March ~ Seasonal Gardening Tasks & Tips

Compiled by Lucretia Schanfarber

With less than two weeks to Spring Equinox we are all going a little squirrely. We’re ready for warmer temperatures and more sunshine. But every day I remind myself to be patient. Too often, I have planted too early.

The Lion & the Lamb
March can be a month of weather extremes. One day hot, the next day a snowy blizzard. And that is exactly why folklore says “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Well, let’s hope that lamb of milder and warmer weather is coming soon and we can get our starts tucked into a bed in the garden.

Although we can’t depend on the weather, we can do all kinds of timely garden-related stuff. Here’s a list of general tasks and helpful tips related to March that I’ve complied from a variety of dependable sources. But first…

Meet Charles Dowding & his Revolutionary “No Dig” Style of Gardening!

I have watched nearly all his videos and have decided it’s truly the best thing we can do for our soil. Check him out here.

About No-Dig Gardening: Charles Dowding Busts the Myths

• “There is no need to dig or double dig first, because you damage structure and waste time – very few soils are ‘compacted’ and any soil growing strong weeds is in decent condition”

• “There is no need to wait between applying compost and planting.”

• “There is no need to dig out/remove perennial weeds before mulching, better not to damage the soil or stimulate weed growth.”

• “There is no need for black polythene except sometimes in the first year to eradicate many perennial weeds very easily, compared to using cardboard with all the overlaps.”

• “It is often better to grow vegetables than green manures.”

• “Compost is a soil feed and cover through winter, so there is no need for green manures, and often one is cropping veg until late autumn/winter.”

• “Nutrients do not leach from compost.”

• “The approach is to feed soil life, and everything follows from that: compost is way more than NPK/just nutrients, because it’s full of life and gives life.”

Tips & Tasks from Linda Gilkeson
Linda is one of my favourite garden gurus. I absolutely love her relaxed yet focused style of gardening.  Linda is a regular speaker and workshop presenter at our Garden Club.

Here is a reformatted, web-friendly version of Linda’s recent March tips as found on her website http://www.lindagilkeson.ca.  I have also inserted a few comments along the way.

Linda Gilkeson Says:
This chilly weather is certainly dragging on, but if you have good growing conditions for seedlings indoors, it should cheer you up to be starting seeds.

Leek starts

I wait until now to sow:
• Leeks
• Onions
• Celeriac
• Celery

I have found they grow into plants that are just as productive as ones started earlier in February.

Tomato starts

You can also now sow:
• Peppers
• Eggplants
• Tomatoes ( if you have space to move them into larger pots later or if they will be planted in a greenhouse)

About Tomatoes
Tomato seeds grow quickly so you can start them in mid-March and still have nice-sized plants to set outdoors in mid-May.

Zucchini starts

About Zucchini
If you are eager to harvest the earliest possible zucchini, start a couple of seeds in early March, but be prepared to move them into 1 gallon pots after a few weeks to keep them growing until they can be planted out in May. As to when in May that might be, it depends on the weather…and who know at this point?

REMEMBER! There is no advantage to starting seedlings too early if they have to sit in their pots too long, becoming root-bound while waiting for the soil to warm up. An older, but stressed, plant will never produce as well as a younger, later-sown plant that grew quickly without suffering a check in growth.

Growing Healthy Seedlings Requires:
• Bright light
• Warmth
• Good soil

Linda’s Seedling Tips:
1. Light: During the germination period vegetable seeds don’t need light—just keep them somewhere really warm.

Once germinated & poking up, indoor seedlings need very bright light, such as:
• Under grow lights or
• In a sun room or
• Bay window with sun exposure all day.

There is barely enough light to grow vegetable starts on the best south facing windowsill, but you can get away with it for a few weeks if the room is fairly cool.

People can usually find a warm place to germinate seeds since light is not necessary, but it can be challenging to provide enough light for plants.

Warning: When they don’t have enough light, especially in warm conditions, seedlings grow long, weak stems and lean toward the light.

