By Will Summers, Master Gardener
The month of March begins many Southern Illinois gardener’s year. We already see forsythia, daffodils and flowering quince in bloom and spring will be in full-swing in the coming weeks. It is well-known the month is named for the Roman god of war. For those interested, March was the first month of the Roman calendar. More importantly, March marked the time when winter ceased and the Roman wars could begin anew. In gardening, it is a time to make important preparations to our gardens for the coming growing season. Here are some items to consider adding to your “To-Do” list for this month.
- March 15, Saint Patrick’s Day, is the traditional date to plant garden peas. You may begin early by tilling the soil a week or two in advance.
- Start cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower seeds inside to produce cool-season garden plants next month. Herbs, such as cilantro, dill, fennel and sage may be started also indoors now for later garden planting.
- Take the opportunity to topdress your lawn with seed and a light application of nitrogen fertilizer if none was applied last fall. Rake and remove any remaining leaves before seeding. Look for any bare spots for careful raking before seed application. Time your top-dress seeding to immediately precede any forecast rain. Please go lightly on the fertilizer on any newly seeded areas. If you have access to a lawn roller, now is the best time to roll your lawn to remove bumps and be prepared to add soil to any depressions before reseeding. A word of caution: Please remember to avoid using any “Weed-n-Feed” weed control fertilizer on any of these areas you have reseeded until this time next year.
- Change the oil, oil filter and lube your mower. Sharpen mower blades in preparation for the coming mowing season. If your grass is tall enough to mow, March is the month when it is permissible to mow a little shorter, up to an inch lower than normal, to reduce thatch and give more room for the coming summer turf. Please remember to readjust your mower back to the recommended 2” to 2 ½” recommended mowing height before putting the mower away.
- Make any last minute prunings necessary for any tree or shrub before onset of warm weather that brings stress, damaging insects and disease. Plant bare root roses. Rake to remove fallen leaves from your flowerbeds and remove and destroy (i.e. do not compost) any remaining stems from peony, sedum, daylily or other perennial flowers.
- Plant your trees in March, even though you are more than a month away from Arbor Day. March provides less stress for new tree and shrub planting. The cooler temperatures reduce stress on plantings while rainfall is plentiful. Do not fertilize newly planted trees; however, you may consider fertilizing with ¼ to ½ cup of a “balanced” fertilizer such as “12-12-12” to established fruit trees.
- March is the time to clean and sanitize your birdhouses. Old nest materials harbor parasitic insect eggs, mold and other organisms that may be unhealthy for hatchlings. Remove and dispose all old nesting materials, then sweep or brush with a mild bleach solution to sanitize. This is a good time to clean and sanitize birdfeeders, if you are putting them away for the summer.
- Lastly, use caution when considering planting any non-hardy seedlings. Mid-March is still almost a month away for the average last killing frost. Pay careful attention to weather forecasts that may predict late spring freezes.
As important as it was for the Romans to use the month of March for preparations for war, March is an important time for Southern Illinois gardeners to prepare for the coming growing season. For more gardening assistance this March, please contact your local University of Illinois Master Gardener, your local University Extension Office, or your nearest public library.