Spring is coming. It arrives on March 20th, and there is much to do in the garden. Where to begin? Anywhere really, but remember the phrase, ‘when the soil can be worked,’ and be cautious about mucking around on frozen soil. March may be a busy month in the garden, but it is weather-dependent, after all. Do what the weather allows.
Still, it’s a busy month, so let’s get cracking.
Prune now before dormant trees and shrubs start leafing out. Prune out diseased, damaged, dead, dying, and deformed wood–that will get the process started. Do not prune your spring-flowering shrubs (weigela, azaleas, rhododendrons, etc. ). Also, skip the mophead and lacecap hydrangeas. Both spring-flowering shrubs and some types of hydrangeas bloom on old wood. If you prune them now, you prune off this season’s blooms. If you’re unsure of what plants bloom on old wood, here’s a handy list from Proven Winners. Bookmark it. For a how-to on pruning, check here.
And if you have clematis, let’s discuss pruning that vine. This is a big question for customers, and it can be pretty confusing. Like hydrangeas, it’s hard to know when to prune what clematis. Clematis are generally in groupings labeled 1,2,3 or A, B, C and pruned according to type.
Type One: Blooms early spring on old wood (last season’s wood). These are the armandii, montana, alpina. If your clematis blooms in early spring, prune right after bloom. Typically, they require damaged stem removal or thinning every few years, and that’s it.
Type Two: Generally bloom in late spring. These are the ‘Nelly Moser’’ ‘Henyrii’ and another large-flowered clematis. They bloom on old and new wood. Prune late winter or early spring when buds begin to swell. Cut just above the buds.
Type Three: Bloom late summer and only on new wood. ‘Duchess of Albany’ is an example, and these can be cut to the ground in spring, where they’ll sprout back from the crown.
Spread your mulch and get a jump on the weeds. Questions about mulch? Check here. But please, skip the whole candle-in-a-cupcake look for your trees and shrubs. Nothing could be worse for them. Two to four inches of mulch is fine in your garden beds, but avoid applying mulch around the crown of your trees. That creates a great hangout for voles and moles, diseases and pests, and a greater root girdling possibility. For an explanation on root girdling, read here.
And this year, why not think about green mulch or groundcovers? By early April, we’ll have in most of our perennials and groundcovers for you to choose from. For suggestions on groundcovers for both sun and shade, read here.
Fertilize all shrubs and trees, using Holly Tone for acid-loving plants, and Plant Tone for the rest, and a rose-specific fertilizer like Rose Tone for the roses. Follow the instructions on the bag for the best results. Remember, though, while fertilizer is a good thing, it doesn’t solve every problem. If your plants perform poorly, your soil may have problems with aeration, moisture, disease, voles, ph level, and more. Fertilization is only helpful after you’re corrected the problem. Examine those “something’s not right” plants and determine what’s wrong. The store staff will gladly help you figure it out, and don’t forget your local Extension Service. (828-255-5522 is their number.)
For vegetable gardens: plant beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, Swiss chard, turnips, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
If you don’t have the space for a vegetable garden, try container vegetables and keep them close to your house for easy picking.
Here’s a pdf chart that gives you the dates for planting your vegetables. New to veggie gardening, click here for tips on getting started.
Fruit trees, grape vines, and fruiting bushes can be planted now (and we just got a huge variety of fruit trees and bushes), as well as some shrubs, conifers, and spring blooming perennials (candy tuft, phlox and hellebores–read about hellebores here).
Sick of the onesies dominating the landscape? Need more organization and flow in the yard? Maybe this season is the time for a redo. Some thoughts on landscaping can be found here.
Side note for your planning purposes: Nurseries stock what’s currently blooming or soon to be blooming. Hellebores are currently blooming—see above for pictures I took yesterday in the garden—so we have a good selection now. We won’t have the same selection (or possibly any) in June. Just an FYI for you as you plan. Our newsletter is a good way to keep up with what’s in stock and on sale. Sign up for it here (scroll to the bottom of the page.) On our website, here’s where you’ll find our plant availability, and here’s where you’ll find our seasonal specials.
And here’s where you’ll find all the lists of suggested plants for various places.
If you didn’t lime the lawn last year, then do so this season. And, while crabgrass may be the last thing on your mind, now is the time to take care of it. Apply your pre-emergents now. Or, if the lawn needs reseeding, now is the time. If you need to reseed some areas, concentrate on that, and skip the weed and feed, but go ahead with the lime, with a gap of two weeks between lime and seed. Confused? Have loads of lawn questions? Our staff would love to help. Specifically, ask for Marshall Van Hoy, and for more information on growing lawns, read here.
7. Weeding and Transplanting
Clean out spring-blooming perennial beds, first, cutting back the old leaves on hellebores. (Yes, you do want to cut back those old leaves. You won’t hurt the blooms by doing so.) Then move on to your summer-blooming beds. Start weeding now, and transplant any trees and shrubs that need it.
Rule of thumb for your perennials: Transplant late summer and fall-blooming perennials in spring. Transplant spring and early summer blooming perennials in fall. Now is the time to transplant as perennials come up and are visible but still small. For more on how to divide and transplant perennials, read here. But there is another rule of thumb to remember: When the gardener has time. If you missed the fall division, go ahead and divide now. It won’t hurt the plant, you may have fewer blooms, but the plant needs the division to thrive.
Make this the year to know your enemy. A great place to get weed identification is Preen Weed ID.
For the lazy gardener, here are five weeds to keep and why.
Start scouting for euonymus-scale and juniper-spruce spider mites. Begin treating hybrid rhododendron for borer insects. Check out hemlock shrubs for woolly adelgid early in March, and discuss treatment options with BB Barns staff. Here’s a good description of scale.
And for fun, sign up for the Big Bug Hunt. They’ll give you alerts about pests headed your way, and you can participate in their citizen’s science project. Get the kiddos involved in this one. (And yes, gardeners think this kind of thing is fun!)
Okay, that should totally keep you busy until April.
Written by Cinthia Milner, Garden Coach, and blog writer.
BB Barns serves Asheville, all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.