Sunblaster lights

Lu’s Note: Check out the info on a compact grow light setup using a SunBlaster T5 fluorescent tube available locally at the Campbell River Garden Centre.  Sunblasters are also available through West Coast Seeds.

2. Warmth – Optimum germination temperatures are 21-30C [70-86F]. Even peas germinate best at 24C [75F]. Seeds can germinate in cooler conditions, but it takes longer and there is a greater risk of root diseases.

• Find a warm spot in a kitchen or bathroom for seed trays until they germinate or invest in a seed tray heating mat for this part of the job.
• As soon as the tiniest green shoot tips poke through, however, take the seedlings off of the heat mat and move them to cooler conditions (18-20C/64-68F) under the brightest possible light.

Seedlings started on windowsills (and even those under grow lights) will be sturdier if you:
• Move them into a cold frame or greenhouse on sunny days (move them back indoors before evening)
• Take care to ventilate a cold frame or greenhouse enough to keep temperatures from getting much above 21C [70F].
• When it is warm enough.. set them outdoors in direct sunshine for a few hours.
• Continue to bring them indoors at night.

About Soil Mixes
Make sure the label on a commercial mix states that it is a planting mix with nutrients in it for growing seedlings.  Some ‘potting mixes’ do not have available nutrients and are intended for plants grown with regular applications of liquid fertilizer. Seedlings started in such mixes stop growing as soon as they run out of the food stored in the seeds, which is almost immediately for small seeds.

About Watering:
• Don’t over-water seedlings
• Soak the soil when the seeds are planted and don’t water again until the soil begins to dry slightly

Once seeds have germinated…
• Water them well enough to ensure the soil is moist in the root zone, not just on the soil surface.
• Water seedling flats from the bottom by setting them in a sink or larger tray of water.
• Leave them until the root zone has soaked up water, but not until the soil surface gets soggy.

Caution: Be cautious about watering from above. If green algae or molds grow on the soil it is a sign that it is being over-watered.

That’s it from Linda UNTIL NEXT TIME!

 

So… When Can We Start Planting Outside?

We need to wait until our soil has warmed and isn’t too wet to direct sow. Watch maple trees to know when soil is warm enough for planting. When leaves start to emerge, soil should be good to go!

Claytonia

Hardy veggies we can plant NOW (depending on the weather & soil!) These are a few safe best for direct sowing now…
• Asian Greens
• Arugula
• Broad beans
• Claytonia aka Miner’s lettuce
• Collards
• Corn salad
• Cress
• Garlic
• Kale
• Mustard
• Parsnips
• Peas
• Radish

Asparagus starts

We Can Start these veggies indoors now!
• Asparagus
• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage
• Cauliflower
• Celery/Celeriac
• Fennel
• Kohlrabi
• Leeks
• Lettuces
• Onions
• Parsley
• Peppers
• Spinach
• Tomatoes

Potato starts

As weather permits, we can also plant into the soil:
• Bare-root asparagus
• Rhubarb
• Onion sets
• Leeks starts
• Shallots
• Potatoes

Many seed companies provide detailed info and seed planting charts. Check out these great sources of seeds and planting info:
https://www.westcoastseeds.com/pages/regional-planting-charts
https://www.saltspringseeds.com/

Rhubarb starts

NOW (Spring) is the Time to Divide Your Rhubarb!
This easy to grow edible perennial needs little attention and is a truly dependable garden favourite for both its beauty and its flavour. But if it’s not as prolific and hearty as in years past, the root is likely getting old and tough. It’s time to divide that root and stimulate healthier growth!

