March To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

My, my.  Wasn’t February sweet?  The second warmest on record although another day or six of sunshine would have been nice.  Apparently, there was enough sun to keep SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) from getting crazy.  I fear we will pay for February this month.  That has been the pattern the last couple of years.  Maybe we could make February be 31 days long and March just 28.  It is such a meteorologically volatile month anyway.  Let’s just get it over more quickly.  Then we can get to the gardeners’ favorite, April, faster.  Win-win!

There’s lots of green stuff showing up in the Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) and a few hopeful daffodils along with a forsythia (Forsythia intermedia).  The saucer magnolia (M. soulangeana) was almost gorgeous when we were blessed with a 29-degree night.  Consequently, it never reached its full potential.  Thus, it is when a zone 8 plant is on the wrong side of the zone 7/8 line.  For now, we will enjoy the pansies (Viola tricolor x cvs.) in pots on the deck.

It is time to actually start doing stuff in the garden as opposed to sitting inside staring at it wistfully.  Here is the list, however, “Beware the Ides of March.” (and much the rest of the month as well).


 Cool season grasses (fescues and bluegrass) can be fertilized now. Pre-emergent crabgrass control can be applied as soon as the forsythia bloom (like now) and before the dogwoods (Cornus sps.) are in full bloom.

Mowing can begin as soon as it is appropriate.  Mow cool season grasses to a height between 3” and 4”.  Mow often enough to only remove 1/3 of the blade length.  Allow the clippings to remain on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil naturally.  You may need up to 20% less fertilizer over the course of a year.  If the clippings are wet and heavy (You probably should have waited until the lawn was drier.), remove them and compost them or use as mulch.  Lawn clippings do not belong in the landfill.


Stuff (like plants, for instance) that can be fertilized this month include shade trees, shrubs and spring blooming bulbs.

Asparagus beds can be fertilized in March before the new shoots appear.

Amend your vegetable beds (per your SOIL TEST results) before planting.

Add lime (again, per SOIL TEST recommendations) if that didn’t happen in the fall.  It takes three to six months for the lime to become available to the plants.


Now it begins.  Plant trees or shrubs that didn’t get planted in the fall.  Be forewarned that they may require more frequent watering through the summer than plants planted in the fall.

Perennials such as columbine (Aquilegia sps.), hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), coreopsis (Coreopsis sps.), daisies (Leucanthemum sps. Or Bellis perennis), phlox (Phlox sps.) and roses (Rosa sps.) can also be planted in March.

Root crops (beets, turnips, carrots, potatoes) and salad greens (Bok Choi, leaf lettuces, cabbage, chard and kale) can be planted now.


Finish pruning fruit trees ASAP.

Prune roses in late March.  Remove dead wood and winter kill.  Prune for aesthetics by cutting long canes back.  Cut back to a five-leaflet leaf to promote blooming.

Prune spring flowering shrubs after the blooms fade.

Keep pansies dead headed (remove spent blooms) to prolong bloom time.


You can spray broadleaf plants for euonymus/tea scale and coniferous (needle-like leaves) evergreens for spider mites now.  A horticultural oil will smother the insects and their eggs.  Check the plants for pests and always identify the pest before spraying (It might not be a pest and could be a beneficial insect species.)  “Know your enemy.”  ALWAYS read and follow the label of any pesticide.

Applying the same horticultural oil to fruit trees, especially those that have been recently pruned will help prevent several insect problems later.


Make sure all of your equipment is ready.  Change the oil and lubricate moving parts of your motorized equipment.  Sharpen anything that is supposed to be sharp.  Calibrate sprayers.  Etc.

When was the last time you experimented with a new plant or vegetable variety?  How ‘bout this year?

Plant a tree for NC arbor day (which for some reason is different than Nation Arbor Day).  This year it is on the 17th.  Make it a really green day and plant a shamrock, too.

Have fun.  It’s what gardeners do.

Resources and Information

Free soil sampling resumes on April 1. Plan ahead and learn all about soil sampling here:

Zone 7? Zone 8? Check out the USDA Hardiness Zone map for NC.

This video gives an overview on cleaning and sharpening garden tools. The presenter suggests doing this in late summer of fall, but many of us grab our tools year-round. Keeping them clean and sharp is worth the time and efforts no matter the season.

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