March garden chores. Spring is coming. It arrives on March 20th, and there are many garden chores on March’s list. 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. Do what the weather allows.
1. Pruning; First Up for Garden Chores This Month
Prune now before dormant trees and shrubs start leafing out. Prune out diseased, damaged, dead, dying, and deformed wood–that will begin the process. 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 what plants bloom on old wood, here’s a handy list from Proven Winners. Bookmark it. Read here for a how-to on Pruning Trees and Shrubs and Pruning Calendar.
If you have clematis, let’s discuss pruning it. This is a big question for customers and can be very 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: Bloom’s 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 blooms in late spring. 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.
Questions about mulch? Reach this blog: Mulching The Garden, But please, skip the whole candle-in-a-cupcake look for your trees and shrubs. Nothing could be worse for them. Spread your mulch and get a jump on the weeds. Two to four inches of mulch is acceptable in your garden beds, but avoid applying mulch around the crown of your trees. That creates a perfect hangout for voles and moles, diseases and pests, and a greater root girdling possibility. For an explanation of root girdling, read here.
And this year, why not think about green mulch or groundcovers? By early April, we’ll have most of our perennials and groundcovers for you to choose from. For suggestions on groundcovers for both sun and shade, read here.
3. Fertilize: March’s garden chores are heavy on fertilizing.
Fertilize all shrubs and trees, using Holly Tone for acid-loving plants, 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 good, it doesn’t solve every problem. If your plants perform poorly, the soil may have aeration, moisture, disease, voles, ph level, etc. Examine those “something’s not right” plants and determine what’s wrong. Fertilization is only helpful after you’re corrected the problem. The store staff will gladly help you figure it out, and don’t forget your local Extension Service.
4. Planting: This is always on my garden chores list, but now is an excellent time to start.
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 link to planting dates for annual vegetables in WNC and Columbia. If you are new to veggie gardening, click here for tips.
Fruit trees, grapevines, and fruiting bushes are planted now—shrubs, conifers, and spring-blooming perennials (candytuft, phlox, and hellebores). Read about hellebores here).
5. Planning: Always reevaluate the overall garden as time and surroundings change a lot in the garden, affecting the growing plants.
Sick of the onesies dominating the landscape? Need more organization and flow in the yard? Maybe this season is the time for a redo. Want some landscaping help? Here’s B.B. Barns Landscape’s contact information 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 an excellent way to keep up with what’s in stock and on sale. Sign up for it here (scroll to the bottom of the page.)
If you didn’t lime the lawn last year, 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 only a few areas need reseeding, concentrate on that, 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 more information on growing lawns: Lawn Care 101
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.
Guideline for transplanting: Transplant in 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 another rule 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.
8. Pests: Seriously, get a head start.
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 alert you about pests headed your way, and you can participate in their citizen’s science project. (And yes, gardeners think this kind of thing is fun!) Get the kiddos involved in this one.
Okay, that should keep you busy until April. Please reach out with all your questions!
Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant and blog writer.
BB Barns serves Asheville, Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.