Here’s how:

• Dig around the root clump (6 inches deep).
• Lift the whole plant from the ground.
• Divide the root ball into sections containing one to three buds.
• The more buds per section, the bigger the divided plant will be.
• Cut down through the crown between the buds.
• Make sure you get plenty of roots.
• Old roots are tough & you might need a hatchet.
• For a larger plant, replant small root divisions with one bud on them in one hole. Plant the new divisions immediately so they do not dry out.
• Select a planting site in full sun with a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.5.
• If your soil is heavy and clayey, create a 4-6-inch raised bed to increase drainage.
• Rhubarb is a heavy feed so give it lots of compost. Rhubarb thrives on an occasional feeding of human urine (diluted 1:10) poured on the soil where it’s planted.
• Set the plants 2-3 feet apart in rows 3-5 feet apart.
• Plant the new crowns 6 inches deep so the buds are just beneath the surface.
• Tamp around the crowns.
• Water well.
• Mulch around the plants with 3 inches of straw or composted wood chips.

Note: To extend the growing season of rhubarb break off the big flower/seed pod as it forms.

TIP: If you can’t plant the divisions immediately, put the root pieces into a plastic bag and store them in the fridge until planted. Prior to transplanting, soak the refrigerated sections in room temperature water over night to re-hydrate them.

Dahlia blooms

Eileen MacKay’s Tips for Dividing Dahlia & Begonia Tubers
Eileen is one of our favourite local sources of gardening advice. She started our garden club about 20 years ago.

Eileen says:
With this prolonged cold spell and frozen ground, for those itching to plant something think of your dahlias and begonias.
Good news! Deer don’t eat dahlias unless they are desperate.

If you did not divide your dahlias when you lifted them in the fall, you can do it now.

Before you begin…

• Sterilize the tools you are going to use to prevent spreading bacterial and fungal diseases between plants.
• I find a small jar with rubbing alcohol works well. It needs to be just big enough to cover the cutting blades.

Dahlia tubers in box

About Dividing Dahlias

Take the dahlias out of their storage box and do the following:
1. Check each plant for any sign of mold, disease, or mushy tubers. This may be on tubers you damaged when you lifted them. Cut these out with a knife or secateurs.
2. Check around the crown where the stems come out. Look for an eye which is similar to a potato eye. They are located where the stem is attached to the tuber. You must have an eye on each tuber or group of tubers you remove as the eye gives rise to this year’s flower stem.
3. Cut tubers apart with at least one stem per group of tubers. You can have one tuber with an eye which will give you one flower stalk or a few tubers with one eye between them. A few tubers in each division will give bigger and faster growing stems as there is more stored food available.
4. To get a head start on the season, pot them up now and water lightly. Plant out once soil has warmed up – mid April if we are lucky – in the garden with some fertilizer mixed into the hole.
5. If you have a very large clump of tubers, don’t be afraid to get in there and cut it apart. You will end up with some tubers with no stem attached which can be discarded but you
6. Last, but not least, label, including name if you know it, colour and height. Masking tape works well either on the tuber if you are not potting up yet or on the edge of the pot.

Dahlias are very forgiving plants so don’t be afraid of dividing them.

About Dividing Begonias

Begonias can also be divided up now before planting. Here’s how:
• Eyes are on the top of the tuber, the dish shaped area.
• You can simply cut up a large tuber with one or more eyes per piece.
• Let the cut surface dry out before potting up.
• Press the tuber into its prepared pot, leaving the top uncovered.
• Water lightly and place in a warm well-lit area.

Remember! Our April Plant Sale is on Saturday April 13 and we’d love to have any dahlias and other plants you don’t have room for.

Thanks for those great tips, Eileen!

A Few General Tips About Dividing Plants

Divide & Conquer – You can start now to plan your plant divisions but wait until the ground warms up and your plants are breaking through the ground to actually do the digging and dividing.

What About Timing? The rule of thumb for timing for plant dividing is simply this:
• Divide perennials that flower after mid June in the early spring.
• Divide perennials that flower between early spring and mid June in early fall.

