‘March’ into spring gardening this month – ReminderNews

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Itching to get out into the garden whenever the sun starts to warm the air? Many of us feel a bit cooped up and restless this time of year; not only is the weather still unsettled, but the soil is either frozen or too wet to work.

Digging, tilling or walking on soil that is too wet is a frequent mistake made by novice gardeners. A healthy soil has pore spaces in it where air and water and plant roots can freely travel. Plants need air and water to grow. Working a wet soil pushes all the soil particles together and squishes out any pore spaces. The soil compacts and dries into hard clods that are difficult to dig in. Since many of the pore spaces are now gone, there is less air and water in the soil for good plant growth, and when it rains, water will have a hard time penetrating the soil and runoff.

Ideally, the soil should be friable before any cultivating is done. The term “friable” refers to the ideal moisture content the soil should have in order to work it and to minimize any adverse effects to the soil’s structure and pore spaces. To determine if your soil is friable, grab a handful and squeeze it together. Then press a finger into your ball of soil. If it crumbles, it is friable, so go ahead and till. If all you have is a wet ball with a hole in it, the soil is too wet. Turn your attention to indoor gardening.

Start with your houseplants. Give them all a good shower to remove the dust from their leaves. Clean leaves photosynthesize more efficiently. Divide and repot any pot-bound or overgrown plants. When repotting, move the plant up only one or two pot sizes. Plants with multiple crowns like prayer plants and ferns are good candidates for division. Some houseplants produce their own baby plants, called plantlets. These include spider plants, mother of thousands, and piggy back plants. Pot up some plantlets to give away to friends or to increase your collection.

Now is a good time to pot up bulbs of tuberous begonias, cannas, calla lilies, achimenes, dahlias and other summer-blooming bulbs for earlier flowering. Seeds of onions, celery, leeks, cabbage, peppers and lettuce can be sown indoors on a sunny windowsill, or better still, under fluorescent lights. Seeds of hardy annuals like calendulas, alyssum and snapdragons can also be sown indoors. I usually wait until the first week in April to sow tomatoes indoors, as they get too big for my limited plant lights and windowsills.

Finalize your vegetable garden plans on paper or computer. Be sure to include a plant for crop rotation. Select disease-resistant varieties to minimize pesticide use and maximize yields. Note the location of each variety and best date for sowing or transplanting. Run rows east to west to take advantage of southern exposures. Locate taller plants on the north side of the garden to avoid shading.

Tune up, clean and sharpen any garden tools or equipment to get ready for the season ahead. Think about season extenders such as hoop houses, cold frames, portable greenhouses, wall o’waters and the like to get a jump on the growing season. One friend used bales of hay topped by an old storm window to get her early salad greens started.

Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except for peaches and small fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and grapes. Remove any broken branches from trees and shrubs resulting from winter damage. Summer- and fall-flowering shrubs can also be pruned at this time. Overgrown privet hedges can be renovated before new growth starts.

If the lawn feels firm underfoot and not squishy, go ahead and rake up any winter debris. Stomp down any mole tunnels that are evident. Note bare spots and purchase grass seed to repair these areas. Usually the beginning of April is a good time to reseed these sections. Keep in mind that new legislation was passed that regulates the application of fertilizers containing phosphorus on established lawns. Unless a soil test performed within the past two years recommends a fertilizer containing phosphorus, then you should be using a phosphorus-free fertilizer. An exception is made for seeding or sodding new lawn areas or over-seeding established ones. Phosphorus is important for root growth and lawn establishment and can be used in these instances. Wait until mid-April until applying any fertilizer to lawns or to ornamentals.

Slowly remove winter mulches from perennial gardens. Look for any signs of vole damage. Cut back any perennial stems that were left over the winter. It is a bit early to divide any perennials now but make a note of which plants might benefit from dividing next month. Pot up extra plants for local plant sales.

Take advantage of any nice early spring days and get a head start on the gardening season. If you have gardening questions, feel free to contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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