March is a very exciting month for organic gardening with the anticipation of a new growing season after a dark and cold winter. If you still have snow on the ground, get serious about planning. If you can get out there, there is plenty to do! Here is a chronological list of March garden chores.
1. Get Your Tools Ready
Clean and sharpen hand tools and shovels. Tune up your mowers and tillers. Make room in the garage or shed for your winter equipment.
2. Prune Your Fruit Trees
Early in the month or before bud swell, Prune for shape and direction of growth, good air circulation, and removal of old, dead, or diseased wood. Always use sharp clippers that are disinfected, and dispose of diseased wood. Check out Modern Farmer for very simple instructions with easy-to-understand graphics.
3. Plan What You're Planting
Rotate your crops to cut down on disease and insects. Decided what to start from seed, and what starts to buy. Figure out how much to grow and for what purpose – fresh eating, giving away, or putting up for winter. Plan varieties and distances for seed saving. Rodale has a list of the easiest vegetables for beginners.
4. Do a General Clean-Up
Remove dead flower stalks and annual plants. Cut back perennials. Divide them if they are getting too big or aren’t as productive anymore. Rake and weed. Get a soil pH test. Take the mulch off your strawberry plants.
5. Assess the Soil
If your soil is dry enough, add compost to the beds along with the recommendations for soil amendments from your pH test. If you make a ball of soil in your hand, and it sticks together, it is too wet still. The ball should fall apart when you touch it. You can ruin your soil structure by working it before it’s dry enough. Be patient!
6. Start Cool Weather Veggies - Outside
Seed cool weather vegetables directly into the garden - broccoli, peas, kale, lettuce, radishes, carrots, chard, and spinach. Perennial herbs, such as chives, tarragon, sage, and oregano can also go in the ground.
7. Start Warm Weather Plants - Inside
Start warm weather plants indoors under lights or in a warm and sunny room. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant need a 6-8 week head start on the season. Count back from your last frost date for appropriate seed starting times.
8. Build a Cold Frame
Cold frames extend your growing season in spring and fall. You can make a rectangle of strawbales, and top it with salvaged windows, or build a frame of wood. Try the instructions at This Old House, or for a speedy version - find a kit from your local gardening supply center.
They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Dodge the elements with planning and preparing, along with a little planting. By the end of the month, it will feel more like the gardening season is here. Be prepared! There will be even more activity in April! Stay tuned!