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What To Do In Your Yard and Garden This March (Early Spring)
Typically, March is a hard month for me. The longer days always fool me into thinking that spring has arrived.
Oh yes! Spring is finally here, I think to myself. Well, it is, and it isn’t.
Even though my soil is starting to warm up, March is our snowiest month, and gale-force winds can make being outside disappointing at best, and irritating at worst.
Even so, March is a busy gardening month. Seedlings need to be looked after indoors, and the second half of the month is usually calmer. And I can finally start doing fun gardening things outside.
Here’s a list of things you may need to do this month.
Read my full disclosure.
What to Plant in March
- Pot up seedlings started last month. You’ll know you need to pot them up when you see roots growing out of the pot they’re in.
- If your winter has been mild and the ground isn’t frozen, plant roses, trees, and shrubs. Delay planting if the garden soil is too wet. (see below under “prepare your garden soil”). With all woody plants, avoid planting too deep. Research indicates that more trees suffer from being planted too deep in the hole than any other problem. Dig a hole that’s shallow and 2-3 times the width of the root ball. Plant with one-third of the root ball above ground. Taper soil away from the trunk back to ground level. Don’t put mulch over the root ball until the tree is established (1 year later). Don’t fertilize newly planted trees or shrubs. Wait one year before fertilizing.
- Dormant mail order plants should be unwrapped immediately. Keep the roots from drying out, store in a cool protected spot, and plant as soon as conditions allow.
- Plant new asparagus and rhubarb beds.
- Plant cold-hardy pansies and primrose.
- Direct sow sweet peas, poppies, cosmos, rudbeckias, and wildflowers directly into the garden late in the month.
- Start seeds of nasturtiums, alyssum, and other half-hardy annuals indoors.
March Garden Maintenance Chores
- Prepare your garden soil if it’s dry enough. Dig in compost and other amendments when your soil can be worked – but not when it’s too wet to be worked. How do you know when it’s safe to work the soil? When a ball of soil crumbles easily after being squeezed together in your hand, it is dry enough to be safely worked. To avoid compacting garden soil, wait until it has dried out before tilling, planting, or even walking in the garden beds. Follow last fall’s soil test recommendations for fertilizer and pH adjustment. It’s not too late to test your soil if you didn’t do it last year. Get a soil test every 2-3 years, otherwise, you’re just shooting in the dark with fertilizing and amending.
- Water evergreens growing near the house foundation if the soil is dry.
- Prevent the spread of fire blight and black knot disease: On apple and mountain ash trees, prune away branches killed by fire blight to prevent further spread of the disease. Prune black knots off of cherries. Make cuts 1 foot below the diseased area. Disinfect pruners with rubbing alcohol between cuts.
- Cut back to the ground all perennials and ornamental grasses that were left standing for winter interest.
- Ornamental grasses should be cut to the ground just as the new growth begins. Tie up ornamental grasses, and use a serrated knife to cut them back to a few inches above ground level.
- Trim dead or damaged branches from trees, shrubs, and roses.
- If you’ve had a mild winter, look for hosta shoots poking up through the soil. Dig up clumps that need to be divided, split them apart, and replant them. Water generously.
- Trees that bleed such as birch and maple should not be pruned until after their leaves are fully developed.
- Trees, shrubs, and perennials may be planted as soon as they become available at local nurseries.
- Loosen winter mulches from perennials cautiously. Re-cover plants at night if frost returns. Clean up beds by removing all weeds and dead foliage at this time.
- Gradually start to pull back mulch from rose bushes.
- If your soil is alkaline, apply sulfur to the soils around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies and dogwoods. Use a granular formulation at the rate of 1/2 pound per 100 square feet.
- Apply controls for wild garlic. It will take several years of annual applications for complete control.
- After pussy willow catkins have passed their prime, prune the plants drastically to encourage long branches and large catkins for next year.
- Complete the pruning of non-spring flowering shrubs, ornamental trees before growth starts. (Prune those that bloom in spring as soon as they finish flowering.)
- Check outdoor furniture for signs of rust. Remove any surface rust with steel wool and paint with rust inhibitive paint.
- Clean, sharpen and oil your pruning tools, hoes, and shovels if you didn’t do this task over the winter.
- Turn the compost pile and water it if you haven’t had snow cover and it’s drying out.
- Begin a new compost pile –if you don’t already have a pile going.
- Patrol for scale insects. Ash, Aspen, Lilac and dogwood are susceptible. Dormant oil will smother scale insects and their eggs. Apply when temps are above 40 degrees. Coat the tree entirely, but stop before the liquid starts to run off.
- Watch weather conditions for an appropriate window of time to spray fruit trees or large deciduous trees with dormant oil. Spray if aphids, scale, or mites were a problem in the past Temperatures must be at least 40 degrees. Fahrenheit with no chance of freezing or rain within the following 24 hours. Avoid spraying on a windy day. Certain trees have a phototoxicity to dormant oil and should not be sprayed. A few common ones are arborvitae, beech, red maple, Japanese maple, sugar maple smokebush, blue spruce, blue cultivars of juniper, and yew.
- Fertilize evergreen shrubs and trees, only if needed. If established and healthy, their nutrient needs should be minimal.
- Spray trees and shrubs for webworms and leaf rollers, if present.
