earth or crushed eggshells on top of the soil where seeds were sown and around the stems of transplants. Reapply after rain. When planting transplants (starter plants), place a toothpick on each side of the stem or wrap a small strip of newspaper around its stem. It’s finicky, but it does work.
Slugs & Snails: From beer, organic slug bait, copper, diatomaceous earth, there are many methods of controlling mollusks. Click here for more.
Wireworms: Discard these shiny and bright orange worms that feed on plant roots including lawns. Place a cut potato on soil to gather and destroy, or use diatomaceous earth. When removing lawns to make a garden bed, wait a week to plant so the wireworms go elsewhere for food.
Planting Tips & Techniques
Cool temperatures and spring rains are perfect conditions for planting. Planting now gives new plants time to become established before it becomes too hot and dry. Here’s some quickie tips. For more detailed info check out the section on How to Plant.
Divide Perennials: Divide summer and fall flowering perennials (cone flowers, chrysanthemums, bee balms etc.) that are too old or too big. Use a sharp knife or two garden forks placed back to back to pry the roots apart. Replant or pot up the new babies to sell or to give away.
Root & Basal Cuttings: Severing pieces from a plant's roots is a quick and easy way to make more of your favorite perennials. For more on the different types of cuttings click on Taking Cuttings.
In the Veggie Garden
How to Grow Veggies: There are many ways to grow healthy veggies that incorporates common sense with low maintenance and sustainable techniques. From companion planting to crop rotation, there's lots of tips and techniques. Click on here for more.
Cover Crops & Green Manure: If you planted crimson clover, winter peas or other cover crops last fall, wait for at least half of them to flower in spring, then cut them down. Dig them in, then wait at least two weeks for them to decompose, then plant your veggies. This ‘green manure’ will enrich and build the soil. To learn more about cover crops click here.
Asparagus: Plant asparagus crowns in well-drained location in full sun. Protect emerging asparagus spears from slugs and cutworms by laying a thick layer of crushed eggshells, copper mesh, and/or diatomaceous earth around them. Wait three years to harvest for the plants to become established.
Onions & Shallots: Select a sunny, dry location, then cover them with netting or floating row covers to prevent hungry birds from digging them up.
Rhubarb: Plant rhubarb crowns when they are still dormant in early spring. Make large holes 18" deep and 18-24" and fill with 50/50 soil and well-rotted, or composted manure. Place the crowns in the hole so the buds are ½ to 1 inch below the soil surface, no deeper. Make sure the crown is not sitting in a depression or it will rot. Wait for the second year to harvest stalks, and only remove a few at that time.
Strawberries: Plant in a well-drained, sunny location. Mulch with a layer of straw to keep them clean, reduce diseases and to lessen slugs and snails. Remove flowers on new plants this year as they will be healthier and more productive in subsequent years.
Potatoes: It’s time to plant taters when dandelions flower. Prepare them for planting by chitting to encourage sprouting. Chit seed potatoes by placing them upright in egg cartons in a bright, frost free location. Don't add lime when planting as it promotes potato scab. To learn more about growing potatoes click here.
Add Lime with Brassicas: To prevent club root, a common disease of cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and other cole crops, mix in dolomite lime according to the instructions before planting.
Veggies in Planters: Why not? Plant cold hardy plants in containers using 3 parts potting soil to 1 to 2 parts compost. Don’t use garden soil as it contains all kinds of pathogens and weeds. Sow seeds from broad beans, peas, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, onion and shallot sets, kale and seed potatoes. To learn more about growing in containers click here.
Lawns In March
Before you do anything, get a soil test done to find out the pH of the lawn and available nutrients. Now is the time to take care of the grass roots so don't apply a high nitrogen fertilizer. Wait until May. In the meantime, aerate, add lime if necessary and apply a high phosphorus fertilizer (middle number is highest). For more on Spring Lawn Care click here.
Lawn Repair & New Lawns
March is the perfect time to repair lawns and to install new ones. A common reason why new and repaired lawns fail, is lack of site preparation, aftercare and improper maintenance. To learn more click on Lawn Reno, Seed & Sod
Lawn Mower Maintenance: For all mowers refer to the manufacturer’s manual for specific maintenance and care.
Gas Mowers: Ensure cables, screws and other fasteners are secure. Remove the spark plugs after disconnecting the wire leading to them. Clean filters or replace with a new ones if necessary then remove the oil drain plug and drain the oil. Replace the plug and refill with the oil recommended in the owner’s manual. Remove the blades and sharpen or take to a professional. Clean the underside of the mower while the blade is removed. Replace the spark plugs and re-attach wire. Finally, brush off debris from the wheels for easier maneuvering and better traction.
Electric Mowers: Clean off debris, sharpen the blades and clean the wheels.
It's Nesting time!
Birdies: Help them get ready to produce and care for their young by providing birdseed. Clean empty birdhouses, feeders and bird baths. If conditions are dry and rain fails to fall, put out shallow water dishes for them (as well as pollinators).
