Gardening Tips for March
By Peyton Ellas
UCCE Master Gardener
March can be rainy (if we’re lucky) or dry, sunny or cloudy, cold or warm. What’s a gardener to do? Enjoy it all! Days are getting longer, and historically the month is free from either the worst frosts, especially the second half of the month, or the worst heat waves. There is an abundance of flowers, and wildlife of all varieties are active, making the garden a lively and interesting place to be.
Creating: Although we do the majority of our planting in autumn in the Central Valley, spring is the second season of major planting. Try to plant early in the morning, just before a storm, and/or as early in the month as you are willing to risk frost. You can plant all varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers and vines in the spring. Go ahead: add some diversity and spring color to your garden!
Citrus, avocado and other frost-sensitives should be planted later in the month. When buying citrus, please be sure to buy from a reputable Tulare or Kings county nursery so we don’t spread the Asian citrus psyllid. That means saying “no” to the neighbor or family member who has an extra citrus tree for you, and that means not bringing citrus or citrus trees into the county from elsewhere in the State.
If rain is not plentiful, water your new transplants well and keep them from drying out. This attention to irrigation is one reason planting in the spring is more difficult than in the fall, although some springs are wetter than the previous fall, and maybe that will happen this season.
Annual flowers to plant now, either by seed or seedling, include: ageratum, alyssum, bachelor buttons, begonias, celosia, cleome, coleus, cosmos, dusty miller, gomphrena, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, nasturtiums, nicotiana, petunias, portulacas, salvias and verbena. You can plant seeds of zinnias indoors or in a greenhouse now, but wait for warmer weather before planting in the garden. It is also the month to start planting summer blooming bulbs such as cannas, calla lily, crocosmia, dahlia, gladiolus, liatris, lilies, ranunculus, tuberose and zephyranthes. Buy caladiums now, but wait to plant until the soil is warmer; otherwise, they will rot. Vegetables to plant now include: beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, peas, radishes and tomatoes. Garlic cloves and potatoes can also be planted. Start seeds of bell peppers, chili peppers and eggplant indoors, and then transplant them outdoors in April. Wait until April to seed okra, sweet corn, squash, melons, cucumber and beans.
While purchasing your spring plants, try to include at least one plant that increases the diversity and usefulness for pollinators and/or other wildlife. Matching a plant with your soil and climate (including water availability) ensures fewer pests and less maintenance.
Maintaining: Your pruning should be finished for the year, unless there is a safety issue. In spring, our attention turns to insect and pest issues. Hand picking large insects is easier on the garden and the ecology, although you might find it harder. Using traps like rolled up newspaper or boards is another way to catch and remove insect pests like snails, slugs and earwigs. If you must use chemicals for slugs and snails, use baits containing iron phosphate, which is not toxic to children, wildlife or pets. Baits containing metaldehyde are extremely toxic. Tolerate some damage, especially from caterpillars. Think of them as the pretty butterflies and moths they will become. They are also a major food source for birds, nesting and hatching babies now. Take some time to consider the food chain of your garden, and move away from sterile, no-damage/no-life environment. A lot of what alarms us is not really that harmful to our healthy plants. Cover greens like lettuce and chard with row cover cloth or set traps for chewing insects. Hose off aphids and white flies. Do the least toxic first. The exception to all this tolerance is with ants. Start setting baits out now, and rotate the chemical every three months. Eliminating ants will help natural controls for a whole host of soft-bodied insects. Spittle bugs are occasionally an unsightly nuisance but do little damage and don’t stay long. They look like little blobs of wet foam with a small bug in the middle. They seem to prefer rosemary and many sage varieties. The foam protects babies from birds, but populations rarely grow large and the “spittle” doesn’t stay long.
March is also a good month to fertilize roses. Use a specialty plant food, and add a handful of Epson salt on each plant along with the fertilizer before watering in thoroughly. You can also fertilize non-native perennials that are emerging from dormancy and established citrus trees. Your California native plants should not be fertilized.
If you haven’t already done so, March is the month to check your irrigation systems and repair any damage and make any improvements. Even fixing small leaks can have a large impact on water waste. Also, if you didn’t do it in the fall, add mulch and/or compost to the garden beds. Preparing now for summer will ensure your garden stays healthy and easy to maintain.
The UCCE Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions on Saturday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Tulare County Museum’s Main Street Jamboree at Mooney Grove Park; or every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Farmer’s Market in the Visalia Sears parking lot.
To contact the Tulare/Kings Master Gardeners, call 559-684-3325, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 4437 S. Laspina St., Ste. B, Tulare, CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.