The view out your window may still be gray and brown, but just beneath the surface of your garden the plants are waking up. Now is the time to prepare for the spring gardening season. Many chores need to be done, so you can enjoy your garden when the warm weather arrives.
Start by cleaning up and clearing away last year’s leaves and debris from your lawn and garden beds. Early to mid-March is the time to cut back ornamental grasses, as well as your liriope and perennials that still have last year’s dead foliage, such as daylilies, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. If you notice perennials that have been heaved out of the ground due to freeze-thaw cycles, gently push them back and tamp the soil around them.
Most roses appreciate a good pruning now, too. Consult a reputable rose book for the best methods to trim your roses since timing and methods vary widely with individual cultivars. Floribunda, hybrid tea, climbing, shrub and miniature roses all have different care guidelines.
Many trees and shrubs can be pruned in March. Fruit trees, evergreens, and several deciduous trees can also be trimmed and shaped before new growth begins. Be sure to sharpen and clean your tools. Armed with good hand pruners, loppers and a pruning saw, you can tackle all but the biggest jobs. One of your best tools is a good pruning book that will give you specific techniques for trimming the plants in your yard.
March is also the time to do any necessary pruning on crape myrtles. Flowers are produced on new growth each year. Your crape myrtle will produce flowers without any pruning, although it will produce larger flowers and bloom more profusely if at least lightly pruned. Pruning in late winter or early spring will stimulate vigorous new growth as the temperatures warm up.
The practice of chopping off the tops of crape myrtles has become very commonplace. Many people believe that it is required to promote flowering, but this is not true. Light pruning is usually all that is needed, so please don’t lop off the tops off your crape myrtles! When given an ideal location, these trees should be allowed to develop their natural form without heavy pruning. Consult a professional for the best pruning method. If careful consideration is given to the projected size of the mature plant, a variety can be found that will not outgrow its boundaries and can be allowed to display its graceful beauty with minimal pruning.
After a long winter, all gardeners long for some colorful flowers to herald the coming of spring. It’s a good time to plant pansies if you didn’t plant them last fall. You’ll be able to enjoy their cheerful blooms, along with those of your spring flowering bulbs, and they thrive in cool weather. A light frost won’t slow them down at all. Just make sure to deadhead and fertilize them regularly and you’ll be rewarded with blossoms all spring.
It’s a good idea to test your soil in March. You can test for soil pH (acidity or alkalinity) and the soil’s three main nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) with a simple do-it-yourself kit for less than $20. More advanced soil tests are available from several public and private laboratories. A soil test will allow you to apply the right kind of fertilizer for your soil’s needs and avoid over fertilization and the toxic runoff that is endangering the Chesapeake Bay.
Finally, now’s the time to weed and edge your beds and put down a fresh layer of mulch; make sure you don’t smother your plants. If it is a new planting a total of 2 to 3 inches of mulch is sufficient. For a top dress only use a 1 inch layer just to add color back to the bed. Remember to keep mulch away from tree trunks, and avoid putting it against the bark of your trees. The zone where the tree trunk meets the soil is where the tree gets oxygen. So don’t suffocate your trees!
All these early spring chores may seem daunting, but your hard work will pay back big dividends in the months to come.