Happy March, everyone! Although this winter has been far from difficult for those of us who live in northern New England, it is impossible not to feel a sense of relief and expectancy when March arrives. Meterological winter is over, the earliest blooming plants’ buds have started to swell, and anything that Mother Nature throws at us at this point will likely be short lived. The world is coming to life and is full of promise. And mud, of course. But that’s a small price to pay for Spring, right?
With that in mind, we have written a list of 5 things to do this month in the garden. These things pertain to northern New England, but some can be adapted to whenever early spring happens for you, as plant processes are the same the world over. (Apologies to our readers in Brazil who will have to wait several months until spring!)
So, without further ado…
5 Things to do in the garden now:
1) Force branches. Forcing a plant means to encourage it to bloom earlier than normal, usually by increasing the temperature. Increased light helps, too, but all you really need to do to get fresh plant life indoors is to force a few stems by bringing them inside. Shrubs and trees do this best, and it couldn’t be simpler. Just cut a few small branches and put them in water on a bright window sill, and within a few days or weeks, depending on how early you do it, you will have blossoms, long before they appear outside.
Some plants that force well include:
Forsythia – You can start to force this cheery yellow shrub as early as February.
Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) – these yellow blosoms can take a couple of weeks, but are worth the wait!
Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles spp) – pink or white blossoms make a simple, elegant arrangement.
Rhododendrons & Azaleas – purple, pink, white, yellow, orange, red… Big and bold and full of color.
Crabapples (Malus spp) – Pinks, whites, and reds, some with a heavenly scent.
Click here for more ideas and instructions!
2) Prune trees and shrubs. There are three main reasons to prune. To get rid of diseased and damaged wood, to encourage flowering/fruiting, and to maintain a pleasing shape. Of the three, the first is probably the most important, as it directly relates to a plant’s health which, in turn, directly relates to the other two. Pruning is rather plant specific, and so we highly recommend doing a little research on your particular shrub or tree before taking out the loppers, but in general, these principles apply:
- In order for a tree or shrub, or any plant to thrive, it needs light and air. All parts of the plant need this. So if a shrub is very congested in the center, then it can probably benefit from being thinned.
- If two branches are crossed and are rubbing against one another, one of them should be removed. Keep the one that is growing outwards from the center, unless it is damaged.
- When making a cut, cut about .25 of an inch or .35cm from where the branch intersects with another branch or from where there is a side bud (node). Make a slanted cut that points away from the node, as that allows water to drip away from the place where a new shoot is going to grow. Plus, the plant looks better without unsightly blunt ends.
- Don’t panic! For the most part, plants are very forgiving. If you end up with something that looks awful, have patience. Make sure that the overall shape of the plant is pleasing (Now is a great time to really see the shape, without the leaves) and then relax and wait. Soon, that pleasing shape will become a pleasing shape with leaves, and before you know it you will be patting yourself on the back for a job well done.
3) Sharpen your shears! Pruning with dull pruners and loppers not only makes the job exponentially harder, it’s not good for your plants, as it can injure them and spread disease. Either invest in having them professionally sharpened, or get yourself a sharpening stone and spend an hour or so doing your future self and your plants a favor. Sharpening stones are available at most hardware stores. Check out this video for a quick lesson in sharpening Felco pruners, or this video for more in depth instructions.
4) Test your soil’s pH. The pH of your soil directly affects how well your plants will grow, so if you are planning on doing any new planting this year, or just want to get the most out of the plants that you have, then knowing your pH is essential. If you know your soil’s pH, you can know what will grow well there, and you will know if you need to amend your soil so that your current plants will thrive. You can buy test kits at your local garden center which will give you a general idea, but it is worth the money to have it done professionally every two or three years, as it will come with fertilizer recommendations and be much more specific to the plants that you are growing. Your local University or Cooperative Extension will probably have a soil lab. For those of us in or near New Hampshire, UNH is a great resource. Click here for their soil test info.
5) Look and listen and enjoy! There are signs of life everywhere, some big, some small. Buds are swelling, bulbs are starting to grow, insects and worms are emerging from the soil, and the birds have begun their mating calls. Spring is underway.
In New England, they say we have four seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Road Construction. While it may still be winter, Road Construction season is right around the corner, so it’s time to get our gardens ready!