Being high desert here in southwest Idaho means that we don’t often have to wait for a lot of snow to melt or deal with unmanageable amounts of spring rain. There are some advantages to the lower amount of precipitation, and one of them is that we can usually get out in the garden more in March, as the weather is barely warming up. Not only can it be refreshing to the soul and lungs, but it is the optimal time for quite a few garden activities.
Things you can do in March:
– Put up new trellises. I know I want to extend my arched grape trellis to include a couple more plants, something I have been meaning to get done for two years now… It may also be time to check for damage to existing trellises, or see how well the plants on them are connected. Strong spring storms can be hard on tender new growth.
– Late winter pruning of fruit trees and some shrubs. By now there is little chance of a drop in temperatures that will damage newly cut branches, and pruning soon will mean it gets done before the tree puts much energy into those branches you might be trimming away.
– Spraying fruit trees. I was recently reminded that it is time for the dormant oil.
– Debris clean up. Even if you got to ALL of your fall clean up, winter has a way of blowing things around, including trash from parts unknown. Might as well check and see if you need a follow-up clean-up. Don’t forget to also clean out any decorative pots or planters. (Click here to read some ideas for faster, more efficient clean up.)
– Dig out any remaining root crops. We ate freshly dug carrots and potatoes just last week, but pretty soon, they will start to grow again, making them mushy and inedible
– Weeding. Always weeding, whenever the ground is workable enough. And actually, this time of year, with the ground almost always slightly damp, is a good time, because you won’t overheat and the weeds are relatively small. Smaller than they will be if you let them keep growing, for sure.
– Planting early season cold weather crops. Peas and lettuce, in particular.
– Chicken tunnels. If I am mentioning this a lot lately, it is because I am so excited to finally have gotten started on my chicken tunnel system.
– Set mouse traps. Spring means babies. Don’t let them get a head start.
– Work on hardscaping that will both beautify and have practical advantages. I am so grateful for the paver pathways between my raised beds and around behind my barn. They have made a world of difference in what I need to mow and edge in difficult areas. The grandkids sandbox is another project that comes to mind. (I have started a pinterest board for ideas)
– Plant, or rather seed, lawn in bare patches that just need a covering for now. I have been guilty of preparing more garden beds than I can manage, but there is also the changes that come with time and family. Sometimes it is just best to redo an open area with lawn, which takes about 5 minutes to mow then, instead of 6 hours to weed every week. (Not that it was getting weeded.) And remember, much maligned grass is a plant, too. Don’t be ashamed for growing green grass! (It doesn’t have to be that labor intensive, either, as you can see if you click here to read how I have done it recently.)
– Begin to harden off any plants that have been overwintering in the house or greenhouse. I have already done this a couple of days with my greenhouse tomato, geraniums, mimosa trees, and begonias. The overcast days are best for this, but I try to stick to afternoons that reach 50°F. Also, I have a spot where it gets afternoon shade, so if I don’t get to bringing them in promptly, they aren’t as likely to get leaf burn from too much time in the sun, clouds or not.
– Divide and thin certain perennials. For me, that definitely means some of my irises.
– Evaluate garden tools. Don’t keep things around that are broken and cluttering things up, at least not in a way that inhibits your workflow. Know where your good tools are. I’m talking to myself.
There are some things you may want to resist:
– Planting things outside that will likely be damaged or killed by low temperatures. The weather will be variable during spring, sometimes luring the impatient or unsuspecting gardener into believing summer is here. It isn’t. The average date of last frost is about May 15. The plants probably won’t thrive in the generally cold weather anyway, and if you want them to live at all, you would need to cover them regularly at night. Stick to planting for the greenhouse right now.
– Working too hard or long in the garden. Even if you exercise regularly, chances are you will be using different muscles and in a more repetitious way for the garden. Get an idea of your current strength and let it build up gradually.
There are indoor things to do regarding the garden, such as the above mentioned starting of seeds to care for in the greenhouse or ordering spring planted bulbs. Some of these bulbs can be pre-planted in pots to get a head start, as I have done with dahlias for several years. (click here to read more about this). This means both earlier blooms and less chance of losing them in the garden when all there is to be seen is dirt. You could also sketch out your planting diagram, even if it is close to how you did it last year, because nothing is ever exactly the same. But we all know that being outdoors is the best.