As we gardeners eagerly watch the snowline receding, revealing our precious plants bit by bit, we are all biting our nails wondering how much damage has been done. And although there definitely will be damage and maybe even a few fatalities (especially for those of us who insist on pushing the “zone barriers” by planting plants that are only borderline hardy here), we can rejoice that most of our garden will survive and thrive this spring. The ability of plants to heal themselves is truly amazing, but there are a few things to be aware of as you get out and into the garden this March. Here’s a list of chores for your March Gardening Calendar.
Watering: It may seem a bit odd to be watering right now but keeping the soil evenly moist (especially for container plants) mitigates the effects of the freeze/thaw cycle we are currently experiencing. The air is also unusually dry right now, so the soil will have dried out and could potentially cause damage to plants as they come out of dormancy. Conifers can be particularly affected as they continue to transpire all winter.
Frost heave: Sometimes in cold weather, plants that have been recently planted will lift from the soil, exposing their tender roots to cold and dry air. When the soil sufficiently thaws, you should be able to just tuck them back in with gentle pressure. Add a bit of mulch over their root area, being careful to keep it away from the stems.
Pruning: Unless they pose a hazard or obstacle, broken branches on trees and shrubs are best left until temperatures are consistently warmer. Hopefully that will just be another week or two. Pruning will stimulate tender new growth which can be damaged in frost and sometimes branches that appear to be dead aren’t.
ONCE THE COLD HAS PASSED:
Annuals: If the foliage is brown and or mushy, remove it and compost or discard it. Plan on replacing your plants in spring.
Perennials: Remove brown and mushy foliage but do NOT assume that the plants are dead. Even if you are used to a plant remaining green throughout the winter, it may not be dead. Many perennials are “root hardy” which means that although the foliage and stems are dead, the plant will regrow from the root system. In spring, be lazy and procrastinate. Give the “dead” plants time to regrow from the roots before replacing them with new plant material.
Shrubs: Do nothing, this is another great time to be a lazy gardener. Resist the temptation to help and just wait for spring. See what new growth emerges and prune after you can see the true damage to your plants. If there are obviously broken branches, you can remove them, pruning to the next healthy bud or main stem, but other than that – hands off. Once things warm up, shape, shorten, and thin your summer and autumn flowering or evergreen shrubs if desired.
Roses: Usually pruning starts in mid-March (helpful timing cues are St. Patrick’s Day or when the forsythia bloom). Remove dead, diseased, or damaged canes. Cut Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and Grandifloras to 12-18 inches tall. Prune established shrub roses to 36 inches and remove any tiny twigs (ones that are smaller than a pencil in diameter).
Hydrangeas: Cut back to a pair of healthy fat buds and remove weak, spindly stems to improve the shrub’s basic framework.
Wisteria: Cut back lateral and side shoots to two or three buds, then prune again in July-August after blooming, cutting stems back to four or five buds close to the main branch.
Cane Fruits (raspberry, blackberry, loganberry): Remove old unproductive canes to make way for new ones. Cut autumn-fruiting raspberries to ground level, remove only old canes of summer-flowering ones.
Bush Fruits (gooseberry, blueberry): Should be clipped in March when buds can be seen. Cut for shape and to promote vigour.
Grapevines: Should be pruned before new growth begins. The goal is to get the younger, fruit-producing stems into a position where they will be exposed to maximum sunshine. Prune back to one or two strong swollen buds. Routine pruning in summer involves shortening excessively long shoots.
Hedges: If there are splayed branches from snow damage, these will need to be tied in. Regular pruning should also be done now, never removing more than 1/3 of plant at a time. It is better to prune less, more regularly, rather than “whacking it back”. In the long run, you will have a much nicer hedge.
Lawns: Late this month or early April are good times to apply Dolopril lime to “sweeten” (make less acidic) the soil which is better for growing grass and creates an inhospitable pH for mosses. A few weeks later, feed the lawn with a spring type lawn fertilizer. If moss is problem, use a spring fertilizer that contains a moss killer, so you can do both jobs in one easy application.
Starting seeds: Late this month and early next are good times to start seeds indoors of summer annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetables. Use a good sterilized soil like Nurseryland Starter Mix to start the seeds in a warm, bright spot. Arugula and other leafy greens, broad beans, peas, radish and turnip should be direct sown now. Some popular flowers to grow from seed that can be direct sown too are calendula, lupin, nasturtium, poppies and wildflowers. View our full collection of seeds online, HERE.
Vegetables: Rhubarb, horseradish, asparagus and artichokes are among the perennial vegetables that can be planted this month. Plant them along the perimeters of the vegetable garden so they are not in the way as you till or spade each season. We have a great selection of potatoes and onions now. Veggies starts are a bit delayed this year, but by the end of March we will have lots to choose from!
Planting and Transplanting: This is an excellent time to plant or transplant most shrubs or trees including fruit, flowering and shade trees. Fruit trees should be arriving around the end of March, as will blueberries and other small fruit plants. We have lots of perennials in stock with more arriving weekly and it’s great to get them in the ground so they have time to establish before the summer heat kicks in. We also have a fantastic selection of summer flowering bulbs, like lilies, dahlias and begonias in the store now. Remember to always mix bone meal in with the soil when planting or transplanting.
Soil Preparation: Weather permitting, this is the month to begin tilling or spading the soil. To make sure the soil is dry enough to work, test the soil by simply squeezing a handful of earth in your hand and if water oozes out, the soil is still too wet to till. Compost, like Nurseryland’s Organic Fish Soil or well rotted steer, chicken or mushroom manure (I know, who knew mushrooms pooped, right?!) are excellent additives to mix into vegetable gardens or to top dress ornamental gardens. This is also the time to turn under your cover crops.
Mason Bees: Cocoons are here and as soon as things warm up a bit, they will be ready to hatch and go to work pollinating your fruit trees! Place them where they will receive warm sun but are protected from rain. View our full collection of bee friendly products HERE.
Ponds: As spring progresses, you will need to have a look at your pond or water feature and decide if you need a full clean out this season or just a tidy up. Call us if you want to book a pond cleaning or if you have any questions and check out this link for more information to help you decide what to do next.