March Gardening Advice for Manchester – 2016
by Jennifer Fairfield
Editor’s Note: Manchester resident, Jennifer Fairfield, owns and operates the Garden Mill in Chelsea, serves on the Manchester Community Garden Committee, and volunteers with the school gardens at Klager and the MECC.
That taste of spring over the weekend really got me longing to get gardening! And I was seeing some signs of spring even before that – my daffodils were starting to stick their heads up last week, right before the snow covered them up. No fear, though. They’ll be back poking their heads up again soon. The daffodil is, after all, the “official” flower of March. And I have hope that this spring is going to be a much better one than last year’s. We never really seemed to get spring last year, which made getting my garden going a bit of a challenge. I think the groundhog got it right this year though, and we’re going to have an early spring. One can always hope!
There are all kinds of things you can and should be doing for your garden and yard in March, both inside and out.
- Take a walk around your yard and look for damage done to trees and shrubs by the weather. The high winds the week before, and the heavy, wet snow we had last week had the potential to wreak havoc. Prune off any damage you find.
- March is a transition month, where the weather is concerned. The snow we tend to get at this time is generally the wet, heavy stuff we saw last week, because the temperatures are often hovering right around the freezing mark. Keep in mind – heavy snow can weigh down and potentially break branches. And though it’s best to promptly remove snow to help prevent damage, it’s easy to do more harm than good, if you’re not careful. Use a broom, and gentle upward motions to sweep away the snow. Banging on frozen branches to shake off snow can break them. If we get ice, the best thing to do is nothing, as trying to remove ice from your trees can often cause more harm than good.
- Most other pruning of trees and shrubs should be done no later than mid-month, while they are still dormant, since pruning later can make them vulnerable to insects and disease that are active in warm weather. There are some trees and shrubs that will do better being pruned later in the year, mostly those that flower early (such as forsythia and lilacs), but everything else should be done while it’s still below freezing most days. Better Homes and Gardens has good information on pruning all kinds of things here.
- While you’re pruning your trees and shrubs, why not bring spring indoors early by forcing branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spirea, and other flowering shrubs and trees. Find out how from this article from Perdue University. It not only tells you how, but also gives a comprehensive list of what can be forced.
- On a warmer day (just because it’s nicer to be out when it’s warm!) check perennials to make sure they have not been pushed out of the ground by frost heave. If they have, gently press them back down to prevent damage to the roots and plant. Follow up with a good layer of mulch to protect from future thaw and re-freeze cycles that are bound to happen this month.
- Stay off the lawn and out of garden beds as much as possible while the ground is wet. Wet soil is easily compacted by walking on it at this time, and compacted soil is very difficult for anything to grow in.
- Doing a soil test later this month can help you know what your plants or grass need before you start adding fertilizers. We carry a very good at-home test kit at the store, or you can send away for a more comprehensive test kit from the MSU extension.
- There’s tradition that says Saint Patrick’s Day is the time to plant peas, but I have yet to see a Michigan Saint Patty’s Day that is warm enough for that. Maybe by the end of the month, though.
- If you haven’t planned your garden yet, don’t delay any longer! Waiting too long may mean you miss out on something you really want, because the early bird gardeners have already snapped it up.
- After you’ve sorted through your old seeds, consider donating any seeds you aren’t going to plant that are 5 years old or less to the Manchester Seed Library located in the Manchester District Library. Tape up any partially used packets and if the year isn’t printed on the package, write the year they were grown for on the back. Take a look through all of the donated packets while you are there and feel free to take anything you will grow!
- Ladies and gentlemen, start your seeds! Parsley should be started now – it’s a bit slow to germinate, so needs a little extra time to be ready for planting outdoors. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and most other herbs should be started in mid-month, though basil can be started at the end of the month, or in early April. Start tomatoes and peppers around the end of the month or the first part of April so that they will be mature enough to be planted outdoors by Memorial Day, which is always my target date for getting those in the garden. If you want to get yours in your garden sooner than that, start your seeds earlier, but realize that these warm-weather loving plants won’t do well if it’s too cold outside when they are planted out.
- March is also a good time to get flowers started, if you are growing your own. I like to grow some of my own, simply because I can get varieties that I might not be able to find in nurseries, and it’s less expensive. Start Zinnias early in the month, and amaranth, catmint, cleome, Echinacea, gaillardia, nigella, stock, and thunbergia by mid- to late-March.
- Begin fertilizing indoor plants that you were letting rest over the winter. Also, now is a great time to re-pot any of your indoor plants that need it – before you get so involved with everything that needs to be done outdoors that you can’t get to them. If some of your plants are getting really big, split them into a few smaller ones so that you don’t have one huge plant that you can’t move! If you don’t have room for all those little ones, give them away as gifts!
- If you stored tender bulbs over the winter, check them now and discard any that are soft, damaged or diseased.
- If you potted bulbs for forcing last fall, check their progress. When your bulbs get a few inches of growth, it’s time to move them into a cool (60 degrees) sunny spot, but not in direct sunlight. Once they have flowered, move them into a warmer spot, but keep them out of direct sunlight to help the blooms last longer. For even longer lasting blooms, provide cooler nighttime temperatures.
For the birds:
- Continue feeding the birds this month. By now, any seeds left on plants from last year have long since been consumed, and it’s still too cold for much insect activity, so they are expending lots of energy searching for food sources. Keeping your feeders full helps them save that energy for keeping warm during the cold days and nights that are still ahead. It also can help keep the birds around your yard as it warms up, when they will start eating the insects that emerge and start helping themselves to your plants.
- Clean out nest boxes, or put up new ones – or both. Many birds will begin to scout out nesting sites this month, so cleaning out existing houses or putting up new ones now will encourage them to take up residence at your home. They’ll repay you for the hospitality by feeding their young with insects from your yard this spring!