March in the Garden
It is almost Spring, and the weather is starting to shape up! After a few cold months, most of us suffered some damage in our yards, but hopefully, damaged plants will start rebounding. Within the last couple of weeks, our gardens have started to transform from tired-looking, to vibrate and fun. I assume you are feeling like me, re-energized to be out in the yard, enjoying the hard work that was done last fall. My freesia and Sparaxis are in full bloom, and it smells soooo good in the morning.
The weeds are coming! If you stay on top of them now, when they are young and not so deeply rooted, you will save yourself a lot of work later on.
Divide your perennials this month, just as growth is beginning to show. Dig up the plants with a good clump of root ball, shaking or washing off the soil so you can divide the plants with a sharp knife. Ideally, each piece you have cut apart should have some leaves and lots of roots. Plant the divisions immediately. This goes for cymbidium orchids, too. Wait until they have finished blooming then divide and repot if you need to.
Remove mulch gradually over the next couple of months from your perennial beds and recycle through your compost bins, refreshing your beds with new mulch.
March is the month we can typically start planting warm season plants and is the last month to plant cool season plants. We’re not likely to have any more frost so it is possible to plant almost everything, including seeds, perennials, natives and citrus in our gardens.
Most summer vegetables are okay to start sowing seeds now, but wait on melons for another months or so because they really need the heat. Our weather is always unpredictable, but usually we don’t see warmer weather until mid-July to August so veggies, especially squash and melons are vulnerable to leaf fungus.
This is the last month to plant natives until fall, but if you want to plant more tropicals, it is best to wait at least another month for the weather to warm up consistently.
Plant summer bulbs, staggering plantings weekly to spread the bloom out of the summer. Gladiolus, crocosimia, cannas, callas, gloriosa lilies and dahlias are all spectacular and real show-offs in the garden during the summer months.
Roses – this is the last month for bare-root roses.
It’s time to plant sunflower seeds! Mid-March is time to start seedlings to have blooms around the 4th of July. Snails and slugs LOVE to munch on the seedlings, and will take them to the ground overnight. It is preferable to start seeds in a flat with seed starter soil and let them grow until they are about 5 – 6 inches tall before planting them in the ground. There are so many great varieties of sunflowers so stagger your starts with different colors and sizes through April and May to have a summer’s worth of blooming beauties.
It’s a good time to think about your irrigation system, and make repairs or changes. We’ve had unseasonably warm weather, The recent rains so be vigilant, especially with your potted plants, especially if we have a hot spell, to make sure they don’t dry out.
Don’t let your roses dry out now or you will put them at a disadvantage for the months to come. Water your roses with 1-1/2 inches of water, twice a week.
Fertilize, fertilize, fertilize! Fertilizing your plants this month is the biggest job you will need to do. All the rain is a good thing, but a lot of nutrients get washed down so it’s important to feed our plants because, if they haven’t already started, they are getting ready to do some major growth. Nitrogen, especially, has been depleted. Consult with your favorite nursery about which fertilizers you should be using for your different plants. Make sure to water thoroughly after fertilizing. For leafy greens, water and fertilizer are so important; otherwise, your lettuces will be tough and bitter.
Exceptions are: azaleas and camellias, which are dormant while in bloom, should not be fertilized now. Feed them with an acid fertilizer (my favorite is cottonseed meal) after they finish blooming. Also, don’t fertilize California natives and drought tolerant plants because they are starting to slow down and heading into dormancy.
As orchids finish blooming, it is time to switch to a “grow” formula fertilizer.
You can begin to fertilize succulents and cactus with a light fertilizer formulated for these specialized plants.
Pest & Disease Control
The snails and slugs are celebrating this refreshing rain and warmer weather, so keep an eye out for their trails and be proactive with picking or bait (Sluggo is a favorite, safe deterrent), hunt, or trap to keep your snail and slug population down to a minimum. While you are thinking about this, take a look around your yard for hiding spots, especially behind pots, under bricks, etc.
Keep an eye on your roses for the first sign of aphids or powdery mildew. Aphids can be washed off with a good jet spray of water, but powdery mildew will need to be treated with a systemic.
As your bulbs finish their blooming, deadhead the blooms, but DON’T cut the foliage because the bulbs will be absorbing food from them. When I lived in Germany I learned to twist the foliage in knots to keep the garden tidier. Eventually, the foliage will die back and you will be able to pull gently and the whole mess will pop off easily to be disposed of in your compost.
Fuchsias bloom on new wood, so if you keep pinching them back now you’ll get more growth tips which, hopefully, will each produce flowers.
Hibiscus also blooms on new wood, so pruning the plant promotes fuller growth instead of having flowers out at the end of a leggy stalk. If you remove three or four woody branches from opposite sides of the bush every 6 weeks for the next couple of months, you will encourage new growth evenly throughout. Don’t mow it like a hedge or you’ll see a lot of damage to the larger leaves and that’s not very good looking. When you are done trimming, passersby should not be able to tell. (Do as I say, not as I do. I’m known for my dramatic hacking back of bushes. I’ve got to do a better job!).
Thin your fruit trees when the fruit reaches about ½ inch in size, (apple, pears and other stone fruit) finger pruning to a fruit about four to six inches.
Wildflowers are beginning to bloom at Anza Borrego desert. The rain hasn’t been great this year, so that doesn’t bode well for a good bloom, but a trip to the desert is always beautiful so don’t let few blooms keep you from taking a day-trip. Go to the California Parks page for Anza Borrego if you want more info. Wildflower Update
Now that the weather is warming up, we’ll be working out in our yards longer, so as always, don’t forget your sunscreen and hat!
Credit where credit is due: This monthly garden chores compilation comes from a lot of resources, past and present, including: Sunset Magazine, Union-Tribune, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Home & Garden, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, miscellaneous tidbits found on the web, in the library, from fellow gardeners, and personal experience in the garden.