There are important exceptions to this rule, however! Some plants are much happier being divided in the late summer and early fall including these garden favourites:
• Peonies – divide only in the fall
• Lilies – divide mid to late fall.
• Oriental Poppies – divide in late July or August when dormant
• Iris – after flowering in July or August

Rabbiting Spade

15 Basic Steps for Dividing Perennial Plants

1. Once your plant shows signs of growth in the spring (an inch or two of new shoots is fine), dig up the entire clump.
2. Get as many thick roots as possible.
3. Dig about 4 inches or so beyond the perimeter of where the shoots arise.
4. A narrow, long spade called a “rabbiting spade” is a handy tool for this, especially in a closely planted border.
5. Dig all the way around, then pry the clump out of the ground. Put down a tarp or put a cardboard box close by and move your clump there.
6. (Some gardeners pick up the clump and drop it a few times, to knock off any loose soil. Some also blast off the soil with a strong jet of water but I don’t do either.)
7. Look closely at your clump, parting the shoots to find a natural point where the clump can be easily separated.
8. If not clearly evident, cut directly down the centre with your knife, from top to bottom.
9. Using a knife ( a bread knife from the kitchen works well for large clumps; a paring knife, steak knife or garden knife works for small clumps.
10. After the clump is split in two, look at each half to see if there is a sensible spot to cut again. Split each of these into two.
11. Depending on how large the clump originally was, you can keep dividing if you want.
12. Try and keep each divided section about the diameter of your fist or larger.
13. Each piece should have both green above-ground shoots as well as roots below.
14. The best and most vigorous pieces are usually the ones outside of the original clump because their roots are less woody and can recover more quickly, giving you strong and healthy new plants.
15. Discard old and woody roots from the middle & add them to your compost pile.

Division Planting Tips:
• Replant your divisions right away.
• Be sure that you don’t let the roots dry out.
• Choose a place in your garden that you know suits the plant.
• Consider shade, soil type, drainage, etc.
• Plant your divisions at about the same depth they were growing when you dug them.
• Press them in firmly to make sure the roots are in full contact with the soil.
• I top-dress all my transplants with a handful of organic alfalfa pellets..
• Water well. Don’t let them dry out. Water weekly as needed.

Reminder: Pot up a few to contribute to the next Garden Club Plant Sale!

 

Echinacea

Summer & Fall-blooming Plants that like to be divided in Spring include:
• Purple coneflowers (Echinacea)
• Shasta daisies
• Asters
• Garden mums
• Hostas
• Sedum

7 Good Reasons to Divide Your Crowded Perennials
1. To pot up and gift to your local Garden Club’s Spring Plant Sale, of course!
2. Dividing re-invigorates many perennials. The classic “doughnut” shape with an empty hole in the centre is a sure sign that a perennial clump needs attention.
3. Overcrowded perennials tend to have fewer and/or smaller flowers.
4. Improves the health of your plants & promotes more blooms.
5. Dividing vigorous plants such as gooseneck loosestrife, plume poppy, and obedient plant helps keep them in check.
6. When perennial weeds are taking over a clump of perennials, it helps to dig up the entire clump and divide it, picking out all the weed roots.
7. Save money! You’ll end up with more plants of the same variety to add to other places in the garden or for plant sales and trading.

More Garden Tasks for March

Begin Slug Patrol – As soon as some plants (especially bulbs) poke through soil, slugs start feeding. Slugs are most active during mild, rainy weather.

Good organic slug control methods include:
• Handpicking
• Habitat modification
• Traps
• Copper barriers
• Commercial baits based on iron sulfate

Do coffee grounds repel slugs? According to a study published in Nature (June 2001), coffee grounds scattered on top of the soil will deter slugs..

Fuchsia bloom

Wake Up Your Fuchsias – Awaken overwintered fuchsias by shifting them from darkness to a spot near a south-facing or other sunny window. Don’t move the plants outdoors until all danger of frost has passed.

Ok, that’s about enough for us all to deal with for now. Enjoy every drop of sunshine you can get. Now go outside & get dirty!

Happy Gardening,

Lu

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