March comes in like a lion?

The old saying tells us that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” It was first published in 1732 by the English author, Thomas Fuller, however it appears that he was just repeating something that he'd heard elsewhere and the saying was probably much older. Though, sometimes here in west Kentucky it is the other way around. Sneaky March starts out all warm and green and ends up with howling winds and blowing snow. Maybe we'll get lucky this year and the worst happens first. It appears that this might actually be the case for 2021.

There are two first days of spring

The first of March is known as meteorological spring. This is a modern tool that climatologists use to accurately chart temperature and precipitation changes and they start at the first of the month, instead of the astronomical season change that could vary as much as four days from year to year. So, spring starts on March 1, summer on June 1, autumn on September 1 and winter on December 1. Astronomical spring starts on the 20th of March this year, however since it is determined by the cycles of the moon, that can vary as much as two days in either direction from year to year, so it is hard to keep accurate charts using the moon to go by.

garden tools

Early spring chores that do not involve planting anything

Here in the Upper South of North America, March is a busy time in the garden. It is time to prune roses and shrubs that bloom on new wood. Do not prune spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia and lilacs, you'll remove the flower buds. Prune them after flowering. I also trim back my ornamental grasses that I left standing all winter so the birds could have the seed heads and to protect the crowns. Since weeds grow all year here, it's time to pull out the chickweed, henbit, creeping charlie and dead nettle that always creeps over boundaries and invades my perennial beds. It is an on-going battle that I start in March and ultimately call a cease-fire sometime in November. It is also time to take stock of my fruit trees and to prune them as well. I cut away any sprouts from the base of the trees and any straight sprouts coming from the fruiting branches. Dead or broken branches should be pruned back as well. Spreading compost on the vegetable garden is also good to do this time of year. This is also a good time to examine trellises and other plant supports that stay in the garden all winter. If you need to make repairs, this is the best time to do so before things get growing. Take stock of your tools. If you didn't clean and sharpen them when you put them away last fall, do so now. Also it is a good time to purchase new ones before people crowd the garden centers. It is better to anticipate your tool needs as opposed to waiting until the last minute.

When to plant seeds and divide perennials

Early spring is the perfect time to divide perennials. The ground is soft from spring rains and the plants haven't had much time to grow. Divide hostas, daylilies, daisies, ornamental grasses and many other perennials at this time. Depending on when your last frost date is, you can start tender seeds inside. I usually start tomatoes, eggplants and peppers the first week of March under lights inside. This gives me six or seven weeks before it is warm enough to set them outside in the garden. Spread compost in your garden beds and vegetable garden. Around the middle of the month, about three or four weeks before last frost, plant cool weather vegetables outside like salad greens, radishes and spring peas. A week or two later you can plant potatoes, brassicas, turnips, onions and carrots. The brassicas are usually available as sets or slips wherever garden seeds are sold. If you live further south, these cool season vegetables can grow in your garden all winter. Gardeners further north will have to wait a month or so.

pea plants

Early spring planning makes for a better summer garden

Late winter, or early spring, depending on how you look at it, is a busy time in the garden. There may not be much actually growing yet, however that doesn't mean there's nothing to do. Good plans and preparations make for fewer problems once the growing season really starts. If you've taken care of of everything you could before you actually have to worry about pests and other problems, those problems will be easier to deal with. Smart gardeners decide what they want to plant early and purchase their seeds before they actually have to plant them, They make sure their tools are clean and in order and the ground is properly fertilized. It cuts down on stress and helps you enjoy your garden quicker too!