Be on the lookout for bird nests when pruning trees and shrubs. If you spot any, wait to prune until after the chicks have fled the nest.
March Garden Chores
Garden Inspections: Don't forget to take the time to enjoy the succession of spring flowering plants by walking the garden daily. Not only is it good for the soul, you will be able to catch any issues in the bud, so to speak.
Frost Protection: Just because it's March, it doesn't mean that Jack Frost is done with us. A light frost shouldn't cause too much damage, however if it gets to minus 5 degrees Celsius and below, early flowering plants such as camellias and dogwoods, may abort their flower buds. Monitor temperatures, especially at night, and if frost is predicted protect vulnerable plants if they aren't too big. Cover with layers of burlap, old sheets, frost blankets or other breathable fabric.
Winter Mulch: If you applied a winter mulch on tender plants last fall, remove it gradually as the season progresses and not before the danger of frost has passed.
Improving Soil: It's a good idea to add compost or other organic soil amendments to garden beds, including veggie beds, annually. Mix in a couple of inches of compost, well-rotted aged or composted manure, SeaSoil or triple mix (humus, sphagnum peat moss & compost) . Remove debris, weeds and rocks. Wait a week for the soil to settle then plant. To learn more about improving soils click here.
Make New Beds with the Lasagna Method: There’s no need to dig up the lawn if you use the lasagna sheet mulching method. To learn how click here. Use garden hose to outline curved beds or use stakes and twine to outline straight ones.
Warm Soil for Early Planting: Secure a sheet of clear or black plastic on top of soil or use floating row covers (cloches) a few weeks before planting. Mix compost or other organic matter into clay soils as they take longer to warm compared to loamy soils. Don’t add sand to clay soils as creates concrete. Remove any straw that was placed on veggie beds during the winter as it will keep the cold in the soil at this time of year. For a more permanent solution, consider installing raised beds as they warm quickly.
Lawn & Garden Weeds: Kill weed seeds as they germinate with corn gluten. It's an organic product that contains a bit of nitrogen. To rid the lawn of existing weeds, such as dandelions, use a long handled weeder to pull them out easily without breaking your back.
Horsetail weeds: Keep pulling them as soon as they poke their heads out of the ground. For more on how to control this persistent weed click here.
Spring Bulbs: Once they have finished flowering, remove any spent flowers on narcissus and tulips to prevent seed development. Allow foliage to yellow before cutting them off. Another option is to dig them up while leaves are green, being careful not to break them off and plant somewhere less noticeable.
Stake: Place stakes next to delphiniums and other tall plants so you can secure them as they grow. Cage peonies and other top heavy plants now, so they'll grow through the cages. Don’t wait to stake plants as they will be flopping over before you know it. Been there, done that and have the t-shirt.
Staked Trees: Don’t keep trees staked for longer than two years. In the meantime, make sure the string etc., isn't too tight and cutting into the bark. If trees are still unstable after 2 years, they probably weren't planted properly and need to be adjusted or replanted. To learn the correct way of planting trees click on
Mexican fountain grass: (Nassella (Stipa) tenuissima), although most ornamental grasses benefit from being cut back in early spring, this grass doesn't. Instead just pull or rake out the dead grass out. To reduce volunteers, cut off flower heads before they go to seed.
Ornamental Grasses: Cut them back to an inch preferably before they start to grow new foliage.
Compost: Get it going by turning the pile with a garden fork. Place the less decomposed material from the outside of the heap into the middle. Add water if dry, add torn newspaper if it’s too wet. For more on how to compost click here.
Slugs & Snails: There are many methods to stop slugs from devouring all the new tender spring growth. Learn the different methods on how to control them here.
Aphids: Check plants regularly as they feast on the new tender foliage and flower buds. Before resorting to spraying them, look for any ladybugs and their pupa. If they are present, either allow the ladybugs to eat the aphids, or squish the aphids with your fingers while hosing them off. Avoid using soap or insecticides as it will kill any insects it touches including the ladybugs. If aphids are a constant problem in your garden, avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers (first number), which also includes nitrogen rich soil plant food and soil amendments such as manures and fish fertilizers. For more on controlling insects, click here.
Greenhouses: Tidy, sort, clean and disinfect all surfaces inside and out before you start using it.
Tools, Plant Pots etc: Clean, sharpen and disinfect pruners and plant pots with 1 part disinfectant (Pinesol, Lysol) to 2 parts water. Lubricate cleaned tools by spraying with vegetable oil such as Pam.
Inspect trees and shrubs for any bird nests before doing any pruning. Wait to cut back spring flowering plants until right after they have blossomed. Cut back buddleias, rose-of-Sharon, cinquefoils (Potentilla), Japanese spireas and other summer and fall flowering plants. Cut back junipers, yews before new growth begins. Avoid pruning deciduous trees and shrubs once they have leafed out. Also refrain from pruning oaks, hydrangeas and spring flowering plants. For more on pruning click here.
