Spring is just weeks away! There’s the occasional cold snap and late freeze, but the new growth and buds peeking out from behind last year’s fallen foliage makes the impending seasonal change undeniable. Where you live is the biggest factor in what to do and when.
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Phenology Helps Determine What Things to do in the Garden in March
With the last dregs of winter still holding on in many places, the beginning of spring can be tricky. It’s important to keep an eye on the frost and freeze warnings in the hardiness zones that are further north. Planting too early and not taking precautions with sudden temperature drops can end up wasting time, money and effort that might have been saved with an eye on the weather.
Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. Using this methodology, spring casting can be done with wonderful results! There is an organization that keeps track of seasonal changes in real time, called the National Phenology Network. This will help keep gardeners attuned to the “status of spring” in their local area, and helps to prevent garden mishaps related to the weather.
They have a wonderful visualization tool that not only answers questions about current seasonal changes, but also provides a wealth of additional information that will be a wonderful use to anyone avid in outdoor activities, Make sure to take a look and refer back to it on a regular basis for up-to-date information.
When considering garden soil preparation, it is important to know what we are working with initially. If a soil sample hasn’t been tested already, it’s a good time to send one off to get checked or purchase an at home soil testing kit. This will let you know what kind of nutrients your soil needs, pH levels, and other important factors for a thriving garden.
March is often the beginning of the “wet months” for gardeners. While this can be wonderful for the water bill, it can wreak havoc on garden beds. In particular, during this time of high-intensity preparation, garden beds can get too much traffic, causing compaction of the soil. Avoid walking on garden bed soil while it is sodden, and this will help keep the beds loose and ready for planting.
Cleaning flower beds at this time makes for a more healthy environment for the remainder of the season. With the weeding and cleaning of debris, thin out mulch from early spring blooming bulbs and perennials will help them sprout better. Less weight for the little buds to fight against will get them growing that much faster.
For the beds of those that still need a bit more protection, a new layer of fresh mulch will not only look better, but also keep disease from taking root or spreading among fragile young plants. During the clean-up is the perfect time to check for any emerging pests and take effective measures that will keep the garden pest-free.
When the danger of frost has passed in the area, it’s time to remove any protective coverings from trees. During this process, it is a good idea to spray fruit trees for any pests that might have over-wintered in the warmer confines of the protected boughs.
Our garden friends also appreciate a good clean up of their favorite spots. Go clean out any bird houses that aren’t currently in use. This will encourage a new nest to be built. Feeders can also get pretty dirty if not cleaned out on a semi-regular basis. The early spring cleaning is the perfect time to freshen up any feeders.
Water features and pumps often get shut off during the cold winter months. Bringing them back out is the ideal time to check to make sure they not only work, but are clean and ready to be put to use in the garden again.
When the results of the soil test come back, it’s a good idea to apply the proper kind of soil amendments according to what type of plant will be growing in the bed. Some plants like more acidic soil, others are partial to sandy soil that has higher drainage than others. Part of the proper garden bed maintenance is the proper application of compost.
This is a great time to check and turn the garden compost pile, and work it into whichever beds need it, as long as the soil is workable. For more information on why every gardener would benefit from having one, or how to start your own backyard compost, check out our article on the subject here.
While we are all anxious to get this year’s round of seeds, bulbs and seedlings in the ground, there are a couple tricks to ensuring a successful growing season. Make sure the soil is workable before attempting to plant. This means there aren’t any frozen spots or layers of the soil that aren’t quite ready to promote germination because of the ground temperature. It’s also important that the soil is nice and dry before planting. Most seeds and bulbs won’t sprout when water-logged.
Early spring is a fantastic time to plant trees and shrubs. For a guide to when to plant different varieties of fruit trees, check out our article on the subject here. While out with the shovel for the wooded plantings, dig up and divide any fall blooming perennials that need it. Now is also a great time to plant summer flowering bulbs.
When the danger of frost has passed, now might be a good time to plant perennial fruits and vegetables. Make sure to harden off any seedling transplants before leaving them to their own devices in the garden. For more information on seeds to start in March (both in the garden directly or indoors) and transplant timelines, check out our article on the subject here.
There are several plants that do well when pruned back at the beginning of spring. Rose bushes do very well if pruned before the buds break. Check the fruiting perennials for guidance on which ones like to be pruned back in what ways. This will ensure a better harvest. Make sure to check for dead, dying or diseased wood and prune accordingly.
Ornamental grasses should be pruned back at this time in order to allow the new growth room to spread. Sometimes the weather plays tricks on the plants and the gardeners. If there are any early bloomers that can be dead-headed, do so now to encourage new growth and a more successful second bloom.
Houseplants need the occasional pruning during this time as well. The excitement of spring and the lack of freezing temperatures can sometimes mean indoor plants get a little too much water too early. Make sure to check the dryness of the soil before providing the houseplants more water. Also, prune back any leggy growth to encourage more full and vigorous growth.
The List gets Longer Alongside the Days
Already the long nights of winter are starting to be noticeably shorter, and the days are starting to stretch. With the longer days, the list of things to-do in the garden is similarly getting longer and longer.
Keeping a garden journal will help keep track of the things done, the things still needing to be done, and all those helpful tidbits of information that we never think we need to note until later in the year when we are racking our brain trying to remember. If you’re anything like me, the prospect of more time in the garden is a chore I look forward to more and more each day!
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