Are you feeling a sense of panic, like you just lost the last 30 days of gardening and are now so far behind that you will never catch up? Not to worry. Mother Nature is also behind schedule so we have the entire month of March to get back on track. The days are getting longer, daylight saving time is here, and everything will be fine. Here are some things to work on…
Pruning: I could spend this whole column on just pruning, but I won’t. Focus on removing tattered foliage on evergreen perennials such as ferns, Epimedium, Hellebores, and Euphorbias. Broadleaf evergreen shrubs may show signs of winter damage, but I would wait until later in the month or even into April after new growth starts to emerge to see how far back you may need to cut. Any broken limbs caused by the snow can certainly be removed now by making a clean cut and letting it heal over naturally. There is no need for pruning sealers.
Deciduous shrubs that bloom in the summer, like butterfly bush, spiraea, potentilla, and hypericum, can be hacked back hard now. This also goes for red twig dogwoods that are grown for their winter interest. Hard pruning stimulates lots of new growth, which is good for these summer bloomers. Early spring bloomers, like forsythia and quince, should be pruned after they finish blooming, so hold off for now on them.
Roses will require some serious attention this month, if you want spectacular blooms this summer. Prune them down to knee high (except climbers of course), clean around them, apply a generous application of organic fertilizer (2 cups per bush isn’t too much), and cover the soil with a fresh layer of compost.
Be careful with Hydrangeas. PG type hydrangeas can be cut back “hard” since they bloom on new wood. “Mop head” and “Lace leaf” varieties should be cut just below last year’s blooms, same for Oakleaf and climbing varieties. It gets complicated, so don’t hesitate to ask a horticultural professional.
Fruit trees should be pruned now, even if they are starting to push flower buds. If you act fast, there is still time to apply a dormant spray of copper and oil - but always avoid any insecticides (natural or synthetic) when trees are in full bloom.
Weeding: In addition to pruning, weeding is just as important. Remember the old adage: “A stitch in time saves nine”. Pull out every last clump of “shot weed” you can find before it goes to seed, same for chick weed and henbit. These weeds germinated last fall and if you had applied a mulch, you wouldn’t be dealing with them now - remember that this coming September. Once you you’ve got the beds cleaned up, get some mulch on the surface before more seeds germinate.
Planting: While pruning and weeding are clearly the primary tasked to be completed this month, I like to throw in planting simply because we should always be planting new treasures into our gardens. We are blessed with a mild climate (well except maybe for the last month) where we can literally plant year around. Don’t worry about a few mild frosts, they won’t hurt shrubs and trees or hardy perennials. Garden centers are loading up with early blooming plants like Arabis, candy tuft, and Aubrietia. They will be gone by April, so for a garden that will delight you 12 months a year, shop early, late, and often - you will be richly rewarded for your efforts.