Pruning Trees & Shrubs: Don’t cut all the branches from trees! It's known as hat-racking or topping, and it mutilates trees. It turns them into monsters, if it doesn't kill them outright. Elegant branches are replaced by ugly suckers. Suckers look like vertical upright sticks that don't branch out. Instead of topping trees, remove dead, diseased and broken branches as well as any suckers and watersprouts. If you want to shorten a tree limb, just cut it back to a side branch or remove it entirely at the trunk. For more on how to prune click on Pruning Basics 101
Pruning Roses: Remove any infected debris from the plant and the soil. Mix in a couple of inches of compost, SeaSoil or composted manure to the ground around the plant. Prune roses when forsythias flower, which is usually March in most areas of North America and the UK. For more on pruning roses click here.
Pruning Clematis: Pruning depends on the type of clematis you have. If you don't know, leave it be as it will flower eventually either this year or the next. To learn all about pruning clematis click here.
Dahlias, Begonias & Geraniums ETC.
It’s time to revitalize tuberous begonias, gladiolus, fuchsias, dahlias and overwintered geraniums (Pelargoniums). Pot them up, place in a frost free location in front of a bright sunny window, under grow lights or outside in a heated greenhouse. Once the danger of frost has passed prepare the plants to go outside two weeks beforehand. Gradually acclimatize them by 'hardening-off'. Just place them outside in a protective area for an hour. Increase the time and the conditions each day for two weeks. For more on tuberous begonias click here, for dahlias click here
Overwintered Geraniums (Pelargoniums): Remove spindly stems, sickly foliage and cut back remaining stems by half. Repot in the same pot with fresh potting soil. Trim roots to fit pot if necessary or repot into a slightly larger one. Add a slow release granule plant food. Water and place a sunny window or under grow lights. Harden off before placing outside once the danger of frost has past.
March flowers don't disappoint with bright yellow daffodils combined with pink & maroon hellebores, white pompon skimmias and deep pink winter heath. For a numbered guide to the specific flower names and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
March Plant of the month
Common Name: grape hyacinths
Botanical Name: Muscari armeniacum
Form: upright and low
Plant Type: spring flowering perennial bulb
Mature Size: up to 8 inches
Origin: Armenia, southeastern Europe
Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8
Foliage: narrow, strap-like, floppy, green, 12 inches long
Flowers: fragrant, blue with a white line along the rim of upside down urns in a tight pyrmidal cluster
Fruit: each pod bears 3 seeds
Exposure: sun to partial shade
Uses: cut flower, naturalizes, woodland's edge, planters, massing, borders, cottage gardens, small gardens
Propagation: Lift and divide offsets in summer after flowering.
Pruning: Don't cut back foliage when it's green.
Problems: will spread
Grape hyacinths are coveted for their varying shades of blue, their pleasant light fragrance and their ability to grow easily and prolifically. They spread via underground bulblets and seeds, which makes them perfect for naturalizing. Just throw them on the ground and plant them where they land. This planting method creates beautiful colourful drifts that look as though Mother Nature had planted them herself. Crocus, daffodils and snowdrops are also suitable for naturalizing.
Plant bulbs 3 inches deep and apart preferably in groups of 10 or more, in full sun in well draining soil in autumn. Their eager green, droopy, narrow leaves grow up to 12 inches long and appear very early in spring. The leaves are soon followed by leafless flower stalks that emerge from the centre of the leaves. Small urn shaped, deep blue fragrant flowers are tightly massed into a cone shape atop the stem. The cluster of flowers resemble a bunch of upside down grapes or miniature hyacinths, hence their common name of grape hyacinths. Flowering begins in March in many locations, and continue to the end of April. In summer, foliage dies down and the bulbs become dormant only to reappear again the following spring.
The are a few cultivated varieties that are even more beautiful and diverse than the species. Plant breeders have developed a stunning cultivar with white flowers, not blue, called 'White Magic' (Muscari aucheri 'White Magic'). Another popular cultivar is the broad-leaf grape-hyacinths (Muscari latifolium). They bear the usual urn shaped flowers except for the top of the flower cluster where there are light blue sterile blossoms. It has won multiple awards including the Bulb of the Year in Holland, UK and Germany as well as the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticulture Society. There are many other varieties and cultivars that are widely available so you can enjoy a variety of these pretty spring treasures.
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for the tropical Gardener
While working in Florida as horticultural consultant, it became apparent that there was a need for a book on tropical shrubs. There are so many wonderful shrubs to choose from, so I wrote a reference book to make the selections easier. Ornamental Tropical Shrubs includes pictures in full colour and information about the plants in point form. So if you live in the tropics and subtropics and need a reference book on tropical shrubs, or you just want to have a look-see click here.
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