March can also be a temptress. Her siren song lures us with days so balmy that we want to plant a tomato or two. Then, just when we’ve succumbed to the lures of an early spring, she withdraws her …
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March can also be a temptress. Her siren song lures us with days so balmy that we want to plant a tomato or two. Then, just when we’ve succumbed to the lures of an early spring, she withdraws her favors and plunges us back to winter.
Every area gardener knows we still have a long wait before we can do REAL planting, but we can begin many pre-planting projects now. These will both satisfy our itch to be outdoors now, and lighten our tasks for the real planting days ahead.
This is also an excellent time to begin initial soil preparation, especially in sun-warmed areas where the soil has thawed. Working the soil will gradually loosen all your stiff winter muscles to ready you for real gardening days.
Finally, if you order seeds from catalogs, now is also the time to order them before the later rush hits. You do want to have everything handy when the time is right.
If you grow your tomato plants from seed, start them indoors now during the second half of the month. Starting them too early will result in leggy growth before it’s warm enough to plant them outdoors.
Q. Should we really be planting our peas on St. Patrick’s Day? We did it last year and none came up.
A. I’m not certain where that rule originated, but it rarely applies here. Yet I’m often asked that question. Our spring weather is so terribly unpredictable that early planting is a real gamble. Although peas are cool weather veggies, they don’t like the cold, soggy heavy soil that results from our late spring snowstorms and even blizzards. When the soil is too cold, heavy and wet, seeds simply will not germinate.
Plant your peas in April, or, if you’re really impatient, try planting a few seeds in a container with loose, friable potting soil. Keep the container in a sunny area and bring it indoors if the weather becomes too hostile.
Q. What new plants are being introduced this year? I’m always curious even if I don’t necessarily plant them – or even find them in our nurseries.
A. There are the usual new varieties of vegetables such as mini-snack peppers and annual monarda and honey-scented alyssum. However, you may be more excited about the 2009 Plant Select offerings. These are plants hybridized and developed specifically for our climate, and they are available locally.
Korean Feather Reed grass (Calama-grostis Brachytricha) is a stunning feathery ornamental grass that will grow about 3 feet tall, depending on conditions.
For hot problem groundcover areas, the striking silver-bordered green leaves of the Silverheels horehound is a must.
Since I’m a big fan of agastache, that showy undemanding late summer bloomer, I was excited to see a new one (Coronado Red Hyssop), a crimson and maroon beauty from our own Welby Gardens.
Q. We are building a small cold frame in a semi-protected “L” of our house with a southeast location. What can we plant there and how soon can we plant?
A. Cold frames are nifty season extenders both in early spring and again in the fall. If yours is finished, you can plant lettuce, spinach, radishes and even peas immediately. When the weather turns cold and cloudy, cover the frame with some old blankets, foam or other protection to retain heat.
Be certain to remove the covering when the temperature rises, and also vent the area on really warm days, especially if the sun hits the frame directly.
In addition to planting cold weather veggies now, you can also start your own seedlings. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Enjoy your successes and learn from your failures.
Q. What should my mother do with the poinsettia and azalea she received for Christmas? The poinsettia is producing new leaves and the azalea isn’t happy.
A. Actually, I’m surprised the azalea is even alive. They naturally bloom during the mild and rainy winters of the southeast and coastal areas of southern California, so they decline in our hot, dry winter homes. Recycle the plant in a compost pile and be grateful for the pleasure it offered.
Poinsettias are another matter. They’re tough, adaptable, scraggly trees or large shrubs in their native habitat.
When my parents moved to the cold, dark midwest, my mother – homesick for California – kept a poinsettia alive for years. She transplanted it to ever-larger containers which my long-suffering father patiently lugged in and out each spring and fall for several years until one fall he refused to touch the over-3-foot-tall plant again. Does that answer your question?
The old adage, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” applies to March. This is a month of surprises, with weather that slips easily from summer heat to brutal blizzards. (Remember the Blizzard of 2003 with its more than 3 feet of heavy, wet snow?) Therefore, be restrained in your gardening efforts, concentrate on preparations and enjoy the color of young spring bulbs. I saw the first blooming crocus Feb. 7 – far too early! Anyone else?
To unpredictable March.
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