Ground rules and tools for March

March 01, 2007

BY KAREN PYE - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER

EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

We got "ready" in January, "set" in February, and now we can "go!"

March is an exciting month. The weather is warming, we have had wonderful rain, the ground is warming and we can begin planting all those wonderful plants we have spent the past two months planning to put in our beds and the spring vegetable gardens.

I suggest you spend some energy preparing the beds to receive the new plants. Rake out the leaves that have accumulated in the beds. Adding 3 to 5 inches of organic material into the top 8-10 inches of soil is a good idea. Compost is an excellent choice. Peat moss is also good to use along with the compost. Add a slow-release fertilizer. This will save you time in the long run.

This is also a good time to trim trees, removing any dead wood and unwanted limbs so as not to interfere with your new plants. Trim any plants and shrubs that may have suffered some damage from the February freeze. If you have crepe myrtles in your yard, please be kind and don't reduce these beautiful trees to ugly clumps. The February issue of Southern Living magazine has an excellent article on the right way to prune crepe myrtles, and it is well worth reading. If you can't find the magazine, you can read the article online at www.southernliving.com. Crepe myrtles provide beautiful blooms if treated properly and the bark is quite striking as well. Consider planting dwarf crepe myrtles in your beds for added beauty.

Another interesting article in that same issue is "Fuss-free Roses," which all rose lovers will enjoy reading. If you are just getting interested in roses, there are some very good recommendations for varieties that are easy to care for and disease resistant.

Before planting any new plants you should divide existing clumps of fall-blooming perennials such as chrysanthemums, asters and marigolds. I like to plant in groups of odd numbers - three, five, seven, etc. - and I seldom plant in straight rows. This gives the beds character.

Now you are ready to hit your favorite nursery for the new plants you want to put in. As I mentioned last month, it is a good idea to check the soil temperature before planting. The ideal ground temperature for our area should be within the 65 to 85 degree germination soil temperature range.

March is perfect for sowing seeds of cleome, coral vine, cosmos, four-o'clocks, marigold, periwinkle, portulaca, salvia and zinnia. Any of these will add wonderful color to your beds. Bedding plants include ageratum, alyssum, begonia, coleus, coreopsis, daisy, geranium, petunia, salvia, verbena and lantana.

SPRING VEGETABLE GARDEN

Ready to get that spring vegetable garden planted? Your potatoes should already be planted, and if not, do so quickly.

Plant, beets, carrots, corn, lettuce, onions and radishes when the ground is warm enough, usually March 1 forward.

Once the weather really starts to warm, more toward the end of March, first of April, you can plant tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumber, black-eyed peas and squash. Don't forget herbs. Not only are these plants showy and fragrant, they are so good in cooking.

Theme Gardens

When planning your beds think outside the box. Plant bedding plants, vegetables and herbs together. Nothing says flowerbeds have to be separate from vegetable gardens. Let your creative juices flow.

Try an ornamental edible garden.

Mix flowers that grow in cool weather with vegetables that like similar conditions. Consider mixing in some herbs like parsley, chives and thyme. Put short plants in front, tall plants in the back. Have a color theme. Use colors that blend well: pink pansies planted at the base of ruby-colored rhubarb, white alyssum with green chard, red petunias at the base of pepper plants. You get the idea.

How about a theme vegetable garden?

A Mexican salsa garden comes to mind. Create a special nook complete with different varieties of tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, peppers and onions.

Another idea is a pizza garden.

This is great for the kids. Design a circular area and section it into triangles; grow favorite pizza toppings such as peppers, onions and tomatoes. This idea has been done at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) and the kids love it!

Grow a salad garden.

Plantings would include tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce and shallots in a plot.

Consider raised beds for your plants and crops. With a little ingenuity beds can be raised to any height that allows you to garden with ease.

Lawns

Don't forget your lawn. Give the yard a good raking. Don't bag those leaves; this is the perfect time to start a compost pile. The leaves are a good beginning. Add the grass you mow and the leaves and stems from all those vegetables you are going to grow to the leaves - and before you know it you will have your very own compost to add to the beds.

I would suggest waiting until April before applying the first application of lawn food. By then you should be seeing signs of new grass growth.

Watch for pests (the garden variety, that is) such as loopers, aphids and cutworms. We certainly did not get sufficient cold weather to kill off these insects. If you have plants or shrubs that are susceptible to certain insects and diseases, inspect those plants closely and often - and treat accordingly.

Even though we expect the weather to continue with the warming trend, I would caution you that there could be another cold snap. I'm never really comfortable until after Easter. Be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect your newly planted beds and gardens should this occur.

Now get out of that easy chair and get those hands in the dirt.