Rockies

What to do in your garden in March
Marcia Tatroe

PLANTING

Set out cold-hardy color. Brighten up the garden with English primroses and pansies. Before planting, harden off these greenhouse-grown flowers by placing them outdoors in a shady area for a few hours a day and gradually increasing their exposure to sunlight over a week; bring them indoors at night. After planting, cover plants with an old sheet or frost blanket if freezing temperatures are forecast.

Sow cool-season vegetables. As soon as the soil can be worked, till in several inches of compost or well-rotted manure. Then plant seeds of beets, carrots, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce and other salad greens, onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips. Keep soil evenly moist and mulch with 2 inches of pine needles or straw. As the plants grow taller, add more mulch, until it is 4 to 6 inches deep. To protect crops from frost and insects, cover them with floating row covers. (Remove covers from peas when blossoms appear so bees can pollinate them.)

Sow hardy annuals. Broadcast seeds of hardy annuals directly onto bare soil, then rake lightly to cover. Among the flowers whose seeds germinate well in cold, moist soil are annual phlox (P. drummondii), bachelor's button, calendula, California poppy, clarkia, Johnny-jump-up, larkspur, love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), moss rose, Shirley poppy, snapdragon, sweet alyssum, and wallflower. Broadcast seeds directly onto bare soil, then rake lightly to cover.

Start a strawberry patch. Good choices for the Rocky Mountain region include everbearing varieties such as 'Fort Laramie' and 'Ogallala' and June-bearing types like 'Dunlap', 'Honeoye', and 'Trumpeter'. Choose a site in full sun and amend the soil with an all-purpose fertilizer and 4 inches of compost or well-rotted manure. Place strawberries 1 foot apart in rows or in a block. After planting, mulch with several inches of pine needles or straw.

MAINTENANCE

Protect plants from damping off. Seedlings started indoors in pots are susceptible to damping off, a fungal disease that causes the plants to suddenly wilt and die. There is no cure, but you can guard against the disease by starting seeds in sterile potting mix. As soon as the seeds germinate, remove plastic wrap or any other cover that you've placed over the soil. To water, place pots in a shallow container so moisture is wicked up from the bottom. Let the soil surface dry out slightly between waterings.

Relocate wayward seedlings. Bachelor's buttons, larkspur, poppies, and snapdragons often pop up where you don't want them. These seedlings are easily moved to more desirable locations. When plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, dig them up, roots and all, with a fist-size clump of soil and replant immediately.

Transplant shrubs. Move shrubs or roses now while they are dormant. Prune large shrubs back to a manageable size, then dig up as large a rootball as is practical. Replant immediately and water thoroughly to keep the rootball moist until new growth starts.