March Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

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MARCH Surprise awaits within the month of March. As the Earth transitions from winter into spring, March can be unstable. Like an adolescent, March has mood swings—wild winds followed by steely calm; widely fluctuating day and evening air temperatures, and flowers blooming in barren soil. March also brings birthday wishes for me. <3

My mind welcomes the arrival of spring, always anxious for her appearance, I was waiting, and I watched as she slowly approached with a lessening of rain. Now I wait for the sun to pass over the equator when spring will be upon us. Many of us, however, don’t wait for the vernal equinox to inspire our spring. There is something in the air that speeds up spring’s arrival.

March: March is a good time to drum to a different beat. As you plan your garden this year, think about doing something different. Flex your horticultural muscle and mix veggies with ornamentals, add a wildlife pond, grow herbs in containers, or add a vine to serve as a host plant for butterflies. Beauty can be had in the most unusual ways.

With the arrival of spring, we want to see beautiful gardens. Look for garden tours, events, and symposia. A tour is a great way to explore inspiring gardens, to learn about plants that do well in your region and to walk away with a thousand ideas while having an enjoyable time. Even if you take away only one idea, it will be worth it. My gauge for a successful tour of multiple gardens is when every garden was somebody in the group's favorite.

BLOOM. Camellia, daffs, forsythia, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, pansy, snapdragon, daphne,  witchhazel, edgeworthia, and I'm sure I've forgotten something! Oh yes, the Corinthian Plum, Quince, our native Common Violets, Mahonia, Creeping Phlox, Buttercups, and Hellebores!

GROOM. Late winter is the ideal time to prune trees and shrubs. Timing is always tricky. You don't want to do so too early, b/c the new flush of growth that will come, will not be hardy enough to last through the winer. If too late, you can't see where you want to make your cuts as well. We are likely out of the woods, as they say, when it comes to running back woodies...I hope!

I took a little bit of flack on Facebook for recommending this organic spray to kill weeds between bricks, stone, or pavers. At work, I have what seems like miles of brick paths. In addition, the paths are along side well-kept fescue which is fertilized and watered regularly. The weeds come up all spring!

To tackle these weeds by mixing in a spray bottle,  1 Gallon of Vinegar (5%), 1 Cup Citric Acid, and 1 oz dish soap or non-ionic surfactant to help it stick to the weeds. Check out this before and after...after 2 hours. I find that it isn't as effective in mulched areas. What do you use?

What was the concern? There is life within. At home, this doesn't bother me. I don't water or fertilizer, and don't even reseed grass, so I only have regular weeds which I can easily scrape out. What do you use?

Prune fig trees. Damaged wood needs to be removed, even if it means severely cutting the plant. For the best fruit production, figs need to be limbed and fertilized.  (See fertilizer needs below.)

Deadhead Camelias. Tidy camellia blooms. Spent camellia blooms, particularly with C. japonicas, are susceptible to petal blight. Remove fallen blooms — and those ready to fall — to prevent the spread of disease and insect problems. If you suspect your faded flowers have blight, don’t put them in the compost pile. Instead, place them in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash.

Most of our other grooming has been complete. March is a good time to be in the moment and note the quiet before the flower-wildlife-food-production storm. March is always a new beginning for me; it's also my birthday month.

PLANT. Cozy up to clematis. If you have always wanted to plant a clematis at your mailbox, now is a good time to plant one, but only if you have a sunny location that does not receive the hot afternoon sun. Clematis needs good soil and good drainage. Mulch around the plant to keeps the roots cool.

Snip some cuttings. If you are overwintering geraniums, begonias, coleus, or impatiens, now is a good time to take cuttings. March cuttings will be ready to put in the ground by May.

BULBS. March is the time to see our spring flowers reminding us we are alive! Put a note in your calendar to order spring-blooming bulbs this summer. Order early to get the best choices. Make notes of what you see now to add to your garden this fall. You'll not regret it!

VEGETABLES. My asparagus is up, carrots are thriving, kale is looking grand, as is the lettuce! My girls thank me for the good eats!

Red and white spring onions

Red and bulls eye beets

Baby Red kale

Baby spinach

Tuscan kale

Bok choy flowers

Thumbalina carrots

Adelaide carrots

Cherry bomb radish

Leaf cabbage

FRUITS

I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. We currently don't have any fruit, but we can see the future with the flowers of the 'Santa Rosa' plum.

In the Bee Better Teaching Garden the varieties we grow do not require spraying. As such, March is a time to focus on other projects.

WILDLIFE March is a great time to sit back and watch the birds. It's like a late winter wonderland in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. Cardinals, Chickadees, Brown Thrashers, Easter Bluebirds, Bluejays, and so many  more!  For feed and feeder info for our area birds chick here. Check out this post on wildlife cover!

I fill wire suet cages with native grasses. These grasses are putting out their new summer shoots, so to tidy up the plant, I cut and keep for nesting material.

SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the Bee Better Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. But the watering is smart...wise. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal. Mulch: Most of the mulching in the Bee Better Teaching Garden is done. We do keep a few large containers full to tidy up spring annual and perennial plantings. It comes in handy to have extra on hand.

Fertilizer: It takes 1/2 pound of 15-5-5 fertilizer (the numbers stand for the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) for every 3 feet of tree height. For example, a 6-foot-tall fig tree would need about a pound of fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer around the drip line of the plant and just beyond. After you water in the fertilizer, mulch the area around the tree.

Many I know, add an organic fertilizer to their pansies and snapdragons. I don't do this in the Bee Better Teaching Garden, but I do at my place of work at Fearrington Village.


Pest control: Roses: When you're finished cutting plants back and replacing the mulch, it's recommended to treat rosebushes with a lime-sulfur spray to combat overwintering insects and disease problems.

Treat for pests. Leaf miners will make their appearance this month. They appear as a swarms of small flying insects hovering around hollies and other evergreen shrubs and trees, then they lay eggs on the leaves. When the larvae hatch, they bore or “mine” into the leaf to form tunnels. To lessen the problem, spray infested plants with a dormant oil to smother eggs.

My absolute nemesis is the vole; it drives me (and others) mad. Voles become active again in March. To help lessen their destruction, keep mulch away from the trunks of shrubs and trees. If you see in what looks like a mouse hole in your flower bed, especially where you grow lilies and other bulbs, it’s likely a vole hole. Stop the madness. Try this: Bait a mousetrap with apple and peanut butter, and set it next to the hole.

Blueberries. Blueberries can be fertilized lightly, but too much fertilizer may reduce the fruit crop. The same fertilizer for azaleas can be used on blueberries. Be sure there is clean, fresh mulch around fruit trees and bushes. Keep the mulch away from the trunks to prevent insect, vole, and mouse damage. Mulch keep weeds under control, conserves moisture, moderates soil temperature, and may protect ripe fruit that falls to the ground.

Invasives: I continue keep an eye out for invasives. The Bee Better Teaching Garden inherited the porcelain vine, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, It's worse than the bradford pear

DECORATE. Cut large branches of quince or forsythia and place in a large vase. You don't even need to force them; they are already in bloom!!!


Helen