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Seed Sowing & other March

Gardening tips
by Charlie Nardozzi
March 1, 2009

If you like to start plants from seeds at home, now is the month to really begin sowing. It is also the time to think about fruit trees, and to use some pruned branches to force indoors into bloom.

Long-season alliums (members of the onion family) such as leeks and onions should be started from seed early in the month. Unlike the quicker growing broccoli and tomatoes, onions need 10-12 weeks of growth indoors before they go in the garden. Sprinkle the seed on top of seed-starting mix, keep it moist, and as soon as the seedlings emerge, place the flats under grow lights so they grow strong.

Other vegetable seeds you might start indoors the middle of the month include celery, cabbage, and broccoli. Toward the end of the month you can start tomatoes and peppers indoors. Some like to start these early in the month, but unless you have good light, the plants can get too spindly before you put them out in late spring.

Flower seeds you might sow early in the month include pansies and the annual vinca or periwinkle. Petunia and impatiens seeds might be sown later in the month.

Check your stored summer bulbs such as cannas. If they're sprouted, pot them and begin to water. Later in the month you can plant the tubers of tuberous begonias. Plant with the concave side up, and level with the soil surface. Don't let water stand inside this depression, otherwise the tuber may rot.

In mid to late winter with warm weather, fruit tree buds will start to swell. This is an excellent time to start pruning apple, plum, and cherry trees. Plum trees should be pruned to an open center, while apple and cherry trees grow best pruned to a modified leader (center more closed and tree is more upright). Any dead, diseased, or broken branches should be removed, as well as crossing branches and twiggy, non-productive growth.

While you're pruning flowering trees such as crabapple and plum, cut some two-foot sections of pruned limbs with flower buds on them (flower buds are larger than leaf buds), place the cut ends in a bucket of warm water, and bring them indoors to force the flowers to open. In a few weeks' time, your house will smell of spring even though the snow may still be flying outdoors.

Now is the time to order bare-root fruit trees online or through catalogs. Bare-root trees are shipped in late winter or early spring before they start to grow. Often you'll get a better selection from such specialty mail-order companies now than from local garden stores in spring. Trees will be shipped for planting time in your area, and they should be planted immediately upon arrival.

Other activities for this month include sharpening hoes and pruners if you didn't do so last fall. Special files just for this purpose can be found at complete garden stores or online. One with minuscule diamond fragments does an excellent job very quickly.

If you are tapping maple trees for sap this month, remember not to tap any under ten inches in diameter. Otherwise you may place too much stress on younger trees.

Before the gardening season begins to pick up speed in coming months, check your local garden stores now for seminars while you have some time.

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