March garden tips

Lettuce seedlings ready to be planted

We made it to late March! Not that it won’t get cold again, but winter’s back is broken and now we can really look ahead to the gardening season. Let’s put a list of tasks on the fridge so whenever we have half an hour, we can accomplish something in the garden. 

  1. Gently remove dead foliage from around perennial crowns (no need to remove it entirely). Cut back to the ground all perennials and ornamental grasses that were left standing for winter interest.

2. Bulbs that begin to send up green shoots when the weather is prematurely warm will usually not be harmed by late frosts. There may be a bit of tip damage, but the flower buds are still protected beneath the soil and will bloom later just fine.

spring anticipation

3. Start pruning. However, be selective about which trees you prune. Avoid pruning trees whose sap runs freely in warm weather such as elms, maples, and birches. If pruned in spring they will “bleed” sap profusely. This won’t harm the trees, but it is unsightly. Prune these trees when temperatures are very cold or wait until late June.

4. Don’t be tempted to get into the garden when the soil is too wet. Working or walking on wet soil compacts it and makes it hard for roots to penetrate. Take a clump of soil in your hand and squeeze. If it oozes water, walk away. If it stays in a tight clump, walk away. If it breaks apart easily, get to work. 

Garden soil ready to plant

5. If a houseplant has roots growing through the drainage holes, roots on the soil surface, smaller than normal new leaves, or if it wilts between waterings, consider repotting. Plants recover best when in active growth, so do it now before it starts its spring flush.

6. Clean up all old peony foliage if botrytis blight was a problem last year. Put out peony rings or stakes while the shoots are still only a few inches or the leaves will begin to unfold making it hard to stake. Avoid overhead watering to prevent the fungus.

7. Plant garden, snap, and snow peas now. Seed them about 1 1/2 inches deep and 1-2 inches apart in single or double rows. Most peas need support to grow on, so put your trellis in place before seeding to avoid damaging tender seedlings. Mulch to keep the soil cool.

Snap pea seedlings

8. Put out a rain gauge. Monitor every few days during the rainy season to make sure that your landscape receives at least an inch of water a week. If it doesn’t, plan to irrigate. Put your gauge wherever you are sprinkling to make sure you get the amount of water you want.

9. Cut back ornamental grasses. Do it now so that you don’t clip the tops off of the newly emerging growth later in the season.

10. The earlier you get summer bulbs started, the better a chance you will have for bloom. Pot up caladiums, begonias, cannas, elephant ears, agapanthus, and calla lilies in sterile potting soil in a pot with drainage. Water with warm water and place on a bright windowsill until after frost danger is past.

11. If you haven’t yet removed your iris foliage, do this any time you have a reasonable day to get outside. Removing every shred of foliage now will take the eggs of iris borers with it and leave your irises clean for the season.

Dead iris foliage

12. If your soil dries out enough to rake lightly, you can plant your lettuce seeds. Sprinkle seeds on the soil and rake lightly. Even if the soil is moist, water in the seeds gently in order to get good contact with the soil. Make sure to keep them watered through the germination process.

Lettuce seedlings

Marinated Beet Salad

Beet salad with spiralized beets and beet greens

If you‘re lucky enough to have lettuce coming up in the garden, splurge on beets (most grocers have plenty), and prepare an earthy beet salad on top of fresh lettuce to refresh you and give you a glimpse into the garden to come. 

  • 2 beets
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. white wine or balsamic vinegar depending on your taste
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. honey
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 1/2 c. diced red onion
  • 1 large hard-cooked egg
  • 1/2 T. parsley
  • fresh leaf lettuce as a base (use chopped beet greens if you choose)

Preheat oven to 400. Put washed, trimmed beets in a roasting pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and seal tightly with foil. Roast 1 hour or until beets are easily pierced with a knife; let cool.  Peel; cut into 1/2-inch chunks, grate or spiralize.  

Whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Toss beets with dressing and let stand 1 hour,  tossing occasionally.  Mix in onion. Finely chop eggs and mix with parsley.  Serve atop a bed of freshly torn lettuce.  Makes 2 generous servings. 

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