- Protect new plant growth from slugs. The least toxic management options include barriers and traps. Baits are also available for slug control; use with caution around pets. Read and follow all label directions prior to using baits or any other chemical control.
- Spray to control leaf and twig fungus diseases in dogwood, sycamore, hawthorn, and willow trees.
- Shrubs: Thin out old, overgrown, leggy shrubs. Prune out the oldest, thickest stems at the base of the shrub.
- WEED! Get a jump on the weeds by patrolling your gardens when the weather is nice. Small, newly emerging weeds are easier to remove, and if you keep on top of the weeds through June, the rest of the season will be much more manageable.
- On dry days remove winter debris from lawn and garden beds. Check for broken branches (prune immediately) or plants damaged by snow loads or rodents.
- Remove burlap screens erected to protect plants from wind or road salt spray.
- Re-set any plants that have heaved out of the ground.
- Uncover perennials that you applied extra mulch to last winter.
- Clean up last year’s dead plant material and any debris that’s collected over the winter.
- Fertilize woody plants four to six weeks before they begin new growth only if they have shown signs that they could use it. These would include poor leaf color, failure to completely fruit or flower, or stunted growth.
- Tidy your garden shed. And your seed-starting corner.
- Remove protective trunk wrap and burlap from trees in the spring after the snow has melted.
- Add mulch to your gardens if it’s getting thin.
Garden Planning and Journaling in March
- Plan your vegetable garden on a sheet of paper to utilize the space most efficiently.
- If your garden is large enough, you can rotate the vegetables in your garden to reduce insect and disease problems. Unfortunately, most home vegetable gardens are too small to truly prevent these problems through rotation.
- Start a garden journal. List what you plant in the garden. Include the name of seed companies, plant name, variety, planting date, and harvest date. During the growing season keep notes on how well the plant does. If the variety is susceptible to disease, record what was used to treat any problems. All this information will be helpful in planning future gardens.
- Celebrate the spring equinox by taking photos of your garden. Track the sunlight and seasons with Journey North.
- Pick a permanent spot for perennial herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary in your garden.
- Consider replacing unwanted shrubs.
- Take pictures, noting where the snow melts first in your garden. That’s where you need to plant bulbs next fall!
Lawn Care Schedule for March
- Now is a good time to apply appropriate sprays for the control of lawn weeds such as chickweed, crabgrass, spurge, and dandelion.
- If the organic matter in your soil is low and there’s no snow, top-dress your lawn with a thin layer of compost. Fill in low spots and reseed.
- Near the end of the month, mow lawns low to remove old growth before new growth begins. Set your lawnmower height to the height appropriate for the type of grass you have.
- Thin spots and bare patches in the lawn can be over-seeded now.
- Apply broadleaf herbicides now for control of cool-season perennial and annual weeds. These must not be applied to areas that will be seeded soon.
- Sharpen your lawnmower blade if you didn’t do it at the end of the season.
- Have your lawn aerated. Annual aeration is one of the best things you can do for your lawn.
- If you fertilized your lawn last fall it may be too early to fertilize. Lawns do better when they receive more fertilizer in the fall, and less in the spring. Check with your local cooperative extension office for a lawn fertilization schedule in your area.
- Stock up on lawn fertilizer for the season. Even though the bulk of the fertilizer you feed your lawn should be applied in the fall, this is the time of year to purchase fertilizer.
Wildlife in Your March Garden
- Birds eat many insect pests. Attract them to your garden by providing good nesting habitats.
- Raise purple martin houses early this month.
- Place birdhouses (built or purchased this winter) outdoors this month. Birds are looking for nesting sites this month!
- If you attract birds to your birdhouses, consider joining Project Nestwatch. Your data helps scientists studying backyard birds.
- Put out nesting material.
- Keep providing your backyard birds with food and water.
- Report robin sightings to Journey North.
- Provide fruit for berry-eating birds. Fruit-loving birds such as robins, waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds rarely eat birdseed. To attract them, soak raisins and currants in water overnight, then place them on a table feeder, or purchase blends with a dried fruit mixture. To attract orioles and tanagers, skewer halved oranges onto a spike near other feeders, or supply nectar feeders.
Houseplant Care for March
- Spray off small plants with lukewarm shower water, covering the soil with plastic wrap. Prune off yellowing and dead leaves, check for insect infestations, and treat if necessary.
- Continue to care for indoor flowering gift plants. Azaleas require even moisture and bright light. Deadhead to keep plants blooming for four to six weeks. Azaleas can go outside to a partly shaded location after your first frost, but must come back in before fall frost.
- Primrose plants can be discarded after flowering or planted directly in shaded, well-drained garden area. They will go dormant during summer months and require heavy mulch to protect from summer heat and winter cold.
- Discard indoor-blooming bulbs: tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, or crocus. They won’t bloom again.
- Fertilize houseplants as they begin new growth. Try low dosages of organic fertilizers or a very dilute, balanced granular fertilizer rather than stronger formulas. Telltale white salt markings on terra cotta pots indicate overuse of fertilizer. Flush out soil of over-fertilized plants with plain water.
- Propagate houseplants. Softwood cuttings, leaf cuttings, air-layering, cane cuttings, or division may all be done this spring.