March Yard and Garden Tasks: Get ready for Spring

march garden tasks for springTo some, March Madness is all about college basketball. But to others, it’s actually about the nervous anticipation of getting out there in the garden in early spring. Even if the weather is not quite ready to cooperate, there is plenty to do both inside and out, to get your yard and garden season started in the Washington DC metro area (USDA Hardiness Zone 7a).

Take a walk

If this winter’s stormy weather had you wishing for flowers, now is a good time to walk around the neighborhood or arboretum and prospect for additions to the early spring landscape. Early spring bloomers worth considering include Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica), white forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum), fragrant wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), and witch hazel (Hammamelis various species).

As soon as the soil is workable…

Many late winter and early spring gardening tasks are prefaced with these words. And, although online guides for the “last frost date” can be a rule of thumb, the truth is nothing beats getting your hands in the soil to know for sure.

The goal is to wait until garden soil is dry enough to work. Wet soil can make for compacted soil clods, water that does not run off, and rotted seeds. A good test is to gently squeeze a handful of soil into a ball, then nudge it with a knuckle of your other hand. If it is dry enough to fall away into loose pieces, it is ready to work. A good “rule of knuckle,” so to speak!

If your soil is not too wet, some outdoor tasks for early spring include:

  • Take samples for a soil test. (Look for an upcoming post on this topic.)
  • Turn over the compost pile.
  • Direct-sow cold-hardy seeds such as radishes, lettuces and kale.

Divide and conquer

Hardy ornamental grasses, which are looking weathered about now, can be sheared back to the ground. Give monkey grass (liriope) plantings a haircut. Cut brown and battered foliage back to about 3 inches tall. The newer leaves will sprout in mid-spring.

Divide late summer blooming perennials that are looking overcrowded. Daylilies, hostas, and chrysanthemums are likely candidates for thinning as they are now dormant. If the ground is dry, soak it first, but avoid extremely wet or cold days.

hosta dividing late winter garden cleanup in march

Cut foliage back to 6-8 inches in height. Pull clumps apart or cut with a sharp knife. Place in the ground at the same height that they were previously planted. Pass along the extras.

Post-winter clean-up

Revive freeze-damaged pansies with a little TLC. Remove leggy growth and damaged stems by clipping just above the last healthy leaf. It’s also time for a spring dose of water-soluble fertilizer. Continue fertilizing every few weeks and pinch off spent blooms to encourage new growth. As the season progresses, switch to a fertilizer formulated as a blossom booster.

spring garden cleanup

Prune summer flowering shrubs and evergreens. It’s a good idea to consult a pruning guide for some help with this task. Shrubs and trees are categorized by when and how to do this job. Avoid trimming spring flowering shrubs, as you will be cutting off flower buds that have already formed. And contrary to popular lore, wound “paint” is not necessary.

If early season weeds are already invading the lawn, pull them up before they have a chance to establish deeper roots. Weeds thrive depending on various soil deficiencies. Identifying the weeds in a lawn can help identify helpful soil amendments. For instance, dandelions and clover like acidic soil, but chickweed prefers alkaline.

Rainy weather tasks

If inclement weather curtails outdoor work in the garden, consider these indoor possibilities:

  • Shop for row covers or frost blankets in case of sudden cold snaps.
  • Study seed catalogs.
  • Clean garden tools.
  • Start seed indoors for late spring transplanting.
  • Evaluate and repair hoses.

Taking these steps now will set the stage for a lush and vibrant outdoor environment that you can savor during the warm months just ahead!

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