Itching to Plant

Peas in the garden

The calendar says spring, but the weather isn’t quite ideal for most garden veggies and annuals. While planting seeds indoors for later transplant is fun, it’s not exactly scratching our itch to plant in the garden. So what can we plant? Asparagus, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Strawberries are the earliest veggies to plant. We’ll focus on 3 of the most popular early vegetables – peas, asparagus and strawberries.

Peas in inoculent

Peas are among the easiest vegetables to grow. It’s a great choice for beginning gardeners of all ages. They can usually be planted around the first week of April. Here are a few tips. Dampen the seeds and cover them with inoculant for legumes before planting, then plant. Peas and other legumes benefit from inoculation, which adds bacteria to the host plant seed prior to planting. The bacterium attaches to the root system and creates a symbiotic relationship with legumes, making it easy for your peas to obtain and use nitrogen.

Asparagus crown

Asparagus takes a little effort and time, but the reward is oh, so tasty. ‘Martha Washington’ is one of the most popular varieties. However it produces both male and female plants. Female plants produce attractive red berries in the fall, but fewer edible spears. ‘Jersey Giant’ is a contemporary hybrid of all-male plants, which is more productive and has greater disease resistance. ‘Purple Passion’ produces purple spears which dress up the dinner plate and often entice children to eat their veggies.

It’s best to wait a year after planting asparagus, before making a harvest. This allows the plants to develop a healthy root system. In the second season, harvest spears larger than a pencil. The third season, and thereafter, harvest as you choose. Allowing the plants three seasons to fully establish themselves insures a long lived patch for years to come.

Strawberries are another popular perennial edible. It’s best to provide a separate planting area for them, outside your normal vegetable beds, because plants spread rapidly. There are 3 types of strawberries: June bearing, Everbearing and Day Neutral. We skip the June bearing plants because we want strawberries more than just one month each year. Everbearing strawberries provide two crops of strawberries, making them ideal for canning and freezing. Fort Laramie, Quinalt and Ozark Beauty are some of our favorites. Day Neutral strawberries produce fruit from spring to fall, making them a great choice for enjoying fresh from the garden throughout the summer. Our favorite is Eversweet, with its large, deliciously sweet flavor. It’s also the best choice for container growing since it doesn’t require pinching of runners or flowers to establish.

 

While we offer strawberry transplants in packs, you may find it easier to start from dormant bare root stock. When planted in early spring, once night temperatures are consistently above 25°F, they establish quickly. Be sure to stay on top of weeding around your strawberries. An ounce of prevention goes a long way when it comes to the strawberry patch. Mulch will help keeps weeds in check, making it a little easier on your knees. When it comes to June bearing and Everbearing varieties, it’s a good idea to remove the flowers and runners for the first season in favor of growing a healthy root system. We know it’s a lot to ask, but a little self-control now will provide you with a bigger harvest the second season. Container grown strawberries won’t over-winter here, so there’s no need to pinch off flowers or runners.


To get started, amend the planting area with compost. Soak your strawberry roots for about half an hour, to rehydrate them, before planting. Plant them so that the soil level is level with the crown of the plant. Be ready to cover with netting to keep birds and small animals from snatching your strawberries as they grow. Drip irrigation is the best way to water strawberries. If you water overhead, do it in the morning. This will allow the fruit and foliage to dry before nightfall, reducing the risk of disease affecting your plants.

Green Thumb Tips – March

Echter’s Plant Doctors are available during store hours seven days a week to answer your gardening questions. For accurate diagnosis, it helps to bring in a sample.

Flower Gardens

Plant begonias, dahlias and cannas in pots inside to give them a head start. Leave them inside until mid-May. You will have flowers much earlier.

Plant sweet pea seeds now, using an inoculant for better germination and flowering.

Perennials & Roses & Vines

Many perennials, trees, shrubs and annuals are able to thrive with less irrigation. We are calling those plants X-rated. (X is for xeric which means dry). To be x-rated, established plants need 1 inch of water or less each week to thrive. Check our website for a list of X-rated plants. We also have a list in a brochure which also gives you guidelines for xeriscape gardening.

Lift and divide crowded perennials late this month if new growth is evident. Proper soil preparation is essential for good growth after replanting.

Lily bulbs can be planted outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked for blooms in late June through September.

Cut back old stalks from your perennials, so you can enjoy the new foliage and flowers. Cut back ornamental grasses as low as possible so the old foliage won’t detract from the new growth.

Trees & Shrubs

Early March is the best time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs. You can see the branching structure. (Some exceptions are birch, maple, walnut, and elm. These should be pruned mid-summer.) Remove dead, dying, or unsightly parts of the tree. Remove branches that are crossed against each other. Use a pole pruner to reach branches up to about 15′ off the ground. Pruning paints and wound dressings are NOT recommended on the pruning cuts.

Prune fruit trees before they leaf out. There is less danger of spreading disease. Pruning assures good air circulation for better fruit production. Examine apple, pear, hawthorn, crabapple trees and cotoneasters for evidence of fire blight. The leaves remain on the branches and the branches will look scorched. Prune out infected branches and sterilize your pruners, loppers or saws between every cut. While these plants are in flower prevent this disease by spraying Ferti-lome Fire Blight Spray.

