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.

Article Short Link

To Do in December

Lawn Care
•    Maintain cool season grasses by mowing as needed.
•    Keep tree leaves from collecting on your lawn.

•    Spread ashes from the fireplace around gardens and bulb beds where soil pH is below 6.0.  Avoid acid-loving plants.  (3 lbs of ash = 1 lb of limestone)
•    Now is the time to put out limestone if needed (it takes about three months for lime to change the soil’s pH)
•    Fertilize houseplants as needed.

•    Now is a good time to set out or transplant landscape plants if the ground isn’t frozen.  Be sure to “open up” the root balls on container plants.

•    Prune berry-producing plants, if berries are desired in table arrangements over the holidays.
•    Cut back herbaceous perennials after the frost kills the tops.
•    Any dead or diseased wood can be pruned out anytime of the year.
•    Weeds or unnecessary trees should be removed from the landscape.

•    None

Other Activities
•    Keep your Christmas tree in water and away from heat sources.
•    Poinsettias should be placed in the sunniest room in the house.
•    If you have received your soil recommendations, apply lime as suggested.  Don’t apply fertilizer until spring.
•    Order fruit trees and grape vines now if you wish to plant them in February and March.
•    Cover strawberries with pine straw or wheat barley to protect them from the cold.
•    Continue putting the leaves from your yard into a compost bin.
•    If you cover your shrubs, be cautious and use only burlap or white plastic.

To Do in September


  • September is a good time to set out landscape plants. Shop early to find the nicest shrubs.
  • When planting containerized plants, try to be certain to disturb or “open up” the plants’ root ball.
  • Set out new chrysanthemum plants this month.
  • Plant pansies to add color to your yard in the autumn, winter and spring months.
  • Groundcovers will become well established if planted now.
  • Transplant any evergreen trees or shrubs that need moving this month.
  • Plant the following fall vegetables in September: mustard, onion, radish and turnip.


  • Do NOT prune shrubs in September or October..
  • Remove “weed” or unnecessary trees from your landscape.
  • Root prune any trees or plants you plan to move next spring.


  • Spray the following landscape shrubs for the following insect pests: arborvitae, hemlock and juniper(spider mites), azalea and pyracantha (lace bug) and euonymus (scale).
  • Spray for peach tree borer on your nectarine and peach tree trunks.
  • Continue with rose spray program.
  • Keep a close eye on all fall vegetable plants. Insects and diseases are more severe in the autumn.
  • Control the following woody weeds by spraying the recommended herbicide: trumpet creeper, and blackberry.

Use all pesticides according to labeled instructions and only as needed.

Lawn Care

  • Tall fescue and bluegrass lawns should be seeded this month. Remember to mulch the newly seeded areas with wheat or barley straw. Keep watered.
  • Fertilize and lime your tall fescue lawns according to soil test results.
  • Do NOT fertilize zoysia now.
  • Homeowners can apply an insecticide for lawn grubs in early September if needed.


  • Spring flowering bulbs can be divided and replanted this month. Daffodils will be the bulbs that most likely need this consideration.
  • Divide peonies.

Specific Chores

  • Clean up garden sprayers and lawn equipment if not in use.
  • Prepare house plants to reenter your home. Check them carefully for insect pests.
  • If you do not have a fall vegetable garden, it is a good time to chop, burn or discard dead vegetable plants.
  • Look for spring flowering bulbs to plant in October.
  • You can get last year’s poinsettia to flower by placing it in total uninterrupted darkness for 15 hours a day, starting the last week of the month and continuing until colored bracts appear. Give them plenty of sunlight during the day.

To Do in March


  • Fertilize shrubs.
  • Fertilize your important shade trees.
  • Fertilize asparagus beds early in March before spear growth begins.
  • Ponds should be fertilized starting this month and continuing through October.
  • Before planting your vegetables, fertilize your garden as recommended by your soil test results. Apply the recommended amount of lime if this was not done in the fall.


