Abby’s Yard in March
Winter’s long wait is almost over and spring is busting out all over. It is time to get busy outdoors! As the weather begins to warm, starting seeds, planting, dividing, fertilizing, weeding and pest control top the “To-Do” list for March in the Pacific Northwest.
Wait to dig until after soil has warmed and is not too wet. Use our native maple trees as your guide to know when soil is warm enough for planting. When leaves start to emerge, soil should be good to go. Take advantage of breaks in the wet weather to weed, trim and till. March is the month to get your spring and summer gardening off to a good start.
Remember that dates for sowing and planting outside are general recommendations based on the frost dates. You should always consult instructions on your seed packets and adjust for your local climate and weather if necessary. The USDA, Agriculture Research Service, has developed a new “Plant Hardiness” guide for the United States. Granite Falls is in Zone “8b“with our lowest temperatures between 15-20 degrees. See their interactive website for more information.
Starting Seeds: It is time to start many flowers and vegetables from seed. Start the seeds indoors, in your home, a greenhouse, in a sun window or on a sun porch or a cold frame. By starting seeds in March you will get a thirty to sixty day jump on the gardening season. You will have young starter plants acclimated to our area to set-out when the weather warms later this spring and all danger of frost has passed.
Cool-season vegetables grow best when temperatures range between 40 degrees F and 75 degrees F. In most areas, they can be planted two to four weeks before the last spring frost. Watch for the night time temperatures to be consistently above 40 degrees before planting. Cool-season vegetables are unique in that their seeds germinate best in cool soil. Avoid planting in soggy soil that is still full of moisture from snow or spring rains. Wait until the soil dries and can be cultivated.
- At a soil temperature of 40 degrees F, plant arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuces, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radishes, and spinach;
- At a soil temperature of 50 degrees F, plant Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips;
- At a soil temperature of 60 degrees F, plant beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower;
- Other cool-season vegetables include asparagus, celery, collards, kohlrabi, rhubarb, and rutabagas.
Planting: Perennial vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish and artichokes can be planted right now. You can also plant onion sets and potatoes if the soil is not soggy and drains well. Raised beds are the best choice to ensure proper drainage.
Potatoes are an easy and fun crop to grow. Harvesting is like an Easter Egg hunt! We are still using our Yukon Gold potatoes harvested in the summer. Potatoes will grow as soon as the soil reaches 45 degrees F. They can usually be planted two to three weeks before the average last frost date for our zone. Potato plants will survive a light frost but a hard freeze will kill the plant back to the ground. Late March to early May is a good window to plant potatoes in the Pacific Northwest.
Have you heard about “chitting” potatoes? It was introduced to me by my gardening buddy, Carol Panagos. The term “chitting” means pre-sprouting your seed potatoes, before planting. Put the seed potatoes into a box where they can be supported in an upright position – cardboard egg boxes are ideal for this – and place them indoors into a light and airy position. During this time they will require a cool temperature of a little over 50 degrees F. Position them so that the end which has the most eyes (dormant sprouts) are uppermost and the ‘stalk’ end where they were severed from the parent plant is at the bottom. The new sprouts will form in a couple of weeks. It is a good practice to remove the weaker sprouts leaving four of the strongest to continue. As a general rule of thumb it will normally take about six weeks to chit a batch of potatoes.
You can also plant potatoes whole or in pieces without the “chitting” process. The advantage of cutting larger potatoes is your seed will go further and likely produce a higher overall yield. If you do choose to cut your larger potatoes, make sure and leave at least two “eyes” for every piece. Use a clean, sharp knife to cut the potato into several large pieces shortly before planting. Leaving the cut pieces in a cool and humid space for two days will give them enough time to callous before planting. The callous will help prevent infection from soil contact.
Divide Perennials: Early spring is the ideal time to divide crowded clumps of summer and fall blooming perennials. This includes purple cone flowers, Shasta daisies, asters, and garden mums.
Planting and Transplanting: March is a good time to plant new fruit trees, roses, berries, and other deciduous plants. Nurseries and garden centers have their finest and most complete selection of new plants at this time, so you get the pick-of-the-crop. Look for bare-root and potted perennials at garden centers. If you want to add early-spring perennials, such as creeping phlox, purchase plants while they’re in bloom to ensure you’re getting the color you want.
Begin planting gladiola and begonia bulbs this month. If you’re a big glad fan and want a season-long show, tuck bulbs into soil every two weeks until mid-July, and then sit back and enjoy the floral fireworks all summer.
Transplanting should be done as soon as possible, because many plants are already beginning to start their spring growth. If you transplant this month, make sure you have a good amount of soil around the root ball to prevent shock.
Strawberries: March is a good month to clean-up strawberries. Strawberries send out runners to create a patch. By this time, new members of the patch have developed roots and are ready to be separated from mother plants. I trim all the runners and old leaves off to clean up my beds and stimulate individual plant growth. Strawberries are very hardy and easy to transplant.
Last year I transplanted five strawberries into the center of a raised bed to hold them for later placement. This month I had enough new plants from those five to fill two raised beds!
Roses: Early in the month, remove old, thin, and unproductive rose canes. Cut back bush roses to 12-18 inches tall and shrub roses to three feet. You should also thin climbing roses if the canes are thick and tangled.
- Bulbs: As new shoots appear, scratch bulb fertilizer into soil around plants. This feeding ensures a strong show next year.
- Landscape plants: Use a complete, all-purpose product for trees and shrubs. Apply before growth begins.
- Rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias: Choose a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants.
- Berries: Feed plants with an all-purpose fertilizer. You can also heap compost around canes. Do not feed strawberry plants until after harvest in June.
Lawns: Most lawns will need a spring feeding. If moss is a problem, a combination fertilizer and moss killer can be applied, to do both jobs in one easy application. For lawns that typically don’t have a moss issue, choose a spring fertilizer that contains iron. The iron will eliminate any moss that invaded the lawn over winter. If thatching or liming needs to be done, do those jobs first. Reseeding (over-seeding) can be done as the last step, after the lawn has been fertilized.
Weeding: Probably one of the most over-looked tasks is weeding. Weeding really needs to be accomplished before they have a chance to flower and go to seed. Remember once the weeds go to seed you can be fighting that weed seed for up to seven years or more. And, it is not unusual for some types of weeds to produce up to ten thousand or more seeds per plant.
Begin Slug Patrol: As soon as bulbs begin to poke through soil, slugs start feeding. To get a jump on controlling these voracious chewers, put out slug bait when you see bulb shoots. Slugs are most active during mild, rainy weather.
Go To A Garden Show ! Sign up for Gardening Class class or a Garden Seminar!
1. Snohomish County’s Home & Garden Showcase, March 7- 9, 2014 at Comcast Arena. See website.
2. Check out the long list of WSU Snohomish County Extension classes at their website.
- Drip Irrigation for Home Gardeners
- Successfully Grow Tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest
- Hard Cider Making
- Grafting Fruit Trees
3. McDaniel’s Do it Center in Snohomish – Lawn and Garden Saturday Seminars. These start at 10:00 AM. Contact Sarah at 360 568-1544 if you have questions.
- March 22 – Moss Control Seminar
- April 19 – Beneficial Bug Seminar
- May 3 – Potting Day
- May 17 – Northwest Bird Seminar