What to do in your garden in March

Marcia Tatroe,  – January 25, 2006


• Digital diary. Use a digital camera to keep track of where bulbs are planted and what blooms throughout the growing season. A photo record helps you decide what gaps need filling, where -color schemes failed, where shade patterns change during the season, and what modifications would improve your garden’s overall design. It also gives you a chance to relive the successes long after flowers fade.


 California poppies. Scatter seeds wherever you want drought-resistant color. Brilliant orange or yellow varieties are best known, but these easy-care wildflowers also come in other striking colors. Look for ‘Apricot Chiffon’ (double creamy yellow flowers with coral-orange edges), ‘Buttermilk’ (fluted pale yellow petals), ‘Champagne & Roses’ (fluted pink or rose petals), ‘Ivory Castle’ (single white flowers), ‘Purple Gleam’ (single lilac purple flowers), and ‘Red Chief’ (single crimson flowers with dark centers). Seeds are available from Territorial Seed Company (800/626-0866) or Thompson & Morgan (800/274-7333).

• Spinach. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by sowing deep green spinach. Before planting, till in several inches of compost or well-rotted manure and an organic source of nitrogen, such as blood meal or fishmeal. Sow the seeds, then water and cover the bed with a floating row cover. Keep the soil consistently moist. You can start harvesting individual leaves when they’re 3 to 4 inches tall. Good varie-ties for early spring sowing include ‘America’, ‘Bloomsdale’, and ‘Viroflay’. All are available from Seeds of Change (888/762-7333).


• Control clover mites. These pests suck the liquid from turfgrass, causing a silvery cast often misdiagnosed as winterkill. Drought-affected lawns are most prone to infestation, especially on south- and west-facing slopes where reflected heat from buildings and sidewalks dry them out, or where shrub and tree roots compete for moisture. To avoid serious mite damage, water these areas more frequently than usual early in the growing season.

• Cut back grasses and shrubs. When new growth appears at the base of ornamental grasses, it’s time to give them a spring haircut. Wrap a bungee cord 6 to 12 inches above the bottom of each clump. Using a handsaw, cut off the old foliage below the cord. Many shrubs and woody perennials that bloom late in the year, such as beauty bush, bluebeard, butterfly bush, rabbitbrush, rue, and Russian sage, benefit from similar treatment. Using pruning shears, loppers, or a pruning saw, cut the stems to within a few inches of the ground (avoid damaging new growth).

• Spiff up flower beds. Pull out weeds and dead annuals. As perennials begin to grow new foliage rosettes, cut old stems off close to the ground. Broadcast fertilizer over the bed, then top-dress with a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure spread around the plants (skip this last step if the flower beds are mulched with gravel). Replenish all mulch to a depth of 3 inches, tucking it up against the new foliage, but not covering it.