Marching into Spring

By Cassandra Warner

March 2012 – As we start to see the many beautiful, spring, flowering perennials emerging, we can hardly wait for the spring show of daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, forsythia and creeping phlox that will surely brighten the days ahead.

With spring upon us, we can begin getting the garden ready.  March weather has its ups and downs and frost can still be a hazard so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is in the forecast.  March winds can also pose a problem so check plants that may need support.

Don’t get so anxious to get the garden going that you plow when the soil is still wet.  It will form clods which are difficult to break up and interfere with cultivation during the summer.



Make a garden plan on a sheet of paper to help you utilize your space most efficiently.  This can be a big help in considering and planning for crop rotation to help reduce insect, disease problems and maintaining soil health.



Start taking winter mulch off your flower beds gradually as plants show signs of new growth.  We apply the winter mulch as a protector from sudden changes of temperature and chilling winds, which, are still possible.  It is much better to remove the mulch a little later than to remove it too early.  Acclimatize plants by removing the mulch over a period of days allowing light and air to reach new growth.

Take time to prepare the vegetable garden soil for planting.  This is a good time to add well rotted manure, processed manure, peat moss or compost for building compost humus in the soil.



Other maintenance tips:

Check gardening tools for rust.  Clean rust from spades and hoes and prevent future rust by coating tool heads with mineral oil.

Check pruning saws, clippers and shovels and sharpen if needed.

Finish pruning fruit trees this month before the buds swell.

Divide and transplant summer blooming perennials and fertilize established ones as soon as new growth appears.

When applying fertilizer to fruit trees and shrubs, I prefer organic rather than chemical to provide a slow release of nutrients.  A sudden burst of growth too early in the season puts the plant at risk for disease and pests.

Fertilize Fig trees when the buds swell.

Fertilize tulips as foliage appears and then another application after flowering.

Use an acid-type fertilizer to feed evergreens, conifers, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Camellias should not be fed until they have completed their blooming.  Reward them when blooming ends.

Don’t forget to turn the compost pile to get it cooking.

Prune evergreens for size and shape.

Trim butterfly bushes to keep compact.

Prune hydrangeas,

Prune winter jasmine after flowering.

Avoid pruning flowering shrubs such as forsythia, quince, spirea, azalea and other early spring flowering shrubs since they already produced their buds last fall.

If you grow currants, remove all trunks over three years old.




Late March and early April are a good times to transplant shrubs and trees as soon as the soil is workable, but once buds begin to swell and break, wait until fall.

Cold weather annuals such as nasturtiums, pansies, violas, snapdragons, English daisies, Sweet William and calendulas do well this time of year.

Strawberries, blueberries, currants, loganberries, boysenberries, grapes and fruit trees may be planted, as well as perennial vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish and artichokes.

Get the cool season veggies in this month, such as peas, spinach, Swiss chard, head and leaf lettuce, collards, turnip greens, onions, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radish and early potatoes.

Looks like its time to get growing!


General pruning guidelines for roses


Roses can be pruned this month as most rose pruning is done in the spring.  The hardiness zone and class of the rose it is growing in determines the timing.  Spring is also time to feed roses.


*Roses that bloom once, on new growth*




These bloom best on the current season’s growth. Prune hard (1/2 – 2/3 of the plant’s height) in the spring and remove old wood stems. Leave 3-5 healthy canes evenly spaced around the plant.  Cut them at various lengths from 18-24 inches to encourage continuous blooming.



These bloom on new wood and should be pruned in early spring.  Remove dead and weak wood.  Create an open vase shape with remaining canes by removing the center stems and any branches crossing inwards.  Reduce the length of remaining stems about 12 inches or down to 18-24 inches. You can allow the older stronger stems to be a bit longer than the new growth.


*Roses that bloom once on old wood*



Prune to remove winter damage and dead wood or to shape and keep size in check.


*Repeat bloomers*



This group is repeat bloomers, they bloom on mature, but not old wood stems.  Leave them un-pruned the first 2 years and then each year remove 1/3 of the oldest canes in addition to any dead, diseased or dying canes.



They may repeat bloom. Prune early to remove winter damage, prune after flowering to shape and keep their size in check.


Originally from Texas, Cassandra Warner is a transplant to the garden of Tennessee.  Gardening has been one of her passions for forty years.  “I believe gardening has so many benefits.  Gardening connects you to the miracle of life and provides healthy exercise and stress relief.  My gardening has been a learn as you grow school, and I plan to always ‘Keep it Growing’,” she says.

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