March Garden Tips

March is a great month to sharpen garden toolsUse a nasty day to sharpen hand tools such as pruners, trowels and hoes. Clean, sharp tools will make your work easier and, in the case of pruners, ensure no damage to the shrubs you use them on. Send your mower out to be tuned and sharpened before the shops get busy.

March is the month to gather up the small branches that fell in your yard during the winterWhen the soil in your yard is dry enough not to leave footprints when walked on, collect the sticks, branches and debris from your lawn. Then, give it a good raking with a steel tined rake to remove dead grass, the dead leaves, and any other debris that has accumulated since the end of autumn.

Cut back dead plant material that you had left standing over the winter. Remove the old stalks and leaves so the new growth will have a clear path for growing, blooming and brightening your yard come spring.

While taking care of outdoor chores, look around your yard looking for plants that have been heaved out of the ground by frost. If it is possible, push them back into the soil. If the soil is still frozen and you cannot replant, cover the roots with four or more inches of fresh soil or mulch. But, make certain you make a note to yourself to plant it properly when the weather allows!

Bring spring indoors. Force branches of witch hazel (which smell wonderful) forsythia, quince, cornus mas, fruit trees and magnolia. Remember when cutting the branches you are actually pruning, so keep the plant’s overall shape in mind. Once indoors, make a fresh cut and place the branches in three inches of warm water with a preservative. Change the water regularly to prevent the growth of bacteria which can inhibit blooming. Once the flowers pop, bring them into a bright room and enjoy your early spring.
You can start planting summer flowers and bulbs—in pots! Get a head start on tender bulbs such as begonias, cannas, colacassia (elephant’s ear), dahlia and ranunculus. Started indoors in pots. they will be larger and bloom sooner when you put them outdoors after the weather has warmed sufficiently. Check the planting details for individual bulbs or corms, but most can be potted now in a lightweight, well drained potting mix. When the shoots appear, move them to a site where they get several hours of sunlight a day. As the temperatures increase, increase their sunlight exposure.

Your carefully tended and well-groomed house plants could earn you a ribbon (or two) at the Boston Flower & Garden Show. Bring them into Seaport Trade Center after 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 8 to enter the amateur competition. There’s no fee for entering — or for the bragging rights you’ll earn. Full information on entering is at the bottom of the Amateur Horticulture section of

Beware of ticks. The lack of snow and persistent above-freezing temperatures this winter mean disease-bearing ticks are active and looking for a blood meal. Spray your clothing with a DEET-type insecticide and always check you clothing and skin as soon as you come indoors from working outside.

It is a good time to ready any growing containers and clean flower pots for use. Wash and then rinse with a 1:10 bleach: water solution.

House Plants
Start watering houseplants as the days lengthen with a weak solution of water soluble fertilizer. With the extreme cold we have recently has humidity may be low. If it is, mist houseplant’s foliage with water or set on gravel in trays.

Care of Cuttings
Continue pinching the growing tips of cuttings started during the winter, so that they will become bushy multi stemmed plants by the time you plant them in the garden or in containers.

Prune trees and fall blooming shrubs as permits. If you plan to burn brush, get your permit from your local fire department.Now is time to prune summer or fall blooming shrubs. Wait until after spring blooming shrubs have finished flowering.

Deer Repelling
Inspect the garden frequently for the first signs of spring growth. If spring bulbs are emerging, use a deer repelling spray on tulips and crocus to prevent them from being “deer dessert.” Repeat as needed throughout their bloom time. Also be sure to spray shrubs that deer are eating.

Frost Heaving
Watch for heaving of plants.  As the soil warms, some plants are pushed out of the ground, exposing roots to drying air. Gently press plants down into the soil. Perennials prone to heaving include coral bells, heucherella, German bearded iris and foam flower.
(Kerry Ann Mendez)

Start your own Seeds
Indoors, plant seeds of flowers and vegetables according to package instructions concerning number of weeks before frost, remembering that our frost free date in Norfolk is around May 15.

Order seeds and summer blooming bulbs and tubers. Consult a seed calculator tool (that is one example) for our region to learn proper timing for seed starting so you can avoid weak, spindly seedling. Many seeds may be sown indoors under lights in March and April.