Prune new shrubs and trees very little for the first two years. Your plants need to establish a good root zone, and the more top growth (leaves and branches) the plant has the more the plant can produce its own food to grow. Look for these three things when pruning – dead branches, broken branches and branches that cross over and rub on others.

If your lilacs, honeysuckle or any other shrubs are really overgrown, prune out two or three of the oldest, largest stems using a lopper or a pruning saw. This will rejuvenate these plants.

Trees, shrubs, vines and roses have deeper root systems and should be watered for a longer period of time and less frequently than shallower rooted plants such as perennials and annuals. Do not water if the ground is frozen.

Suffocate overwintering insects, like aphids, spider mites and scale on trees and shrubs by spraying dormant oil.

Don’t be in a hurry to remove the mulch around roses and in perennial beds. We could still have some harsh weather.

Vegetable Gardens

Remember to rotate your vegetable crops each year. Plant each variety of vegetable in a different part of your garden than you did last year

Plant spinach, peas, Swiss chard, radishes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, kale, lettuce, leeks, rutabaga, onion seed and sets, bare root strawberries, asparagus, and potatoes directly into the garden if soil temperature is at least 40 degrees

Now is the time to start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, onion, alyssum, lobelia and pansy and geranium seeds inside for planting out later in the spring. Start tomatoes and peppers inside now to be planted out in late May.

When starting flower and vegetable seeds indoors, use clean new containers and a good seed-starting mix in order to prevent disease problems.

Give asparagus beds a good layer of compost or cow manure. You will have much larger and better production.

Prune out raspberry canes which produced fruit last year. (They will have a papery gray bark and traces of where the fruit attached.) Leave the canes which didn’t bear for this year’s crop.

If you saved seeds from previous years, plant a few seeds in small pots. Label and test to see if they will sprout.

Plan to grow one new vegetable you haven’t tried before. It will create renewed interest in your garden, and you might find a new favorite.

Rototill or turn over your gardens when the soil is fairly dry. Add organic matter like Canadian sphagnum peat moss and/or compost to your gardens before rototilling.

Although earthworms can be a nuisance for some, they are of great value in keeping soil aerated.  Earthworms take organic matter from the surface and drag it down into the soil, thus making them great little composters.

Lawns

Core aerate your lawn before you fertilize in the middle of April. This helps to promote deep root growth by providing oxygen and moisture to the roots. You can leave the plugs on the lawn as they will compost back into the soil.

Overseeding a thin lawn can begin as March warms up. Rake areas to be seeded to expose the soil.

Seed these areas with a good quality grass seed and keep moist until well germinated

We do not normally recommend power raking, but hand thatching is very beneficial for the lawn. It allows good air circulation and can prevent many diseases of the grass.

If you had disease problems in your lawn last year, apply Scotts Lawn Fungus Control when grass greens up as a preventive measure.

Once snow has melted off your lawn, check the turf in shaded areas for snow mold, a fungus that is white to pink in color and grows on the surface of the grass blades. If you see snow mold, lightly rake the affected areas and dispose of the debris. Exposure to light and air will normally dissipate the snow mold.  The grass will grow out from the crown of the plant as spring progresses. If the turf becomes patchy, you can overseed the area. There is no effective chemical control.

Indoor Plants

March is a great time to transplant houseplants into the next-sized larger pot. Use a good well-drained houseplant potting mix.

 Prune back leggy houseplants now before the spring flush of growth.

 As days grow longer, houseplants resume active growth and benefit from applications of fertilizer like Jack’s Classic Houseplant Special.

 Start an indoor herb garden. Plant several kinds of herbs together in a pot, or grow them individually in small pots. Chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for a sunny kitchen windowsill. Snip and use herbs during their indoor stay. In spring set the pots outdoors or transplant them into your garden.

Birds

You can help birds with their nests by providing a mesh bag near bird activity areas outside, filled with pieces of thread, string, yarn or lint from your dryer. Also leave small piles of twigs to help them in their nesting process.

Put up birdhouses this month in preparation for new arrivals this spring. Birds are very specific about the size of the entry hole. Be sure you have the right-sized entry hole for the birds you want to attract.

Also remember to clean out and sterilize last year’s houses.

Put up a woodpecker house under the eaves or near your home. This may deter other flickers from beating on your house. Woodpeckers and flickers are territorial and will keep others away.

Misc.

Now’s a great time to inspect your old patio furniture and replace it if necessary. Special orders placed now will usually arrive in time for the outdoor season.

Make sure your tools are clean and sharpened. For a nominal fee Echter’s will sharpen your pruners, shovels, hoes, hedge and grass clippers. 

Bring smaller twigs of crabapple, cherry, forsythia, quince and pussy willow into the house. Place them in a vase of water and you will have spring flowers in a few days.

Has your compost pile stopped “cooking”? Reactivate the microbes this month with a prepared compost maker product and get that decomposition started again.

 Clean leaves and debris from your gutters for more efficient water runoff from your roof.