March 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for March
March 3, 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener

For all practical purposes, I think we can say winter is behind us. Now for anyone who has lived here for any time at all, you know that is not necessarily so. But we are gardeners - and it's in our nature to be optimistic. So let's get our "grubbies" on - and get to it!

March is the month to plant almost anything. But before you load yourself up with dozens of bedding plants, herbs, vegetables, shrubs and trees, let's spend a little energy preparing our yards to receive those new plants.

Tree trimming should be done first. Remove any dead wood and unwanted limbs so as not to interfere with new plants you may be putting nearby. Shrubs that do not flower in the spring may be pruned now. Look closely at woody perennials and tropicals that suffered from the freeze and snow and cut them back to green wood. Bring out plumerias from winter storage, scrape the top inch of soil and roots away with your garden trowel, and dress with a mixture of Epsom salts, cow manure and soil, and water in.

Rake out existing landscape beds. Now is a good time to start a compost area in your yard. You can put the debris you've just raked in a pile instead of bagging it for the garbage truck to haul away. While you have your rake out, the lawn would appreciate a good raking as well. Any leaves and old grass can be put in the compost pile you've just created. Take a break, have a light, healthy lunch with plenty of ice water, and throw any left over fruits and vegetables in the compost pile.

Now it's time to visit your favorite garden center. Before you even look at plants, get your soil amendments and fertilizer. You should add a few inches of good soil amendments every spring to work into your existing soil. Compost is an excellent choice and there are some good-bagged soil conditioners available. Peat moss is good to use along with these, and it will help you stretch your other amendments. This will provide the necessary oxygen and microbial activity for your plants to flourish. An organic fertilizer or a well-balanced slow-release granular fertilizer should be worked in along with the amendments. For acid loving plants, add a little copperas or iron sulfate to your soil.

Now check out all of the plants and seeds. March is a good time for sowing seeds of castor bean, cleome, coral vine, cosmos, cypress vine, four-o'clocks, amaranth, hollyhock, hyacinth bean, mallow, marigold, moonflower, nasturtium, periwinkle, portulaca, salvia, scabiosa, sunflower, torenia, and zinnia. Bedding plants available now, to name a few, are ageratum, alyssum, begonia, calendula, coleus, coreopsis, daisy, Dusty Miller, geranium, impatiens, larkspur, lobelia, marigold, petunia, salvia, verbena, and zinnia. The ground is warm enough now to put in caladiums, as well as vegetables such as potatoes, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, corn, leeks, lettuce, spinach, onions, and radishes. As the month progresses and it gets even warmer, other veggies such as tomatoes, all kinds of peppers and beans, cucumber, eggplant gourds, black-eyed peas and squash, as well as any kind of herb you might want for your kitchen can be planted. March is also an excellent time for planting fruit trees grown in containers and vines.

While you are at the nursery, check out some of the new plant species available for our area. Japanese blueberry trees are a nice medium sized evergreen with a cone shaped growth habit. If left to grow naturally they should reach about 30 feet. I have also seen them trimmed to small specimen trees of various shapes and they are lovely that way as well. There is also a new pink flowering hawthorne that is well suited for our climate and performs as well as the snow white hawthorne. If you are an azalea lover, you should consider an encore variety. They will give you beautiful color spring and fall, and come in a variety of sizes and colors. There is a dwarf white and a pale pink variety that are new this year. Virginia sweet spire is also fairly new to our area. It is a 3-foot shrub that has fragrant white blossoms in the spring and vibrant flame foliage in the fall and winter. Do check the nurseries periodically for new and improved varieties of plants for our area.

Wait until next month and apply your first application of lawn food. By then, your grass, not weeds, should be putting up a good amount of new growth. That is the time to apply a slow release fertilizer, watering it in if it doesn't rain. It can be a granular or an organic fertilizer with a ratio of 3-1-2 nutrients and applied according to directions. Watch for further information in this column, as fertilizer will be addressed in a coming article.

Be on the lookout for loopers, aphids and cutworms. Conchuela stinkbugs, which are orange and black, have already been found feasting on broccoli and other plants in area gardens. If you thought the snow killed a lot of insect pests - think again! In most cases the snow served as an insulating blanket protecting the pests from the harder freeze. If you have a particular plant in your landscape that is susceptible to pests or fungus, watch for telltale signs and treat them now before a problem develops. Now that your landscape beds are totally clean, supplied with nutrients, and the soil is fluffed, plant those baby plants and seeds. Water them in good and sit back on the patio and relax with a tall cold glass of iced tea and enjoy the lovely spring weather.

You will not be alone in planning and planting your spring garden. The owners of the gardens on the Annual Garden Tour set for April 30 and May 1 are busily preparing their yards for all to see. All of our gardens are in the same recovery stages after the snow and freeze, so sunshine will be welcomed to help encourage spring blooms. And while on tour, be sure to look in the yards for several of the new plants mentioned previously. Japanese blueberry trees have been identified as privacy foliage in one garden. Encore azaleas have also been spotted in limited bloom the past couple of weeks in several of the yards. Watch for more information in this column and in the community about the gardens, ticket locations, and highlighted plants available for sale the first day of the tour. It will be a weekend outing you will not want to miss. See you on the Annual Garden Tour later this spring.