March: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

The calendar says it is March.  OMG!!  IT’S MARCH Y’ALL!!  Break out the rakes & hoes & shovels & sprayers & mowers & spreaders and ALL the toys!  WE’RE GOIN’ IN THE GARDEN AGAIN!  No more moping around the house lookin’ out the window wishin’ and hopin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’.  It’s time for ACTION.  HOO RAH.

On the home front, the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) is once again trying to bloom just before a predicted freeze.  Guess it’ll go from partial pink to total black…again.  It’d be happier in Johnston County, no doubt.  C’est la vie.  The Accidental Cottage Garden near the house is all spikey with daffodil leaves.  Only a few flashy flowers so far.  The bed along the driveway is sad.  It was sown in November with perennials, annuals and pollinators.  They all came up and looked great.  Then we got 4+ inches of rain in two days.  Half of the plantlets died.  The other half succumbed to the sub-20-degree nights.  Now it is too wet to plow (till, actually), so I reckon it’ll sit fallow until I can determine the next steps.

Let’s go play in the dirt…SOIL.  It’s soil.  Dirt is what you wash off the car.  They learned me that in Hort school.


After an unlisted number of years preaching that there should be no fertilizer applied to tall fescue after March 15, the song has been rewritten.  More recent research has rendered that verdict invalid, mostly.  That verse now reads, “Fertilize as needed for color and recovery from damage.” (NCSU TurfFiles)  Reduce the rate to 1/5 t0 ½ pound N per 1000 sq. ft.  So, prior to the 15th, fertilize away (Well, 1 pound of N per 1000 sq. ft.  Let’s not get carried away.) according to the SOIL TEST you had done in the Fall.

Apply crabgrass control to all lawns sometime between when the forsythia (F.x hybrids) bloom and when the native dogwoods (Cornus florida) bloom. 

Mowing can begin as needed.  Cut cool season grasses to a height of 2 ½” to 3 ½” (Higher is better.) and try not to remove more than 1/3 of the total blade length.  Leave the clippings to save on fertilizer (up to 25%) unless wet weather delays mowing.  The remove the excess clippings and either compost them or use them for mulch.  They do not belong in the landfill.


Things to fertilize now include shrubs (A little goes a long way.), trees if your SOIL TEST so indicates.  Otherwise, they are pretty self-sufficient.  Also, spring flowering bulbs and asparagus beds before the new spears appear can be fertilized now.


There is a myriad of things to plant this month depending on soil conditions so, caveat emptor (or more to the point, caveat plantor). 

Trees and shrubs can be planted/transplanted now including fruit trees and grapevines prior to bud break.  Expect more summer water management issues with plants planted now than with those planted in the Fall.

Perennials may be planted now.

Start annuals and warm season vegetables for transplanting after all the frost is gone.

Plant roses not previously planted.

Cruciferous vegetables (E.g., broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower) plants can be set out now.

Root veggies (beets, carrots, potatoes, turnips) can be sown now as well as salad greens (Bok choy, leaf lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.)


Prune fruit trees.

Prune roses after mid-month.

Overgrown shrubs can still be cut back severely.

Dead head pansies (Viola x hybrid) to prolong bloom time.


Begin patrolling for euonymus scale and tea scale, spruce-juniper spider mites, borers on hybrid rhododendrons (non-native azaleas), and lace bugs on all azaleas, especially those in the sun.

Only spray as necessary.  Read and follow the label.
Applying dormant oil to fruit trees, particularly those that have been pruned, will help control several insect and disease pests.

Spray blooming apple (Malus x hybrids) and pear (Pyrus sps.) trees with streptomycin to control fire blight.


Check all the gardening toys for proper functionality (Make sure they work right.)  If your whatchamacallit needs a thingamajig so it will fit the doohickey, you don’t want to spend the first sunny 70-degree weekend running around looking for it.  Besides, it’s probably in a container on a boat waiting for a berth in Long Beach, CA, and you’ll need to get it backordered.

Plant a tree for Arbor Day which in North Carolina is the first Friday after the 15th of March.  That being March 18, 2022.  Mother Earth will thank you.  

*Resources and Further Reading

NC State Extension Organic Lawn Care Guide

NC State Extension TurfFiles

NC Extension Gardener Handbook – Vegetable Gardening

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

How to Prune Specific Plants

NC Extension Gardener Handbook – Tree Fruits and Nuts

North Carolina Production Guide for Smaller Orchard Plantings

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)

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