March brings spring! It may be cold and snowy outside but come March 10, it’s time to spring forward into Daylight Savings Time. Ten days later March 20 brings the vernal equinox and the official start of spring. Get ready to garden because the days are getting longer, the sun is getting brighter and the temperatures are getting warmer. In the Eau Claire area, the average temperature for every day in March is usually above freezing. Perhaps it won’t be this year, but it’s always best to plan optimistically.
If you grow fruit trees, by all means get outdoors and prune them before the sap starts to run. Remove all water sprouts — those thin sprigs that grow vertically from previous cuts. Look for dead, damaged or weak branches or those turning to the inside of the tree. Clip the wood just above an outward-facing bud to encourage growth towards the perimeter of the tree. Your main goal is to allow sunlight to reach all the fruit, despite the foliage. Also prune established grapevines, leaving seven to 10 buds on only four fruiting canes.
Some days in the month will be so lovely you’ll be itching to dig in the dirt. Check the condition of the soil before mucking around though. If the soil is too wet, digging or even walking on it could compact it, leaving little space for air and water and thwarting good drainage. Compacted soil can take years to recover. To test the moisture content of your soil, dig a handful and squeeze it. If the soil crumbles through your fingers, it’s ready to work. However, if it forms a muddy ball or oozes water, wait a few days and test again.
Once the soil is workable, plant some lettuce, spinach and radish seeds. You may or may not get a harvest but the process of planting is terrific for the soul. Late in the month, you ‘might’ be able to plant peas outdoors but I would pre-sprout them first. Peas love to grow in cool weather but germinate best in 70-degree soil. Pre-sprouting inside allows the peas to get off to a great start. Poppies and larkspur like a cold treatment before germinating so these seeds can be sprinkled or sown directly to the garden. Mark their location well because later spring clean-up can be hazardous to newly-sprouted seedlings.
March is a huge month for starting seeds for cool-loving crops as well as slow-growing seedlings. Some flowers can take several weeks simply to germinate and many more weeks before they are garden-ready. Start seeds of dianthus, carnation, impatiens, larkspur, pansy, petunia, portulaca and snapdragons. Most seeds require darkness to germinate but some must have light. A few prefer cool temperatures but most benefit from bottom warmth provided by a heating mat or refrigerator top. Late in the month, start seedlings of broccoli, kohlrabi and cabbage. Even though cauliflower grows best in the fall, I also like to start some short-season spring varieties. Read each seed packet carefully for instructions on when and how to sow the seeds indoors. After transplanting outside, some annuals take 60-90 days before blooming. By then, summer is almost over. Rather than wait that long for bloom, get a head start and sow those seeds earlier than required.
Check stored produce for any signs of decay. Cull sprouting onions or rotting potatoes, carrots or apples to preserve the remaining ones. Break off potato sprouts to save the spuds for later use. For the earliest summer blooms of canna lilies, dahlias and tuberous begonias, pot up some of your winter-stored bulbs in a well-drained soil to stimulate new growth before setting outside after danger of frost.
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.