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Time to March into the Garden!

yellow and white flowers
Kate Prunkl

Spring is here and it’s time to March into the Garden! I love the sunny days of March after the cloudy days of February. March typically blows in like a lion with it a list of garden chores to tackle.

At Maymont, we finished the February task of pruning the shrub, hybrid T and floribunda roses. Their fresh cuts then proactively protected against the rose cane borer insect with a dab of white glue. Please note: rose cane borers ONLY infect rose bushes so there is no need to dab glue on other plants’ pruning cuts, just roses. Climbing roses are not pruned in the same fashion shrub roses are pruned, those plants were only cleaned of deadwood, damaged and rubbing canes leaving the structural pruning until after they bloom. The rose beds were weeded and the plants fertilized before mulch was applied for the season. (Click HERE to watch the VHG segment on pruning roses from Season 14)

With daffodils blooming and tulip leaves beginning to emerge, working in the border can be challenging. That said, now is the last chance to cut and remove the previous season’s debris and dead stems. Separate the woody stems from the herbaceous debris and, if not diseased, cut up the herbaceous debris to work it into the compost pile.

As winter weeds are pulled, take stock of what plants are emerging and evaluate them for their health and the space they command. Now is the time to rein in the perennials that have spread more than is needed or wanted. Carefully dig up and replant the ever wandering Boltonia, aster, daylily, yarrow, beebalm, mountain mint or any mint, lemon balm, comfrey or even raspberries, to bring the planting back to a manageable size for your site. Don’t put the leftovers in the compost pile; pass them along to others instead. Work compost into the vacant areas to enrich the soil then spread just ¼” of compost evenly across the border, vegetable garden bed or bramble planting to invigorate the organisms that reside within the soil profile which enriches the soil.

After tackling aggressive and invasive plants, dig, divide and replant summer flowering perennials such as coreopsis, butterfly weed, clumping beebalms and daylilies, coneflower and Rudbeckia. This should be done every 3 years to rejuvenate the plants.  Again, share the bounty and add compost to fill in the soil depressions before spreading more evenly over the border to a depth of ¼”.

In the vegetable garden, there is plenty to be done in March. Removing last season’s weeds and debris is the first chore of the day, if not done so already. As the garden is prepared, try something different and don’t till the whole garden. Use a no-till strategy of planting directly into untilled ground to preserve the rich microbial network in the soil. Add in the amendments at the rate recommended on the soil test results from the soil sample sent out over the winter.

The first sowing of radishes are up and growing. For a steady harvest, sow seed weekly until early May. The Swiss chard and kale are sending out fresh leaves for harvest, signaling it’s time for transplants of additional cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage to be planted. Peas are also starting to germinate and emerge; soon they will need to be thinned or risk becoming overcrowded. Take time to place a support beside the emerging seedlings for the pea tendrils to catch and grow up for optimal, yet easy-to-reach yields.

March is the perfect time to sow lettuce, beet, endive, spinach and carrot seeds, plus plant onion sets purchased at a local garden center.  It is a time to plant potatoes by nestling segments--cut to include an eye--into the bottom of dug troughs.  These troughs are slowly filled in as the potato shoot grows taller and eventually the trough becomes a mound with potatoes growing deep within.

For fruit growers, March is a busy month spent finishing up the dormant season’s pruning before buds break. Contact your local Cooperative Extension to learn how to properly do so for maximum yields. To reduce insects and diseases being transmitted from one season to another, last season’s debris and leaf litter is removed from the orchard and from the site. Another annual task in the orchard is the spraying of horticulture dormant oil on the fruit trees. This age old organic practice smothers overwintering insects and their eggs on the bark and branches. This must be done before bud break when the temperatures remain above freezing but below 70 degrees.

This is an excellent time of year to remove English ivy from the border and landscape. At Maymont we tackle ivy all winter long and into the spring with a long handled flat shovel. Always take a few minutes to sharpen the end of the blade so the tool does most of the work. The moist soil makes it easy to slide the sharpened blade of the shovel just under the soil surface of the ivy patch, severing the roots from the vines. Roll the sliced ivy back like a carpet until a section is completed. Bag the ivy for removal. Do not put the debris of this invasive plant in the compost pile. For more information on removing English ivy from trees watch this month’s Maymont Tip on March 26th.

Don’t forget the container garden in this March madness of cleaning and early spring planting. Hopefully the containers are ablaze with color from crocus, daffodil and tulip bulbs planted last fall, or better yet collard and kale. If not, take the time to clean the containers and freshen the soil by replacing half of the soil with potting mix. Compost can be used if the containers are stationary and there are no plans to move them. Sow vegetables such as Swiss chard and kale for their culinary and ornamental value. Add a few petunias and pansies for color during this cool season. Change the container to heat loving plants in May.

For me, March heralds in spring that is as sweet to my senses as the maple syrup being made in the mountains. Did you know Virginia is the southern-most state to produce maple syrup?

Happy Gardening!

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