University City

March is the month for gardeners to get busy

March marks the end of the winter doldrums in Charlotte-area gardens. New blossoms appear every week, trees leaf out, and lawns start growing like crazy.

The vegetable garden will be half-filled with cool-season crops by the end of the month, with the remaining half ready and waiting for tomatoes and other summer crops that traditionally go in after Tax Day, April 15.

Food gardeners love March. Plant cool season crops this month, including lettuce, spinach, peas, onions, potatoes, broccoli and other cabbage family crops. Root crops and peas do best direct-seeded, onions and the cabbage family are usually grown from transplants and spinach, lettuce and chard do fine either way.

You can also start warm season vegetable and flower seedlings indoors – try to get that chore done early in the month.

Before planting, add fertilizer and prepare your garden beds or area. For many reasons, vegetables grow better when you both add compost and fertilizer to your soil. I use natural fertilizers, such as manure or bagged products created for organic farmers.

You do not need to build a box to grow vegetables – they won’t know and won’t care. “Raised bed” planters are mostly to satisfy a gardener’s sense of aesthetics or propriety, unless she or he needs to grow veggies on a hopeless spot, such as an old parking lot or gravel pit.

Keep your row covers in the garden. Be sure to pull them off on warm days, but don’t put them away yet, since it can still freeze any day this month.

Who doesn’t love daffodils? When the blooms fade, though, behead them ruthlessly. Leave the leaves alone, however. Daffodils need their leaves to recharge the bulbs for next year. Cut leaves back in a few weeks, after they turn brown.

Pansies will also bloom longer and look better if you deadhead them as well.

Get out your pruning equipment, but be cautious. Stay away from spring-flowering shrubs until after they are through blooming, then take action quickly to trim and shape them as needed. Removing oldest limbs near the ground helps encourage fresh growth.

Roses are confusing, since you prune different kinds in different ways. Hybrid teas produce best if heavily pruned now, before they bud out, but wait until after flowering to less aggressively trim old-fashioned types. You can also prune bramble fruits (related to roses), blueberries and grape vines early this month, before they start actively growing

When in doubt, check with the good people at N.C. Cooperative Extension.

Repot any houseplants that need it this month. Use a good quality potting mix Fafard products are popular with local professionals. Don’t use an overly big pot, just graduate up one step.

March is also a good time for garden classes. Renfrow Hardware in Matthews offers vegetable gardening classes throughout the year, taught by former N.C. State Extension Agent Jeff Rieves.

Their March class, When Can I Plant Tomatoes – Garden Planning For The Complete Beginner, will be offered twice: from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 17 and 18. For information, call 704-847-4088 or visit www.renfrowhardware.com/classes.

In University City, Central Piedmont Community College CCE offers a six-week, hands-on class on basic vegetable gardening with an organic orientation. GDN 8051, Food Gardening for Spring, meets 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Reedy Creek Park Community Garden, beginning March 31. I’m the teacher. Contact CPCC CCE at 704-330-4223 for information, or visit www.cpcc.edu.

Almanac

March marks the official end of winter and beginning of spring. Temperatures are likely to swing between wintery chill and spring-like warmth, but overall are expected to remain on the cooler side this month. Daylight Saving Time begins on March 8.

The Spring Equinox falls on March 20, which also the date of North Carolina’s Arbor Day in 2015. Sunrise at the beginning of the month is about 6:54 a.m., with sundown at about 6:18 p.m.; by the end of the month, sunrise is about 7:13 a.m. and sundown shortly after 7:43 p.m.

The average high is about 63 degrees, with the average low about 39 degrees. Normally, we get about 4 inches of total precipitation, up to an inch of that as snow. The moon is full on March 5, and new on March 20.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer, and UNC Charlotte’s Community Garden mentor. Reach him at unicity3@gmail.com.

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