March is the month of preparation. Take the time to prepare your garden for the growing season by checking soil pH and cleaning up winter debris.
March is the best time for pruning trees and shrubs, especially for fruit and shade trees.
If you have fruiting or flowering trees, bring in a few pruned branches and place them in water with flower preservative, and watch spring to begin to bloom inside as well.
Week One
• Try not to walk across your garden when the soil is wet. Treading all over it can lead to compaction, which can impede root penetration and cause poor drainage.
• Check pH of the garden soil for annuals and perennials, which should be at 6.0 to 7.0.
Also, applications of organic matter, such as leaf compost or composted manure, worked into the soil are most helpful.
Week Two
• Prepare larger houseplants too big to be repotted for the coming season of growth by top-dressing the soil, replace the missing soil with a 50-50 blend of leaf compost and potting soil. Be sure to also add the recommended dose of slow-release fertilizer around the edge of the pot.
• Cut down perennials and over-wintering ornamental grasses to within two inches of the ground and remove plant debris from flower beds. Now is a great time to divide any perennials or grasses to keep them the perfect shape and size. These plants can easily be transplanted throughout your yard!
Week Three
• Consider planting groundcovers as an alternative to grass where grass will not grow. Places in your yard that are heavy shaded, have tree root problems, or are on steep slopes are great for groundcovers.
• There’s still plenty of time to prune apples and other fruit trees. Remove dead, diseased or crossed branches before the trees break dormancy. Also, eliminate vertical branches to allow sunlight to penetrate the interior of the tree. Fruit is only produced on horizontal branches so don’t worry about minimizing your harvest. Spray your trees before they leaf out with a dormant oil spray, following its label directions. It’s an effective method of reducing insect pests organically.
Week Four
• Potatoes, onion sets, onion seedlings and peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be lightly worked. Chinese cabbage, leeks, beets, kale, mustard and turnips can also be planted now. Try growing these vegetables in a raised bed to make it easier to tend to your garden.
• Strawberries and raspberries prefer an early spring start in your garden. Both can be grown in garden beds or containers. They require well-drained soil and a sunny spot that receives at least six to eight hours of sunshine a day.
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Prune newly planted trees lightly the first few years to control the development of the scaffold or limb structure. Do this by only removing branches heading into the center of the tree or crossing others.
Never take away more than 20-25 percent of a tree’s growth as this could cause “water sprouts.”
Always prune out any winter or storm damage.
Visualize a clock face behind your tree. Prune out any low angle limbs growing between 12:00 and 1:30 or between 10:30 and 12:00. These low-angle branches are structurally weak and will eventually break under the weight of its own leaves, fruit or snow. Thin and immature branches growing at poor angles should also be pruned out.
(Editor’s Note: Ken Morgan is the owner of Robin’s Nest Floral and Garden Center in Easton, Md.)