  • The average last spring frost date in Durham County is April 15 +/-11days.
  • Plant a tree for Arbor Day! Arbor day is always the first Friday after March 15.
  • Plant your small fruit plants, grape vines and fruit trees before the buds break.
  • March is a good month to transplant trees and shrubs.
  • New shrubs and ground covers can be planted the entire month of March. Be sure to follow your planting plan.
  • Plant seeds of the following perennials: columbine, hollyhock, coreopsis, daisy and phlox. Sweet William can also be planted this month.
  • New rose bushes can be planted this month.
  • Plants of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower should be set out in the garden in mid-March.
  • The following vegetables can be planted this month: beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, Swiss chard, turnips, potatoes,cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
  • Start any annual flowers or warm-season vegetables inside your home that are not commercially available in early March.


  • Prune fruit trees.
  • Prune spring flowering plants like breath-of-Spring (Winter Honeysuckle) and flowering quince after the flowers fade.
  • Prune roses late in March.
  • Prune shrubs like abelia, mahonia and nandina this month if needed.
  • Pick off faded flowers of pansy and daffodil. Pansies will flower longer if old flowers are removed.
  • Overgrown shrubs can be severely pruned (not needled evergreens).


  • Spray the following landscape shrubs for the following insect pests: euonymus-scale, juniper-spruce spider mites and hybrid rhododendron-borer.
  • Start your rose spray program just prior to bud break.
  • Spray your apple and pear trees with streptomycin for control of fireblight while the trees are in bloom.
  • Begin fungicide spray applications for bunch grapes.
  • Always follow instructions on pesticide labels and apply only when needed.

Lawn Care

  • Cool-season lawns may be fertilized with 10-10-10, but NOT with slow-release fertilizer.
  • Apply crabgrass herbicides to your lawn late this month to help control crabgrass in the turf.
  • Mow your tall fescue lawn as needed.
  • Seed fescue and bluegrass if not done in September.


  • Continue to divide perennials like daylily, shasta daisy, gaillardia and coreopsis this month.

Specific Chores

  • Check garden supplies like fertilizer, insecticides and fungicides to see if you have adequate amounts.
  • Check all garden equipment, lawn mowers, tillers, hedge trimmers, tools, hoses and sprayers to see if they are in find working order before they are needed.
  • Be certain that old plantings of perennials like peony, hollyhock and phlox are clean of last season’s growth.

To Do in February


  • Shade trees can be fertilized.
  • Fertilize emerging spring flowering bulbs.
  • Spread wood ashes around the vegetable garden, flowering bulb beds and non-acid loving plants if the pH is below 6.0.


  • First week in February start broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower plants inside your home.
  • Plant English peas, onions, Irish potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, kale, turnips, and carrots the last week of February.
  • Plant asparagus crowns when soil is dry enough to work.
  • Plant fruit trees and grape vines while dormant, before buds open.


  • Prune bunch grape vines this month.
  • Trim ornamental grasses like liriope, mondo grass, and pampas grass.
  • Cut back any overgrown shrubs.
  • Prune fruit trees, such as apples, cherry, nectarine, peach, pear and plum while dormant, before buds open.
  • While pruning, remove leaves and clippings to prevent disease problems.


  • Peach and nectarine trees may be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl.
  • Spray all fruit trees with dormant oil to help eliminate some insects, if needed.

Lawn Care

  • Cool season lawns like tall fescue should be fertilized. Follow soil test results.
  • Control wild onion in your lawn with spot sprays of a recommended herbicide or remove by hand.


  • Divide perennials like daylily and shasta daisy when the ground is dry enough.
  • Hardwood cuttings of many landscape plants like Crape Myrtle, Flowering Quince, forsythia, hydrangea, juniper, spiraea, and weigela can be taken this month.

Specific Chores

  • Clean out bluebird boxes.
  • Order flowers for your sweetheart – Happy Valentine’s Day!
  • Develop a vegetable and landscape plan for your home grounds.
  • Order strawberry & blueberry plants.
  • Bring cut branches of forsythia, winter honeysuckle, spirea and quince inside.  Place branches in water filled vases to enjoy early blooms.